Renowned Racing journalist Donn McClean runs the rule over the runners and riders for the Caspian Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Rewind four weeks.
- Baron Alco beats Frodon, with Guitar Pete staying on to take third place.
- Rather Be is travelling well when he is brought down at the fourth last.
- Romain De Senam unseats at the first, Splash Of Ginge pulls up before the second last.
Go back to Cheltenham, pitch them all together again and re-frame the weights.
- Give Baron Alco an extra 6lb and give Frodon an extra 3lb.
- Allow Splash Of Ginge 2lb. Everybody else, as you were, although Guitar Pete is out of the handicap, so he has an extra 1lb to carry.
- Move to a slightly different track, a slightly more stamina-favouring track, re-name it the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and run the race again.
How does that one pan out?
You can understand why Rather Be is favourite.
Nicky Henderson’s horse was travelling really well when he was brought down in the BetVictor Gold Cup four weeks ago. Only just beaten by Mister Whitaker in the Close Brothers Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March off a mark of 143, a mark of 149 for the November race was fair, and he gets to race off the same mark on Saturday.
So he is 6lb better off with Baron Alco and 3lb better off with Frodon and 1lb better off even with Guitar Pete.
How does that one pan out? A lot depends on where you think he would have finished in the November race.
Of course, it is all conjecture, nobody knows for sure how he would have fared. But he was travelling well, and we know that he stays the trip and goes well at the track. It is reasonable to assume that he would been involved at least.
He is only seven and he has raced just five times over fences, so he has the potential to go higher than his current mark of 149. He is a big player.
Baron Alco should run well again.
Gary Moore’s horse may not have got the credit that he deserved for winning the BetVictor Gold Cup. True, there was plenty going on behind him and he was up in the vanguard, away from all of it, but he still had to put up a big performance to win the race, which he did.
Also, he is only seven, he is still progressing, and the form of his comeback run at Chepstow in October, when he was beaten a neck by Charbel, looks even better now than it did then, given Charbel’s subsequent exploits. History tells you that it is not easy for one horse to win both the November and the December Gold Cups at Cheltenham, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility either. A 6lb hike was not harsh, and he is a player.
Frodon won this race two years ago as a four-year-old, and he was gallant again in defeat in November, and Guitar Pete won it last year. Both horses are probably better suited by the New Course at Cheltenham than they are by the Old Course, and both are sure to run big races.
However, it may be that War Sound is the value of the race.
Philip Hobbs’ horse did not win in eight attempts last season over fences, but he ran some fine races in defeat, including in a two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase at Uttoxeter in April, when he was only just beaten by Ballyarthur, to whom he was conceding 8lb, and at Sandown on the last day of the season in another two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase, when he split Altior’s half-brother Silverhow and Geordie Des Champs.
He left all that behind him, however, on his debut this season at Aintree last month, when he ran out an impressive winner of a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase.
He travelled like the most likely winner from a long way out that day. He moved up nicely to join leader King’s Odyssey at the second last fence, and he came away from that rival on the run to the last before staying on well up the run-in.
The handicapper raised him by 10lb for that win, which was not an insignificant hike, but there is every chance that he will be able to cope with a hike of that magnitude. He won the Aintree race with lots in hand, and it is a race that has been working out well since.
Also, Philip Hobbs’ horses were not in great form last season, they have been in much better form this season so far, and there is a chance that a mark of 146 still under-estimates War Sound’s ability. He goes well on good ground, two and a half miles is his distance, and he ran well for a long way in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in January on his only run to date at the track.
Mr Medic was impressive in winning at Ascot on his debut this season, and a 9lb hike was merited, while Cepage was well backed during the week and goes well fresh. It is a fascinating race, but War Sound could be the value.