Classy Grands to Strike Gold
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3pts win Grands Crus in Cheltenham 2.35 at 11/4 (Paddy Power)
Grands Crus, a horse rated 167 over hurdles after chasing home the mighty Big Buck's in the 2011 World Hurdle, looks to have an outstanding chance of continuing the Pipe family's brilliant record in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday off a 10lb lower chase mark.
The classy grey, currently second favourite to land the prestigious King George V1 Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, took very well to the bigger obstacles last season until running disappointingly when only fourth in the RSA Chase in March.
However, Grand Crus had excuses that day as he returned to David Pipe's yard below par and a previous defeat of recent Charlie Hall Chase winner Silviniaco Conti and the current Hennessy favourite Bobs Worth at Kempton showed what he is truly capable of.
A strong traveller with tactical speed and three course successes under his belt, the seven-year-old bids to follow up Pipe jnr's win with Great Endeavour 12 months ago in a race which Martin Pipe farmed during his illustrious training career.
Another grey Al Ferof, a winner at the Cheltenham Festival as a novice hurdler, could well be the chief threat if repeating his fine Ascot third behind Somersby and Finians Rainbow at Ascot last January, though he flopped subsequently here and at Aintree.
Reports of the gelding's home work have been highly positive and trainer Paul Nicholls will be very keen to win a race which has not always been kind to him in the past.
Another intriguing runner is the vastly improved Hunt Ball who, in seven victories last season, went up a massive 88lb in the ratings though his current mark is based on a third place in a conditions chase at Aintree, a race which produced a shock result.
While connections are confident that he can progress further, this looks his toughest task to date.
Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson fields a four-strong team and the jockey bookings are interesting with stable jockey Barry Geraghty likely to be pushed hard to make the weight aboard Triolo D'Alene and Tony McCoy favouring course and distance winner Nadiya De La Vega over Quantatitiveeasing, the other J P McManus representative.
McCoy's choice could prove to be the best of the bunch as Nadiya De La Vega is very lightly raced and possibly open to further improvement following her win here in October.
Recent days have seen support for Walkon, a horse who tends to run well when fresh and who could be well handicapped while Michael Flips also enters calculations on his fourth behind Sir Des Champs, Champion Court and For Non Stop here at the Festival in March.
But, if Grands Crus - a top-class chaser in the making - turns up in top form, I expect him to take all the beating albeit at fairly cramped odds for a race of this nature.