A maximum field of 20 is set to line up in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday, and you can make a cogent case for plenty of them.
Kalondra is interesting. He looked a likely winner of a good handicap chase at Cheltenham in April when he moved easily into the lead on the run down the hill. He did appear to tire in the home straight, but he was only beaten by three lengths in the end by Traffic Fluide, who won the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot two weeks ago off a 9lb higher mark.
Neil Mulholland’s horse was also travelling well in a two-mile-six-furlong chase at the Galway Festival in August when he came down at the second last fence.
It is impossible to know how he would have fared that day, but he might not have been too far away, and the two horses who finished first and second, Sub Lieutenant and Sandymount Duke, were rated 158 and 155 respectively.
Kalondra was giving them both 7lb, and he gets to race off a mark of 148 on Saturday. He is obviously potentially a well-handicapped horse.
The two Gary Moore horses, Baron Alco and Benatar, are also interesting. Baron Alco did well to finish second to Road To Respect in the Brown Advisory Plate at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, having raced prominently in a race that was ultimately dominated by the hold-up horses, a race that was won by a horse who is now rated 24lb higher than he was then.
Off the track for over 18 months after that, Baron Alco returned at Chepstow last month and, well-backed, ran a big race to finish second to Charbel, only just giving best on the run-in.
The handicapper raised him by 4lb for that run, but it takes him up to a mark of just 146, the mark off which he ran such a big race at the 2017 Festival. He is still only seven and has raced just seven times over fences, so he still has scope for progression as a chaser.
Benatar did really well to finish third behind Shattered Love and Terrefort in the JLT Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March, given that he was keener than ideal through the early stages of the race. He was keen again on his debut this season at Newton Abbot last month when he could only finish fourth behind Beggar’s Wishes.
There is every chance that he will settle better on Saturday, he shouldn’t be as fresh and the bigger field and faster pace should help. If he does settle, he could be a big player.
West Approach was also keener than ideal on his seasonal debut in a three-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham’s October meeting. Even so, he travelled well to the second last fence, and he kept on well enough to take third place.
Colin Tizzard’s horse was a good staying hurdler two seasons ago, but he did well over intermediate distances last season as a novice chaser, and his latest run over three miles suggests that a drop down in trip might suit. The handicapper dropped him by 1lb for that run too, down to a mark of 142, which is 15lb lower than his mark over hurdles.
However, the key to the race may lie in the Close Brothers Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, in which Mister Whitaker beat Rather Be by a head.
A 9lb turnaround in the weights suggests that Rather Be should exact his revenge on Saturday, but it may not be as straightforward as that.
Mister Whitaker probably had more in hand than the bare winning margin in March. He got in tight to the final fence, he lost ground and momentum there, but he still finished off his race strong enough to just get up and win by a head.
As well as that, Mick Channon’s horse proved his wellbeing with a game win in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle two weeks ago.
It isn’t ideal that the handicapper has taken the opportunity to raise him by another 7lb, but there is a trade-off: the experience and enhanced race fitness and proven wellbeing against the extra weight.
That was a good performance, it was a good race and he won well in the end. It should put him spot on for Saturday. Also, he is two for two at Cheltenham, both wins gained over this intermediate trip, and, as a six-year-old who has raced just six times over fences, he has plenty of scope for progression this season. He has lots in his favour.
On to Sunday
The Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday is similar, in that there are cases to be made for many contenders. Silver Streak looked very good in winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las last time, and a 6lb hike may not be enough to halt his progress.
Mohaayed finished just fourth in that race, but he ran well for a long way and he was only beaten a total of four lengths. He should come on for that run, and he will race off a mark that is only 7lb higher than the mark off which he won the County Hurdle in March.
Western Ryder is interesting, and Verdana Blue was impressive in winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton last Saturday – for which she must shoulder a 5lb penalty – but the value of the race may lie with Nube Negra.
Dan Skelton’s horse was a progressive juvenile hurdler last season, and he ran a big race in the Fred Winter Hurdle at Cheltenham in March to finish third behind Veneer Of Charm and Style De Garde off a mark of 135. He hit the front on the run around the home turn that day, travelling well, but he just couldn’t repel Veneer Of Charm’s challenge.
He didn’t run badly in the Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree next time and, after a good break and a wind operation, he could be primed for Sunday’s race by Dan Skelton, who won the race with North Hill Harvey in 2016.
Nube Negra is lightly raced, he is back down to a mark of 135, his Fred Winter mark, and it is significant that Harry Skelton rides him in front of Mohaayed and Not That Fuisse. Also, he represents the four-year-olds, who have won this race three times in the last seven years.
Earlier this week Donn and Rory Delargy previewed the Cheltenham November Meeting giving their best bets for the meeting. If you haven’t already subscribed, search for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ on your preferred podcasting app.