The 2015 editions of the King George and Lexus chases were billed as “semi-finals” for the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Well they weren’t.
The King George over Kempton’s punishing flat right handed three miles was as good a race as I’ve seen in many a year in terms of quality, quantity, depth and excitement and it answered lots of questions in my mind whilst leaving a couple of imponderables. So let’s start with the easy bits.
Silviniaco Conti’s days at the top table have gone for this flat track bully. He could still be an interesting wildcard in the Grand National but he’s a no-no for the Gold Cup.
Smad Place can’t hack it at the very top and I would still be concerned about him in the RyanAir. His figures in Class 1 Grade 1 read 303UR2332844 and I was amazed how many respected judges put him forward as a king George winner.
Al Ferof would be a world beater if there was a 2m 6f championship race. Shrewdly campaigned by the Skeltons to pick up third but wouldn’t stay the Gold Cup trip in a horsebox!
Cue Card has to be a player in the Gold Cup because £1million says he will be there, even on three legs!! If you take Cue Card on this seasons form as he is now a fit, healthy, happy nine year old back to his scintillating Bumper winning best he has to be favourite.
Don Cossack is the highest rated staying chaser currently in training but he was under the pump fully a mile out before capsizing two out under the hapless Bryan Cooper. Don Cossacks Cheltenham CV is a fall in the RSA and a third to Uxizandre in the RyanAir. Aintree yes, Punchestown yes but I can’t have him at Cheltenham.
Which brings me to VAUTOUR. I think the bookmaking fraternity have got this very wrong and been too quick to earmark him a non-stayer. He was a 6yo novice having his first run at three miles in the very best company and he is beaten a head by a race fit, in form rival who was hit eighteen times in order to get up. In this race alone if Ruby had really kicked two out it would have been race over (something he has since said), if he had a real cut at the last two fences (jumping is his forte) it would have been race over. Add to this Vautour is a spring horse who has whizzed up that hill twice before in Grade One level company.
Now for the controversial bit. I don’t think Vautour will need to stay to win the Gold Cup. If you had asked me two weeks ago I would have been concerned about the trip but since then Smad Place couldn’t even get to the front, Silviniaco Conti led him for a mile and most importantly Conrygree is out for the season which completely changes the complexion of the race. The horse most likely to set the fractions is Vautour ridden by master tactician Ruby Walsh and if he kicked from the final ditch I believe Richard Hoiles will be saying “..the pack are closing but they are not going to get near the new king of Cheltenham, Vautour”.
At a general 10/1 he has to be a three star*** selection. I see the 12/1 with PP has gone! But what about Djakadam I hear you say? Well if Ruby has the choice of rides I am convinced he would pick Vautour. What about Don Poli? He ground out victory in horrible ground in the Lexus and if Coneygree was still in the Gold Cup I would have him down as the one most likely to have picked him up.
In his last two races Don Poli has beaten the winners of the Boylesports Chase, The Grand National, the Hennessey, 3rd in the Hennessey, all handicaps. Don Poli has stamina in abundance, is an efficient fencer who does nothing flashy but beats handicappers albeit good ones! So who can think of a 4mile handicap that will take some jumping?
Exactly. At 25/1 he has to be a two star** selection for the Grand National.