Hobbs' form a worry for Haldon
National Hunt fans are in for a real treat this Tuesday as Exeter racecourse welcomes a whole host of star jumping names to contest in the SportingBet-sponsored Haldon Gold Cup.
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Plenty of great names, like Best Mate, Travado, Edredon Bleu, Viking Flagship, Azertyuiop, have used this race to get their season's underway, while I was lucky enough to pilot Very Promising (1987) and Waterloo Boy (1992) to victory during my riding days.
The stiff Exeter course provides these chasers with an excellent early season test and with around £34,000 on offer to the winner then it's easy to see why the contest attracts some big names.
The going at the Devon track is currently described as good-to-soft, but although the outlook for Tuesday is okay the days leading up to the race are not. So with rain forecast on Sunday and Monday there is a good chance the underfoot conditions will be more on the soft side, meaning that the tracks stiff finish will certainly take its toll on Tuesday's runners.
At this stage the main entries that look sure to fight out the finish are Menorah, Gauvain, Oiseau De Nuit, Edgardo Sol and Cue Card.
The Philip Hobbs yard have landed the prize in 2005 and 2009, so they will be hoping to add to that record with Gauvain and Menorah, but it's worth pointing out that the stable have only had 3 winners from their last 32 runners (correct as of Sunday), and that would be a tiny worry for me.
The classy Menorah, who was fifth in Hurricane Fly's 2011 Champion Hurdle, did get his jumping together towards the backend of last season and was really impressive when landing the Manifesto Novices' Chase at the Aintree Grand National meeting, but it's worth pointing out he did take a tumble on this card 12 months ago when a short-priced favourite in the Novices' Chase, and also came down last January at Doncaster. On a plus, he will, however, have Richard Johnson on his back - a jockey who has won this race four times in the past.
I guess the same jumping worries could apply to Hobbs' other runner, Gauvain. We last saw this former Nick Williams-trained horse unseating in the Old Roan Chase 10 days ago, but that was quite early on and providing it's not impacted his confidence he could go well at a track he's won at before, albeit over hurdles. He's also won first time out for the past 2 seasons, so although technically this is his second race of the season it's clear he goes well fresh and should have been tuned up to go well at Aintree last month.
Colin Tizzard trains the other two big names - Oiseau De Nuit, who's already won this season when romping away with a decent handicap Chase at Chepstow 10 days ago. A 8lb rise makes life harder here, but he was a 3 ½ length third in this race 12 months ago off a 5lb lower mark, and having won on a variety of different ground then he should be fine no matter what the weather throws at the track.
The stable's main runner, however, and the one all eyes will be on is Cue Card. He's another that's gone well fresh in the past, winning first time out for the past three seasons and with his yard also in cracking form then a big run is expected. We last saw him running a very respectable 7 lengths second to Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, while the time before that he beat the recent Old Roan Chase winner, For Non Stop, at Newbury. Having won over further then the stiff Exeter finish also should suit, while he's another that's won on soft ground before - he rates the one to beat for me.
The final big name is from the Paul Nicholls yard, who have targeted this race with success in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2010, as they are likely to send Edgardo Sol to post. This horse is still only 5 years-old and we all saw at the weekend that the yard's younger brigade are starting to live up to their reputations with the likes of Kauto Stone and Silviniaco Conti winning big races. Yes, they've still got a fair way to go to replace the likes of Denman, Master Minded and, of course, Kauto Star, who was retired last week, but they are certainly going in the right direction.
Edgardo Sol mixed it up over both hurdles and fences last season, coming second in the County Hurdle and then landing the Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree the following month. He's a horse that improved bundles last season and the fact the Nicholls camp have chosen him to run in a race they've often done so well in is a huge positive. However, if there is one slight negative it could be the ground - to date all his wins have been on ground no worse than good-to-soft.
All-in-all it's set up to be a cracking midweek race and with the Novices' Chase later on the card also looking a decent affair then it's a must-see day's action at Exeter this Tuesday.
10 Year Haldon Gold Cup Betting Trends
10/10 - Won a chase race over at least 2m2f previously
10/10 - Returned 10/1 or shorter
9/10 - Won at least 3 times over fences previously
9/10 - Having their 1st run of the new season
9/10 - Officially rated 150 or higher
8/10 - Won by a French-bred horse
7/10 - Winning distance - 3 lengths or more
7/10 - Carried 10-9 or more in weight
7/10 - Finished in the top 3 in their latest race
6/10 - Raced at either Aintree (3) or Cheltenham (3) last time out
5/10 - Won just 3 previous times over fences
5/10 - Won by a horse aged 6 or 7 years-old
5/10 - Favourites unplaced
4/10 - Won over fences at Exeter
4/10 - Carried 11-10 in weight
3/10 - Ridden by Richard Johnson
3/10 - Won by a horse aged 7 years-old
2/10 - Won their most recent race
2/10 - Favourites that won
2/10 - Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/10 - Trained by Philip Hobbs
2/10 - Trained by Paul Nicholls (won the race 4 times)
The average winning SP in the last 10 years is 11/2
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