The decision by Jockey Club Racecourses to offer a million-pound bonus for any horse who could win the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup wasn’t a new idea, with Betfair themselves having to pay out over Kauto Star the season their sponsorship of this race started.
The problem which the sponsors had was that it was impossible to promote the prize on the biggest day of all due to restrictions imposed by Cheltenham Racecourse.
The new arrangement will enable the organise to trumpet the deal from the rooftops come March, but the downside is that there will almost certainly be no need, as the first leg has garnered no extra entries, and the final field is surely no bigger than it would have been without the supposed incentive.
In terms of finding the winner, it’s not as easy at first glance as the market would suggest, with Ballynagour and Dynaste smart performers on their day, and Holywell finishing an excellent fourth in the Gold Cup in March, with Silviniaco Conti in arrears.
There are reasons for being negative about that trio, however, with Cue Card slamming the first-named pair in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby last month, and while neither would need to improve much to turn the tables, it should be noted that Ballynagour goes best fresh, while Dynaste also comes to hand early, and had enjoyed a pipe-opener over hurdles at Auteuil prior to his run behind Colin Tizzard’s star.
Given that Cue Card tends to improve for an outing, it’s more than likely that he will confirm Wetherby form, even before considering the possibility that David Pipe’s horses may well be under a cloud, a notion bolstered by the yard’s poor showing at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting, a fixture which Pipe traditionally does very well at.
Holywell is harder to rule out on form terms, but is the only one in the field who hasn’t had the benefit of a run, and tends to show his best form when the sun begins to shine in the spring.
The weather in Lancashire has taken a distinct turn for the worse in the last day, and a slog in heavy ground is the last thing Jonjo O’Neill’s son of Gold Well needs.
If that trio can be ruled out (a dangerous assumption, of course), then we are heading in the direction of a match between Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti, and there are reasons to believe this head-to-head contest is tighter than the odds suggest.
Silviniaco Conti has won this race in two of the last three seasons, but he had his colours lowered by Cue Card in 2013, and the pair look of roughly equal merit these days.
Cue Card has been crabbed for a lack of stamina in the past, but the way he dug deep to withstand several challenges in the Charlie Hall shows that he stays better than many would admit, and his one weakness at this trip is that he seems to hit a flat spot, as he did last time, before keeping on again.
That also happened when he was beaten by Silviniaco Conti in the 2013 King George, but Cue Card had travelled like the best horse for most of that contest only to paddle badly between the last two fences.
He is reckoned by plenty to have “hit the wall” there, but I don’t believe that, and he went through his latest race in much the same way. Paddy Brennan needs to be alive to the possibility to his vulnerability, but the pair gelled very well in Yorkshire, and look a huge threat to Paul Nicholls’ charge again. At the prices, he must be the selection.
Selection: Cue Card
Danger: Silviniaco Conti
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.