Things We Learned » Gold Cup fascinating

Gold Cup fascinating

Start at the end.  The Gold Cup is fascinating.  It is the most eagerly anticipated Gold Cup in recent memory.  Rarely if ever before have five horses of the calibre of Cue Card, Djakadam, Don Cossack, Don Poli and Vautour been set to line up against each other in steeplechasing’s blue riband.

(They’re in alphabetical order there, by the way.  That’s safest.)

You can make a solid case for any one of the five, but each one has at least one potential negative, a stone in the shoe of any copper-bottomed case for.  Cue Card is the King George winner, he loves Cheltenham, he has won a Champion Bumper and a Ryanair Chase there, and he is in the form of his life this year.  But he is 10 now, and no 10-year-old has won the Gold Cup since Cool Dawn in 1998.

Djakadam was second in the race last year as a six-year-old, and he was brilliant in the John Durkan Chase on his debut this season.  But he has fallen twice in three visits to Cheltenham, including last time, and he may be at his best on easy ground.

Don Poli is two for two at the Cheltenham Festival, he was an impressive winner of the RSA Chase last season, he beat the Grand National winner this season, and he is a real galloper who should excel in the war of attrition that the Gold Cup can be.  But he was not impressive in landing the Lexus Chase last time.  He has to improve on that if he is to win a Gold Cup.

Don Cossack is the highest-rated chaser in training, he was brilliant at Aintree and at Punchestwon last season, and he probably would have won the King George this season had he not come down at the second last fence.  But he was not overly impressive last time in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles, and he is zero for two at the Cheltenham Festival.

Vautour won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2014, he was a brilliant winner of the JLT Chase last year and he would have won the King George in December had the winning post been two strides closer to the final fence than it was.  But he has so much pace that we don’t know if he has the stamina for three miles and two and a half furlongs.

You could go around in circles assessing the chances of this quintet, but the market is mature now, and it is difficult to find a betting angle.  And the five of them are so good that it is improbable that anything else could improve enough to beat all five.  They can’t all have an off-day.

In truth, if you are not on one of the front five already at greater than current odds, this is a race to savour without the distraction of a financial involvement.

BetBright Cup debate

It is difficult to figure out why the Prestbury Cup, or the BetBright Cup, the ‘competition’ between Ireland and Britain at Cheltenham, is getting such bad press.

It is true that the lines of nationality can be blurred in horse racing.  Remember Don’t Push It, 2010 Grand National hero?  Owned by an Irishman, trained by an Irishman, ridden by an Irishman, wearing green, white and gold, yet he went down as a British Grand National winner?

It’s not like England playing Ireland in soccer or rugby, when one team puts on white jerseys and the other puts on green jerseys.  (Although sometimes the lines of nationality can be blurred in football too.)

Racing is not a sport that lends itself easily to the team phenomenon.  See how the Shergar Cup has struggled to progress from interesting novelty event?  But the Ireland/Britain phenomenon is a phenomenon that has defined Cheltenham through the ages.  It has been prevalent at the Cheltenham Festival since Vincent O’Brien first sent Cottage Rake and Hatton’s Grace and Castledermot over in the 1940s and 1950s.  Without the Irish element, it is probable that the Cheltenham Festival as it exists today would be but a pale imitation of the behemoth that it has become.

You couldn’t have had a BetBright Cup in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  Or you could have had it, but it would have been 17-1 or 18-0 to the British, Galmoy the Irish Messi.  But we have reached a point now at which Irish trainers as a collective can legitimately expect to have close to the same number of winners as British trainers.

You can argue that there is no such thing as Irish trainers as a collective.  That if Min gets beaten by a short head in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, it makes no difference to Willie Mullins whether he has been beaten by Altior or by Supasundae.  That he doesn’t go home and think, at least we were beaten by an Irish-trained horse.

That said, there is a genuine willingness among racing fans here for Irish-trained horses to do well.  The bias that a bet can engender notwithstanding, there is an unmistakable interest here in how Irish horses fare.  And if Irish trainers as a collective (such as it exists) could have more winners than the collective of British trainers at the Cheltenham Festival, a home game for Britain, well that would be something in which to take patriotic pride, wouldn’t it?

Going report

Cheltenham got 24mm of rain on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, and Simon Claisse said that, with the forecast dry spell, the ground on the opening day would be a combination of soft and good to soft.  Just shows you how quickly the track drains, and it would not be at all surprising if the good to soft parts were more prevalent than the soft parts.

By comparison, Wincanton got 27mm or rain and had to abandon Thursday’s meeting.  Stratford got 43mm of rain and the Avon burst its banks.  Monday’s meeting is off.  You will have to find another medium through which to risk half your Cheltenham betting bank.  It’s now Stratford-under-Avon.

Things to remember

Six things to remember when you are planning your betting this week:

  1. It is still all about value, it is still all about backing horses at odds that are bigger than their true odds.
  2. If you have €10 on a 5/1 winner at Cheltenham next week, you will win the same amount as if you have €10 on a 5/1 winner at Navan tomorrow.
  3. That said, the bookmakers recognise that Cheltenham presents an opportunity for them to attract new and repeat business, so their offers in terms of odds, concessions and each-way terms are often very generous.
  4. Good form at a previous Cheltenham Festival, under the unique conditions that prevail there, is a massive asset to carry into the week.
  5. Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell are also massive assets to carry into the week.
  6. The last race on any given day is not the last race.  Even the Grand Annual is not the last race.  There will be other races.  Don’t chase it.

Countdown is on

There are a few things that you can do now to help the time pass until the tape goes up on the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday.  You can go through your ante post portfolio again, work out how much you will win if that Lucky 15 cops, and if you will clear your mortgage or buy a Ferrari.  Or you can start watching the new season of House of Cards on Netflix.  That should take you up to Sunday afternoon at least.

If you haven’t seen the first three seasons, you’re in luck, because you can start at the start and watch all four seasons together.  That’s 52 hours, and that could take you into Tuesday morning.  Or you could watch the recordings of last year’s Cheltenham Festival, whet your appetite and pick up more clues.

Or count sheep.  Or do your tax returns.

Just three more sleeps now.


© The Irish Field, 12th March 2016