Captain the Gold value
Donn McClean previews the feature action on day two of the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown.
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The Tote Punchestown Gold Cup lives up to its billing today. We are missing Bobs Worth, but we have the Cheltenham Gold Cup second and third, the King George first and second, the Irish Hennessy winner, the JNwine.com Champion Chase first, second and third, and the Betfred Bowl winner. It's a deep renewal all right.
That said, Captain Chris looks over-priced at 7/1. Philip Hobbs' horse was only sixth in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, he has 28 lengths and 25 lengths to make up on Sir Des Champs and Long Run respectively on the bare form of that run, but Cheltenham is left-handed, and he simply has to go right-handed. He was out to his right again at Cheltenham this year, if not quite as dramatically as he had been in the 2012 Ryanair Chase, and Richard Johnson wasn't hard on him once his winning chance had gone.
Captain Chris is a top class performer - as he proved when he won the 2011 Arkle, beating subsequent Champion Chase winner Finian's Rainbow into second place - who has always been held in really high regard by his trainer, and he has looked as good as ever this term. He won the Amlin Chase at Ascot on his seasonal debut, and he got to within a neck of Long Run in the King George, after having looked the most likely winner on landing over the final fence, on ground that should have been far softer than ideal. Then he went back to Ascot for the Ascot Chase, and he would have given subsequent Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card a real race had he not made a bad mistake at the second last fence.
Significantly, all of those runs were at right-handed tracks, he should be much happier today back at Punchestown than he was going left-handed at Cheltenham last time. He won the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase on his only visit to date to the Co Kildare venue, and Philip Hobbs, who sent out Planet Of Sound to win this race in 2010, loves to have runners and winners at Punchestown.
Sir Des Champs is a worthy favourite, but he is short, he had a hard race in the Gold Cup, and this is a race in which it often pays to look beyond the obvious, as evidenced by SPs of 20/1, 20/1 and 14/1 respectively about the last three winners.
It is great that Long Run has made the trip, but the drying ground may not be to his advantage, nor may the slight drop down in distance from the extended three and a quarter miles of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. First Lieutenant is top class, but he has had hard races at Cheltenham and at Aintree now, and it would be a fantastic feat by Mouse Morris if he had the Gigginstown horse primed to run for his life again less than three weeks after his Aintree victory.
If there is another horse in the race who is over-priced, it may be the third Gigginstown horse, Quito De La Roque. The Colm Murphy-trained gelding could finish only fourth behind First Lieutenant in the Betfred Bowl, but he travelled well to the second last fence that day on ground that should have been too fast for him, before the pacier types like First Leiutenant and Menorah got away from him. That was his first run since January, he comes into this race fresher than most and, a son of Saint Des Saints, he will be much happier back on easier ground.
His victory in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles in January, over an inadequate two and a half miles, was a bit of a surprise, but there was no fluke about it. He won the race on merit, and in so doing he inflicted on prolific winner Roi Du Mee his only defeat in his last seven races. Since the Kinloch Brae, Gordon Elliott's horse has gone on to win the Bobbyjo Chase and the Imperial Call Chase.
Also, it may be coincidental, but Quito De La Roque's record suggests that he is at his best going right-handed. His record at left-handed tracks under Rules reads 2421113364, while his record going right-handed reads 21111131. If he has a preference, it is not as pronounced at Captain Chris', but it still may be a factor. He is one for one at Punchestown, he won the Growise Chase here in 2011, and he could out-perform big odds.
It is a pity that there are only 15 runners in the Guinness Handicap Chase for each-way betting purposes, but Nadiya De La Vega is probably a win-only bet anyway. JP McManus' mare has been on the go all season, she has run every month but one since October, but she has run some fine races in defeat at Cheltenham, and she looked as good as ever when she danced in in a Grade 3 mares' chase at Fairyhouse three weeks ago.
Her handicap rating gave her a big chance in that conditions race, but she was impressive in winning it, and the handicapper has left her on her mark of 140 for today, which is 5lb below her peak and only 3lb higher than the mark off which she won a good handicap chase at Cheltenham in October. This is her trip, the drying ground will be in her favour, and she is still only seven. We may not have seen the best of her yet.
If top weight Rubi Light gets into a nice rhythm up front, he could make them all go a bit. Obviously the classiest horse in the race, you can easily forgive him his run at Navan last time when he came home with a lung infection. Robbie Hennessy's horse won the 2011 John Durkan Chase over this course and distance, he loves Punchestown, he is at his best over two and a half miles, and Scotsirish proved two years ago that it is possible to carry a significant burden to victory in this race.