Things We Learned » Gold Cup form

Gold Cup form

The Cheltenham Gold Cup picture is struggling for shape these days. The second, third and fourth from last year’s race, On His Own, The Giant Bolster and Silviniaco Conti, were all well beaten on Saturday. All three had excuses, all three were expected beforehand to come on for the run, but all three were still at least a little disappointing.

Other contenders also disappointed. Favourite Holywell was well beaten at Carlisle on Sunday (again, he had excuses), Boston Bob was well beaten into third place at Down Royal, Cue Card was well beaten in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on Tuesday, albeit over an inadequate trip. Even potential contenders like Ma Filleule and Taquin Du Seuil came up short.

Of course, we still have to see the reigning champ, and it is worth noting that the last horse to win back-to-back Gold Cups was Best Mate, who was ridden to all three of his Gold Cup victories by Lord Windermere’s trainer Jim Culloty. He is reportedly on track for the John Durkan Chase, but it is probable that he will have a Henrietta Knight-esque preparation.

There is an opportunity for something to grab the race by the throat now. It could be Lord Windermere himself, who is – unusually for the defending champion – still available at 16/1, or it could be that Road To Riches is still over-priced at his new-entry odds of 20/1. Or it could be something new, like Champagne Fever or Djakadam or Don Cossack or Fingal Bay. You can be sure that the picture will change many times between now and March.

Stewards’ call

Last Saturday night’s Breeders’ Cup Classic had a controversial beginning, with the winner Bayern ducking sharply to his left, which led to a controversial end, with the stewards deciding to allow the result stand.

There have been well-reasoned arguments made all week for and against the decision, by people who know more about the Californian rules of racing than most and, in particular, about Rule 1699 (c). The key point seems to be the point at which the interference took place (i.e. in the first 10 yards of the race) and whether or not the interference cost Shared Belief the opportunity to attain a better position than the position he ultimately attained. Fourth. And then, as is usually the case with this issue, we are back to opinions.

Perhaps it was the magnitude of the occasion that caused the stewards to err on the side of caution. It was the Breeders’ Cup Classic after all, one of the most important horse races in the States. The safe course of action is to allow the result to stand. Nine-tenths of the law and all. It is always a brave call to throw out a ‘winner’, and the more high-profile the event, the braver the call.

Generally, you don’t remember that many high-profile races in which the winner was controversially allowed to keep the race. The word ‘controversially’ and the phrase ‘allowed to keep the race’ do not sit together that easily. Dylan Thomas in the 2007 Arc de Triomphe maybe. Lord Windermere in the 2014 Gold Cup perhaps. But to have disqualified either would have been even more controversial.

You can remember the big disqualifications though. Nureyev, placed last in the 2000 Guineas in 1980 and the race awarded to Known Fact. Royal Gait placed last in the 1988 Ascot Gold Cup after being deemed to have caused the pacemaker El Conquistador to unseat his rider, despite the fact that he won the race by five lengths with 15 lengths between the second and the third.

Kings Lake and To-Agori-Mou in the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1981 (reversed and then reversed again), Sagace and Rainbow Quest in the 1985 Arc, Jacqueline Quest and Special Duty in the 1000 Guineas in 2010, Cahervillahow and Docklands Express in the 1991 Whitbread Gold Cup, Givus A Buck and Topsham Bay in the 1993 Whitbread Gold Cup. That Sandown hill and the racing line wreaks havoc.

Henry on a high

It was surprising to learn that, before last Sunday, Henry de Bromhead had never before had a treble, three winners at one meeting. He put that to rights at Naas, however, when Sizing John, Moscow Mannon and Sizing Granite went in, and his only other runner at Naas on the day, the 12-year-old cross-country perennial Sizing Australia, ran well for a long way on his seasonal debut in the two-mile handicap hurdle.

De Bromhead has his team in sparkling form. In the last two weeks he has had five winners, three seconds and three thirds from 15 runners. He has had 31 winners already this season, just one shy of his total of two seasons ago and just three shy of his total for the 2011/12 season. All going well, he is well on track to surpass last season’s best ever 48 by a fair way.

Not only that, but he has some really exciting horses to which to look forward this season. Sizing John and A Sizing Network both looked really promising in winning their maiden hurdles during the week, while Sizing Granite and Shanahan’s Turn jumped well in winning their beginners’ chases nicely on their first attempts.

Lord Ben and Moscow Mannon could be able to compete at a high level this season, while Sadler’s Risk ran a cracker in just going down to Perfect Gentleman at Cork on Sunday. Interestingly, de Bromhead sent Sadler’s Risk out to win his beginners’ chase in May, into the new season so that he retained his novice status, but still before he went off for his summer break and before the ground got too fast. He did something similar with Sizing Europe in 2009 and with Loosen My Load in 2010. It is an interesting tactic.

And then, of course, there’s the remarkable Sizing Europe himself. It could be a really interesting season.

Credit due

God’s Own may not have got due credit for winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on Tuesday. His main rivals under-performed, seemed to be the general sentiment, and the fact that the 50/1 shot Oscar Hill was able to finish third from 10lb out of the handicap holds the form back.

The other way of looking at it is that Tom George’s horse beat some classy rivals easily, and he would have beaten them even more easily had he not tried to take the fourth last fence home with him. The big horses will undoubtedly come on for the run, but God’s Own himself was really weak in the market. He will probably progress for this. And remember, he is still a novice this season, having won his first chase at Punchestown on 1st May. (Clever that.)

He shaped like a two-and-a-half-miler last season, but we know now that a stiff two miles suits him well. His best form for now is at right-handed tracks, and he will be of interest in the Henry VIII Chase or the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown now – both races are options – but we don’t know yet that he is not as good going left. He did run well to split Next Sensation and Turn Over Sivola at Doncaster last December.

He is only six, Tuesday’s run was just his fifth over fences, and he should continue to progress.

Power finale

Unless you are reading this in digital format on Friday night, or unless your newsagent gets up in the middle of the night to sort the papers and get the coffees and the croissants in, the Eddie Lynam-trained Slade Power has already run in his final race, in the Group 1 Darley Classic at Flemington in Australia this morning. And, you never know, he might have won it.

It has been a great year for Irish horses Down Under, with the Tom Hogan-trained Gordon Lord Byron winning the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill in March and with Adelaide winning the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley for Aidan O’Brien two weeks ago, so why not? It would be fantastic if David and Sabena Power’s horse brought the total of Irish-trained Group 1 winners in Australia in 2014 to three, and went out on a high.

IF 8th Nov