Saturday brings about a great handicap chase outside of Cheltenham’s festival with the BetVictor Gold Cup. A 2.5 mile handicap chase on the old course, the race always attracts some big names and the market has been fluctuating massively during the week. Below we’ll take a look at some of the principle runners in this years renewal to create a shortlist of fancies.
#7 Slate House – 5/1
Current ante post favourite is Slate House. The Colin Tizzard trained 7 year old made his seasonal return over course and distance at the October meeting and destroyed a field of 6 by 11 lengths. Robbie Power simply seemed to sit on him till he won and he powered up the famous hill to an impressive victory. Immediately his price was trimmed for this race and the handicapper had a knee jerk reaction and threw 12lbs at him for a class 2 victory. Now this represents a big step up in class for him but that win certainly put him on the radar and the bookies have already started duck him. The hefty weight rise and a rubbing shoulders with high class opposition could just find him out.
#4 Siruh Du Lac – 11/2
One of my favourite horses from last season as the 6 year old burst onto the scene winning all 4 of his races. He formed quite the partnership with Lizzie Kelly as she guided him to each of his victories, most notably the Brown Advisory Plate at the Cheltenham Festival. He started last season off a mark of 123 and is now up to a hefty 150 for his successive wins. He’s one of the best jumpers I’ve ever seen and pinged every fence around Cheltenham in March to make every yard and hold off Janika for the second time. He handles soft, he handles the course so it’s just whether the handicapper has finally got his teeth into him. The form has had a boost as Janika has won the Haldon Gold Cup already this season but it remains to be seen if this Nick Williams trained horse is still improving.
#5 Spiritofthegames – 13/2
The Skelton yard has been a bit hit and miss recently. Their favourites seem to flop and the horses you don’t pay attention too seem to thrive and win. Spirtofthegames put in two massive performances at Cheltenham last season coming 3rd twice over course and distance. The most recent of which was in the Brown Advisory Plate behind Siruh Du Lac, these exploits have seem him move up to a career high rating of 150. He singed off last season in a grade 1 and was massively found out not being in handicap company and finished 5th of 6. He’s of interest but I think the ground is going to be against him on the day and he might flounder in the bottomless ground.
#9 Count Meribel – 10/1
An interesting entrant for this race as the Twiston-Davies trainee won the novice chase on this card last year. He reappeared at Carlisle this year and finished behind the impressive Lostintranslation and came a handy looking 2nd. He clearly handles Cheltenham and has won on soft ground before. He looks very well handicapped off a mark of 146. He flopped a couple of times last season in grade 2 and grade 1 races but in handicap company he may fair better. Coming off of a 13 day break isn’t ideal for a race of this nature and the ground is going to be testing. He might find himself wavering in the late stages to tackle Cheltenham’s stiff finish. The price has steadily been chipped away at from 20/1 so nibble early if you want to catch the price.
#3 Us And Them – 10/1
Joseph O’Brien sends over his impressive looking 6 year old Us And Them for this race. He was seen last season in grade 1 races and finished behind some really useful types like Le Richebourg, Duc Des Genievres and Ornua. He kept banging his head against the door in some big races including the Arkle. He made his return this season over a new trip and went for 2.5 miles for the first time and finished 3rd in a hot grade 2 behind Snow Falcon. He would’ve finished closer if it wasn’t for a mistake at the last and he was nabbed in the final strides for the silver medal. With a warm up run under his belt he may fair a lot better and a mark of 152 is potentially workable for a horse who’s got good grade 1 for behind him. If he stays he could go close.
#1 Saint Calvados – 11/1
An important runner in this in many regards as he’s currently top weight off a lofty mark of 159. He’s providing plenty of cover to the horses lower in the handicap as he’s rated 5lbs higher than 2nd top weight. We last saw the Harry Whittington trained 6 year old here at Cheltenham in a 2 mile class 2 handicap chase where he impressively won. He showed he needed the step up in trip as he stayed on really well to hold off Vaniteux who he was giving over 2 stone too. Top weight that day his class shone as he clung on up the hill. His trainer immediately said that an up in trip was on the cards and he might be seen to even better affect over an extra half a mile. He got 4lbs for his latest win so comes in off a nigh career high mark but he’s clearly the class in the field and might simply be too good.
#16 Guitar Pete – 16/1
It’s worth mentioning a horse who ran well in this contest last year and Guitar Pete came 3rd in last year’s renewal. He is 4lbs higher this year as he won his comeback race at Wetherby beating Happy Diva. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on proving he can go well in this contest and is following the same race pattern as he did last year. Although last year he didn’t win the race at Wetherby so he’s got a rise to contend with he could easily go well again at a big price of 16/1. He handles Chleltenham well and recently won on soft ground so underfoot conditions shouldn’t bother him too much. This years renewal looks bit stronger than last year so he might be found out for quality but a proven track record in the race is worth bearing in mind.
#13 Happy Diva – 20/1
Mentioning Guitar Pete before we’d have to give a nudge to the horse he beat last time out in Happy Diva. The mare has some handy back form as a class 1 winner and she’s on a very workable mark of 143. She was brought down in this race last year 4 out while travelling really well. She was rated 3lbs lower for that run but looked to be going really well with 4 to jump. She’s maybe one worth keeping on side as she stays a bit further than 2.5 miles so can handle the stiff test of the hill. Accidents aside this year she could be in for another bold bid at a large price.
#15 Eamon An Cnoic – 20/1
Another big price runner to round out my shortlist in Eamon An Cnoic. Another one coming out of my notes from rewatching Cheltenham’s festival back he caught the eye in the Brown Advisory Plate. Finishing 4th behind Siruh Du Lac he kept on well and was part of a small pack that had drew clear of the remainder. It was a large gap of 8 lengths back to 5th so the first 4 home were definitely worth following. He comes in here only 1lb higher so a bold bid could be on the cards. He also ran in this race last year and finished 5th off of 135. It was a decent performance considering I don’t think the ground was in his favour that day. The more rain the better for him and there’s plenty of that going around. If he’s fully wound up off his 198 break he could be worth a squeak at a big price if some bookies are offering extra places.