Don't dismiss Giant Gold chance
The Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup takes on a new complexion this year with a raft of second-season chasers gunning to claim the Blue Riband at their first attempt.
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They are headed by Bobs Worth, the wonderful Hennessy Gold Cup winner, who has a perfect record at Cheltenham with four victories from four attempts at the track.
His Hennessy win couldn't be working out much better with second and third Tidal Bay and First Lieutenant finishing first and second in the Lexus Chase, and that piece of form has seen his Gold Cup odds settle at a general and top-price 3/1.
All the evidence points to Nicky Henderson's charge being the most likely winner of the Festival highlight and 3/1 is fair, but it doesn't make any appeal as an antepost bet two months before the race.
He could hose up in the Argento and be clipped again but I'm not sure he'll even run before the Festival with the ground as it is at Cheltenham and Henderson has said he wouldn't be afraid to go straight to the Gold Cup.
If that's the case he's going to be a similar price on the day and I think that remark also applies to those around him at the top of the betting.
Sir Des Champs would have to do something very special in the Irish Hennessy if his 5/1 odds are to shorten and I remain unconvinced by him as a Gold Cup contender.
His Festival wins came in a handicap and the Jewson where his main market rival Peddlers Cross ran a stinker and his jumping in the Lexus left a lot to be desired.
Undoubtedly, he has an engine, but if he doesn't improve in the jumping department he'll get left behind in the big one and I couldn't bring myself to back him at 5/1.
Long Run and Silviniaco Conti come next at 7/1 and neither appeal at that kind of price, though out of the two I would just prefer the former.
Silviniaco Conti beat Long Run in the Betfair Chase but had race fitness on his side and I would be concerned that Paul Nicholls' charge has never jumped a fence at Prestbury Park. I'm not convinced he's a true stayer either.
Long Run won an attritional King George on Boxing Day and while he may have lost some of his zip his stamina remains a key asset which puts him right in the mix.
I just can't back him at 7/1, though, as his jumping remains a concern. He didn't get away with it in last year's Gold Cup and there's a niggling feeling he's one mistake away from blowing it every time he runs.
You don't get such a feeling with Flemenstar who is a fantastic jumper of a fence and he could end up running in the Gold Cup despite stamina concerns.
He could halve in price from his current 12/1 if he wins the Irish Hennessy but he will have to conserve his energy better at Leopardstown if he is to do so and multiple Festival entries just put me off him at the prices.
First Lieutenant is held by Bobs Worth and I'd say he's a doubtful stayer too watching both his RSA Chase and Hennessy runs and it wouldn't surprise if he ended up in the Ryanair.
Tidal Bay, the Hennessy runner-up and Lexus Chase winner, looks a real value play at 16/1 at first glance despite his advancing years.
But again, his Festival target could be on another day as the absence of Big Buck's in the World Hurdle means he's likely to be rerouted over timber.
That means the next three in the betting after the top four could all run elsewhere at the Festival and it makes me think there could be some mileage in backing one each-way at a big price.
With jumping concerns over Sir Des Champs and Long Run, and Cheltenham - and perhaps stamina - concerns about Silviniaco Conti, there could be a couple of places up for grabs even if Bobs Worth proves a worthy favourite.
Captain Chris is worth considering if you think he's a more straightforward horse this season (I don't, particularly) while Imperial Commander could be a huge price at 66/1 if he retains even 80 per cent of his old ability.
However, I think a much safer bet is THE GIANT BOLSTER who looks overpriced at 25/1 after an indifferent run in the King George.
I think you can put a line through that run as he clearly hated the heavy ground - he wasn't going well at any stage for AP McCoy - and a few slow jumps early on didn't help his cause.
Nothing went right for him, perhaps because he was going right. The King George was his first run on a right-handed track since he won a novice hurdle at Market Rasen four years ago and I think he's a different horse going left-handed, particularly at Cheltenham.
He's won twice at Prestbury Park and put in a career-best effort when runner-up in last year's Gold Cup behind Synchronised, relishing the unique test and proving his stamina beyond doubt.
I'm sure he can put in another big performance in the Gold Cup and he is one of many horses who could leave their winter form behind when they tackle the Festival, granted it does dry up between now and March.
He could run in the Argento on trials day and if he gets anywhere near Bobs Worth the 25/1 will go, while he could stake his claim for the Gold Cup with a win if Henderson's charge stays in his box.
It might have been a weak Gold Cup he was second in last year, but the final line-up might not be too different come March 15 and it could pay to have 25/1 about the 2012 runner-up on your side.