Worth a few Bob
Our expert columnist Simon Holt can't see past Bobs Worth when it comes to Friday's Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
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Multiple winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup have been relatively few and far between in the great race's history so, statistically, the odds are stacked against BOBS WORTH emulating three-time winner Best Mate and dual hero Kauto Star by emerging triumphant again on Friday.
However, Nicky Henderson's chaser seems to have everything in his favour as he attempts a fourth consecutive Festival victory and stands out in a renewal that appears to lack depth.
Fans of the defending champion would have been highly disconcerted by his tame reappearance effort in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November but theories that the tight track was against him that day proved well founded at Leopardstown in late December when Bobs Worth produced a tremendous effort from the last to catch First Lieutenant in the Lexus Chase (Lyreen Legend fifth, Lord Windermere seventh).
Since then, all the vibes from the Henderson camp have been that his preparation has gone smoothly and, with the ground drying out in his favour, it will take a massive performance by one of his rivals to deny him a second Gold Cup and a fourth Festival success on a course that he loves.
King George winner Silviniaco Conti is the obvious danger and was still travelling strongly when falling three out - and slightly impeding Bobs Worth - 12 months ago. However, that wasn't his only jumping error that day and he hasn't looked quite as comfortable on undulating tracks compared to flat courses like Kempton and Haydock.
Nevertheless, he is a stayer of great ability and was certainly too resolute for Cue Card and Al Ferof in the King George on Boxing Day, a race which exposed the stamina limitations of the second and third. No one will ever know if Silviniaco Conti would have beaten Bobs Worth here last year but ground conditions (soft) were probably more in his favour then than they are now.
The going could also be important for Last Instalment as this fragile - but hugely talented - jumper has run only twice in the past two years.
However, it was impossible not to be impressed by his runaway win in last month's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown and, if all remains right with him and there is enough juice in the ground, then he too could conceivably prove a threat, especially as a line through First Lieutenant (who he beat nine lengths into third) gives him a strong form chance against the favourite.
Whether he will be allowed to dominate in a similar manner here though has to be open to question.
Although seemingly held by both Bobs Worth and Last Instalment, it wouldn't surprise me if First Lieutenant ran a big race. Better ground has persuaded his connections into making a Gold Cup attempt (rather than run in Thursday's Ryanair) and this past Festival winner saw out 3m 1f in good style on similar ground at Aintree last spring. It certainly looked as though the deep going found him out over three miles behind Last Instalment at Leopardstown last time and it wasn't quite so testing when he was second to Bobs Worth the time before.
In contrast, several of the other runners might need more testing conditions to slow the others down (especially the Venetia Williams pair Katenko and Houblon des Obeaux) but horses like The Giant Bolster and Knockara Beau have the course form to again run respectably. Neither ought to be good enough but they do reserve their best efforts for Cheltenham and come into this year's big race off positive efforts.
Triolo D'Alene hasn't prospered in two previous course visits but, while having plenty to find on the figures (officially rated 22lb inferior to stable-mate Bobs Worth), is one who will definitely appreciate the going conditions.
There has been plenty of money for the Hennessy winner in recent days on the strength of some eyecatching work at home; he appears to be progressive and the booking of AP McCoy is obviously a positive.
Late supplementary On His Own has won his last two races in Ireland under searching conditions but will need a career-best performance to figure, while Cloudy Too and the bold-jumping Teaforthree will surely struggle in this class, the latter preparing for another crack at the Grand National in which he finished third last April.