Smad Place looks the early value in a very open field
Next up in our Cheltenham ante-post previews is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Our man takes an in-depth look at the race everyone looks forward to most; it’s supposedly a very open race this season!
Cheltenham racecourse received 35 initial entries for their most prestigious race of the season, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. There are 13 Irish trained horses in, a sole French entry while the remainder will represent British-based handlers.
This is the race every national hunt owner, trainer and jockey dreams of winning, such is the stature of the contest. It’s considered the pinnacle of National Hunt racing.
Run over a trip of three miles two-and-a-half furlongs on Cheltenham’s stiff New Course, horses that are frail in stamina will be found out.
Main Contenders for the 2015 Gold Cup
Despite this year’s Gold Cup having an open feel to it Silviniaco Conti is the standout favourite, and currently best-priced 3/1. Still only nine-year-olds the son of Dom Alco has dominated the season’s top British three mile chases – winning the Betfair and King George VI.
He is now a two-time winner of Kempton’s King George, a dual conqueror of Haydock’s Betfair Chase and an Aintree Bowl Chase victor. Paul Nicholls’s inmate has been a model of consistency throughout his career, and a testament to the best trainer in Great Britain.
This season – apart from needing the run at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase – he has been superb. His sound jumping, strong travelling and stout staying ability sees him go to the Gold Cup as the right favourite.
The problem lies with his current price given his preference for a flat track. No doubt his best form has come away from the undulations of Cheltenham. This didn’t stop him from running a huge race in last year’s running, however. It still baffles us to this day how he didn’t win given he did nearly everything right and lead over the last.
Under Noel Fehily Silviniaco Conti jumped well, maybe travelled a bit too strongly before apparently just running out of steam in the last 200 yards. He possibly went with too much zest? Possibly Noel Fehily was in front too soon? Maybe he didn’t stay?
This are all questions that need answering and despite being a year older, a year stronger and in rude health; the current price on offer is too short to find out the answers to the above. He still remains the one to beat, though. Maybe the cheek-pieces he now sports will get him over the line.
Another reason Silviniaco Conti is worth taking on at the current prices; is he will potentially face many new and improving horses for the first time. We don’t know how these form-lines will play out on the day.
In Road To Riches we have a young, improving horse that is very much going the right way. Noel Meade’s charge is now outright second favourite for the race at 15/2. This time last year he was a 147-rated chaser who was last of four behind Djakadam in a Leopardstown Grade 2. His progress since is nothing short of remarkable.
From January 25 2014 the son of Gamut has run six times. Four of those runs have been wins with two runner-up finishes added. His handicap mark has been raised a total of 20 pounds and the Gigginstown House Stud gelding now has an official rating of 167.
A Galway Plate and a pair of Grade 1 wins in the JNWine.com Champion Chase and Lexus Chase in the space of six months, just show you how rapidly Road To Riches is progressing. Further development would see this gelding going very close in Cheltenham’s Blue Riband event.
In his two top-level wins he has displayed a fair amount of class and even an ability to quicken once hitting top stride. Jumping will be of no concern for him and the prospect of good ground will even enhance his chance.
The concerns are him going straight to Cheltenham without a prep race. It’s not ideal. We can’t hide the fact that it will be the biggest test of his career on a course he’s never encountered. Road To Riches has answered every call this season, however, and so is respected.
The front two in the market aside we have an extremely open looking chasing pack. Next in the BetBright market is Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell. A high-class hurdler the son of Gold Well was a good winner at last season’s Cheltenham Festival in the Grade 3 Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase.
That form has since been boosted given what the runner-up, Ma Filleule has gone on to achieve. It was ‘only’ a handicap that Holywell won at Cheltenham, but he stepped up in grade going to the Aintree Grand National Festival.
There he would really stamp himself as a Grade One performer beating Don Cossack by ten lengths with the 2014 RSA Chase winner also well-beaten. Grant Don Cossack isn’t the horse he is now and O’Faolains Boy ran below par – it was still a top win by Holywell.
This season has not gone well, however. A third in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase can be deemed as satisfactory, but his unseat at Aintree in a Listed Chase doesn’t read well. Obviously. Sluggish jumping was a common theme in that race and he now has questions to answer.
The poor seasonal form of the Jonjo O’Neill stable would also be a concern. In his defence he’ll be better on nice spring ground when the blinkers are reapplied.
Last season’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere will bid to become the first horse since Best Mate to win back-to-back Blue Ribands. Like Best Mate he has been sparingly campaigned in the hope of peaking for the big day.
The son of Oscar has only run in two races since his Prestbury Park heroics. Behind Don Cossack the nine-year-old made a beautiful start to the campaign in the John Durkan Memorial Chase. Since that victory, however he disappointed in the Lexus Chase at Christmas.
