Claudio Ranieri losing the Leicester job was a grim reminder to us all, that you really are only as good as your last performance.
You might wonder how a preview of the Cheltenham Gold Cup could start with such a statement but bear with me!
To go from winning the league with relegation candidates, to being sacked for that same team falling into a relegation battle in less than 12 months is both baffling and sad.
I just keep thinking though, how much of sport is luck? How many things had to go wrong for everyone else in the league for this immaculate fairy-tale to happen in the 2016/17 Premier League season?
You only have to look to the hapless Arsenal in second to see that everything fell right for Leicester. This really should have been Arsenal’s year, every big gun had collapsed, all Arsenal had to do was seize the initiative as they sat in top place coming up to Christmas.
Arsenal had not improved that season, they had just maintained their level, a level that would usually have them adrift off the top, but they found themselves leading the league as every big team began to flounder.
As Arsenal collapsed, the realisation had to kick in that they probably will never have another guilt edged chance like that to win the Premier League again, and this led me on to my next thought, neither will Djakadam in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This year’s festival appears to be falling apart at the seams, and in particular the Gold Cup is unrecognisable from the classic we were hoping for at the start of the jumps season.
Last year’s brilliant winner Don Cossack was retired, the enigmatic Vautour sadly lost his life, Coneygree couldn’t recover in time to make the contest and this year’s potential superstar Thistlecrack sadly tweaked a tendon in that epic battle that saw Many Clouds lose his heroic life.
It’s grim reading for sure, and we can only hope that Thistlecrack can make a full recovery next season.
This ever growing injury list is a serious opening for Djakadam.
The tough 8-year-old has been second twice now in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but on those occasions, he gallantly followed home two magnificent horses who thrived around Prestbury Park as both Don Cossack and Coneygree enjoyed their ideal conditions.
People seem to say that he doesn’t quite see out the trip. I don’t agree, I just think he doesn’t see it out as well as a brilliant stayer does. There doesn’t seem to be a brilliant stayer this year.
Like Arsenal in 2015/16, Djakadam is in a prime position to “fall in” as everyone around him is literally collapsing, it seems as if all he must do is maintain the level he has been running in defeat for the last two renewals and that should be enough to see him home.
The challengers on paper are as disappointing on paper and they are hard to weigh up.
The 3/1 favourite currently is Native River.
If you are taking 3/1 now on Native River to win the Gold Cup you should get your head checked as you’re probably on that slippery slope to insanity.
Firstly it must be said that Native River has been a revelation this year in winning the Hennessy, the Welsh Grand National and the Denman Chase. He deserves every bit of recognition and love in the world, but making decisions based on emotions usually leads to errors in judgement and on cold hard logic he is a ridiculous price.
The fact remains that last season he was held in the four-mile handicap chase at the festival. The form of his wins this year is looking weak also, with Caroles Destrier, Raz De Maree and Le Mercurey chasing him home respectively. Each of the aforementioned horses are lovely sorts in their own rights, but they would be lapped in Gold Cups and all of them weren’t all that far behind Native River.
He needs the ground to be heavy to win, he has serious question marks over the form of his wins and his form around Cheltenham is also questionable. There’s too many questions to answer for the horse to be a 3/1 shot.
If the ground was heavy, then Native River has every chance, but 3/1 about a horse so reliant on bad ground is madness.
Cue Card is a once in a lifetime horse really who has jumped himself into the public affections due to the success and longevity of his fantastic seven-year racing career. At different points of his voyage through racing he has had more doubters than OJ Simpson, but he has proven them wrong every time.
This however, is a battle too far, even for the brave Cue Card.
He’s 11 years old now, and the last horse older than 10 to win the Gold Cup was What a Myth in 1969. Some stats are strong for a reason, and this stamina sapping race is made for younger legs and Cue Card is in the twilight years of his career.
Only the cold hearted could begrudge Cup Card a Gold Cup victory, but in all logic and probability he is too old, and it appears his chance for glory was lost last year with that fall four out when he appeared to be travelling sweetly.
The Irish contenders
After this we have Sizing John, the winner of the Irish Hennessy, at 7/1. I can’t see any situation where Sizing John wins a Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I was delighted to see him win last time out, a big race win he more than deserved, but the horses that were close to him in the finish aren’t anything special and were too close to warrant backing this horse for Gold Cup glory.
Simply, it was a poor renewal and he’s too short in the betting.
I was at a preview night lately, where Gordon Elliott’s assistant trainer Olly Murphy said that Empire of Dirt probably should have beaten Sizing John in that Irish Gold Cup, but for a mistake at the last and Empire of Dirt is “nowhere near good enough to run in a Gold Cup” and won’t run.
Empire of Dirt was too close to Sizing John, as was Don Poli and More of That and I’m willing to completely dismiss that form, and in turn, the chances of those four rivals were they to turn up.
Outlander was a brilliant winner of the Lexus Chase at Christmas, beating Djakadam and arguably carries some of the best form to this contest from that win. However, Djakadam simply didn’t fire that day. Djakadam is best fresh, and had beaten Outlander comfortably over a shorter trip in the John Durkan Chase three weeks prior and simply hadn’t recovered in time.
Outlander is a good horse, but something about him makes me believe that he’ll struggle to hold that form with a fresher Djakadam, but he definitely holds each way claims.
The remainder haven’t a chance, although there could be the potential for the bolt in blue at juicy odds from Champagne West.
Everything points to this being Djakadam’s year.
He’s the right age at 8, and scarily might actually have some improvement to come as he reaches his peak age. He’ll be a better horse at Cheltenham this year for a quieter build up to the showpiece as last year he went into the Gold Cup off the back of a nasty fall. This year his preparation has been ideal and he’ll improve for that.
I firmly believe that this is a very poor renewal of the Gold Cup and if he runs to the level of his last two placed efforts he will go mightily close. He has the least amount of improvement necessary to take the showpiece and I think he will.
Bolt from the Blue
Sticking with the Arsenal analogy, there is the potential for a dark horse to win this race, Like Leicester and that horse could be Champagne West.
Champagne West comes into this after a really impressive Theystes Chase win. This is the same race that Djakadam won before finishing second in his first Gold Cup. It must be remembered that Djakadam won that off 145, but Champagne West won this year’s off 154, and beat a better field. He jumps well and could be suited to Cheltenham. At 16/1 he might be worth an each way if that takes your fancy.
I don’t think he’s good enough to beat a horse of Djakadam’s ability, but like Arsenal, Djakadam has flattered to deceive and it might be wise to cover him with a lively outsider like Champagne West!
The BetBright Cup 2017 was launched this weekend ahead of the Cheltneham Festival 2017…
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.