That run can be forgiven, though. For a number of reasons. One; the ground was probably softer than ideal at Leopardstown and two; Davy Russell never really put him in the race to get competitive, and was easy on him when his winning chance had gone.
He is due to run in the Irish Hennessy and we will need to see a much better effort with a Cheltenham bet in mind. This year’s running of the Gold Cup is sure to be just as competitive as 2014 and given how badly he travelled in last year’s victory; it would be a concern.
At one stage it potentially looked like Lord Windermere would be tailed off. He surely can’t get away with that again and connections may well reach for some form of headgear on the big day in the hope of getting him travelling on the bridle. On better ground with headgear applied he may be of interest come March.
The 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth is next at 16/1. He’s a horse we have a real soft spot for.
What he lacks in looks and size he makes up for with great heart and determination. Since his Gold Cup (2013) win, however he has only run four times. To his credit he did win the 2013 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown before running a gallant race to be fifth in last season’s Gold Cup.
That was the first time he was beaten at Prestbury Park in six career efforts. The track clearly plays to his strong staying ability, but the question is at the age of 10 can he win another Gold Cup against younger, sharper rivals? We have our doubts.
One such rival who has age on his side is this season’s Hennessy Gold Cup winner, Many Clouds. Oliver Sherwood’s stable star was a gritty winner of that Newbury race when showing strong staying power to see off a competitive field.
The Gold Cup trip shouldn’t bother him and with the Newbury race looking sound in terms of form he is one to consider especially being a young horse on the upgrade. There are a couple of negatives, however which are worth mentioning.
Ground with cut in it appears to be a strong prerequisite for him showing his best ability and there is a fair chance he may not get that at Cheltenham in March. When he was brought down in last year’s RSA Chase it was too far out to say how close he could’ve gone, but he appeared to be running like a horse outpaced.
Secondly, there is also a chance Many Clouds is a touch flattered by his Hennessy win. Many of the horses he beat were having their first starts of the year and he may well have had a significant fitness advantage on testing ground.
His run in the BetBright Cup Chase – formerly known as the Argento – will reveal more. He’s a nice horse, but we do have a couple of nagging doubts about him.
We thought Smad Place was capable of winning the Hennessy Gold Cup that Many Clouds scored in. The grey went to Newbury without a prep run, though and it told in the straight as he gradually weakened in the hands of Denis O’Regan who was riding him for the first time.
Given it was his first start of the season on unsuitable ground in a highly competitive high-class handicap we feel it a good effort now. At the time we were disappointed with the run, but in hindsight it was more than satisfactory.
Alan King’s inmate should now take a fair step forward fitness wise from that effort. If so we are sure he is capable of out-running his current Gold Cup price of 22/1. The RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival has long been a breeding ground for Gold Cup winners; the very race Smad Place was just touched off in last season.
His run in that novice chase event saw him compete in his fourth Cheltenham Festival in-a-row. A tenth – as an under developed horse – in a Triumph Hurdle, two thirds in a pair of World Hurdles and a second in an RSA Chase prove Smad Place loves Cheltenham in March.
The stronger pace and better ground really seem to suit. For that reason he is to the fore of our list here. The eight-year-old will come into the race as a younger, more progressive and lightly-raced horse than the likes of Silviniaco Conti and that can count for a lot.
He is due to run in the Betbright Chase at Cheltenham on Trials day so we should get a fir idea of where he stands then.
Best of the Rest
Al Ferof has yet to prove himself over this sort of staying trip and may not even run here. Boston Bob is a better horse in the spring with Cheltenham Festival form to his name, but we have doubts about this trip suiting, and at ten is worth taking on against younger rivals.
Carlingford Lough is still lightly-raced and young enough to run well, but his jumping can often let him down and that may prove to be his downfall. Dynaste has never really convinced over three miles plus and with other options like the Ryanair – still open is swerved.
Houblon Des Obeaux is a really likable horse. Stamina is his forte and we could really see the New Course playing to his strengths. The problem is he seems best with significant cut in the ground and he may not get that.
His second in this season’s Hennessy Gold Cup was a massive run. Now eleven, On His Own continues to hold his form well, but is passed over due to his advancing years.
Paul Nicholls’ Sam Winner was a useful novice chaser last season, but has really upped his game this year. The New Course should suit as he looks a decent stayer, but his form this season maybe leaves him a bit to find.
Medermit was a little too close for our liking in his Aintree win while last season he failed to beat a non-stayer in Ballycasey home in the RSA Chase.
Shutthefrontdoor impressed with his win at Carlisle in November, but the son of Accordion hasn’t been since. We can only guess this is due to his stable being under a cloud this season, which isn’t ideal.
He looked to be going the right way last time out, but is a risky proposition given we haven’t seen him in four months. The prospect of good ground would also be a concern.
His stablemate Taquin Du Seuil also comes with risks given he hasn’t been seen since late November. He’s a horse we like as it appears he has a huge engine – which he showed in winning last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase last year – but his jumping can let him down and he has reportedly been a sick horse this season.
No Gold Cup preview in recent years is complete without mentioning The Giant Bolster; David Bridgewater’s stable star has been placed in the last two Gold Cup’s while in 2012 he ran a gallant race to be fourth.
His form this season has been sound, but at ten we can see a handful of horses proving too good. He looks sure to run well again at his favourite track, but should come up short.
Djakadam threw his hat into the ring late when winning the Goffs Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park. He is undoubtedly a horse of massive potential, but very few six-year-olds win Gold Cups and it may come a year too soon.
His heavy ground handicap win will be a far cry from conditions experienced in a Gold Cup and so is passed over at a price of 16/1.
The BetBright Verdict
Despite the betting suggesting it’s a two horse race, this season’s Gold Cup looks an extremely open fair. That is something we can’t highlight enough.
Silviniaco Conti is obviously the most likely winner, but has to be opposed at this time on value grounds especially with him having a preference for softer ground and flatter tracks. He takes on a new generation of horses and there is still a lingering doubt about his stamina.
No one can deny the progress of Road To Riches this season. He has been a revelation. Not many can boast the form he is in this season and that is always a huge plus tackling the demands of a Gold Cup.
His raw form maybe has a bit to be desired, though given the 11-year-old On His Own got so close to him in the Lexus. The third home in that race was Sam Winner and that too potentially leaves down the form. Add the fact he has never been to Cheltenham and he goes there without a prep run; he is worth taking on at the current prices.
The aging trio of Bobs Worth, Boston Bob and The Giant Bolster hare also worth taking on. Bobs Worth sadly doesn’t look the same horse since his Gold Cup triumph while – despite being a four time Grade 1 winner – Boston Bob has never really convinced us.
Of the elder statesmen. The Giant Bolster offers far better value and has been in better form this year, but we just can’t see him winning a Gold Cup.
Jonjo O’Neill has had a very poor start to the main National Hunt season. For a long time his horses haven’t been well and while there are signs of improvement the trio of Holywell, Shutthefrontdoor and Taquin Du Seuil are opposed until we see more. Holywell especially offers terrible value at 12/1.
The value has now gone about JP McManus’s Carlingford Lough. This horse has a fair amount of ability as his sound run in the Lexus Chase showed at Christmas. He is bound to come on hugely for that, but the sticking point is his jumping. It can let him down. This accompanied with the value being gone means he is passed over.
The younger quartet of Houblon Des Obeaux, Lord Windermere, Many Clouds and Smad Place remain interesting.
Lord Windermere offers the worst value of the four. Connections seem to be targeting one day and one day only; March 13. He is sure to turn-up in good order for his title defence, but at 12/1 offers little value at the moment.
The nine-year-old was the winner of a very strange Gold Cup last year when he never remotely looked like the winner till he jumped the last. Under Davy Russell he travelled so poorly and that is a worry.
We’d love to see some form of headgear applied on the day, to aid this concern, but till then he isn’t a bet.
Many Clouds is also a touch short in the betting compared to others. Hennessy winners (and runners) should always be respected when turning up in the Gold Cup given their recent sound record, but this year’s renewal did look a touch sub-standard.
The fact it was run on attritional ground played into the winner’s hands especially given the fitness edge he had. The prospect of better ground and more favourable weights means we can see Houblon Des Obeaux and Smad Place getting lot closer to him in March.
Of that pair the former is an admirable type and capable of outrunning his price of 33/1, especially if the ground came up soft, but despite finishing well in front of SMAD PLACE at Newbury we’d be confident that the grey is a classier horse.
While not getting his head in front just yet at the Festival Smad Place’s form there is solid. Championship conditions bring out the best in him.
He still remains lightly-raced and will go to Cheltenham a fresh horse carrying less battle scars. The wear and tear the likes of Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti have encountered through their careers means they are potentially vulnerable. Lord Windermere showed what a fresh horse can achieve in this race.
In an open race, he is a speculative each-way play. So many good horses that are ahead of him in the market have question marks to answer. To our eye, he looks worth playing especially as he may shorten in the market if winning the BetBright Cup Chase at Cheltenham Trials Day on Saturday afternoon.
1pt each-way SMAD PLACE @22/1