Plenty of December pointers
It's been another great week of jumps action after the scintillating performances of both Sprinter Sacre in the Tingle Creek and Flemenstar in the John Durkan Memorial Chase- so have we seen a couple of 2013 Cheltenham Festival winners?
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Starting with Sprinter Sacre, a horse I flagged up as one to keep an eye on this time last year when he was still around 8/1 for the Arkle. He's got better with every race over fences and based on the way he scooted-up at Sandown on Saturday then I still don't' think we've seen the best of him - the Queen Mother Champion Chase now looks his to lose next March. He's into around 4/7 for that race, so along with the likes of Big Buck's and Quevega he'll be in most 'banker lists' leading up to the four days and at around 9/2 for the treble then I'm sure the bookmakers will be running to the hills if all three go in!
I've certainly not seen a better 2m chaser for some time and at just 6 years-old, and not a lot else coming through the ranks, then he can dominate this division for a good while. He's now 6-from-6 over the bigger obstacles and the way he disposed of Sanctuaire, a horse that was meant to be rated just 3lbs inferior to him, at the Esher track on Saturday was exciting to say the least. It's no secret that his handler, Nicky Henderson, and his regular jockey, Barry Geraghty, think the world of him, while with last year's Champion Chaser, Finian's Rainbow, also in their care then it's not often you'll see a jockey get off a current champion to ride another.
Yes, Sizing Europe, the big race winner in 2010, might still have something to say, and is generally the second favourite with Finian's in the betting at this stage. He was a tad unlucky last year after the debacle at the final fence, and after two effortless victories already this term then despite the fact he'll be 11 years-old come March he'll be the next in line to show us how good Sprinter Sacre is.
Onto Flemenstar, who kept the dream of Cheltenham success alive for his colourful trainer Peter Casey with a five-length win over Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. It was a great front-running ride from jockey Andrew Lynch to dictate the pace and get his mount into a great jumping rhythm and over that 2m4f trip just had too much speed for Willie Mullins' horse.
However, with that being Sir Des Champs first run of the season then you can expect him to come on bundles - remember Flemenstar came into that race with a recent win at Navan - while over further too then I suspect Sir Des will have plenty of supporters for him reversing the form - the pair could meet again over Christmas in the Lexus Chase, which is over 3m.
So can Flemenstar win the Gold Cup? He's now into around 13/2 to win the race, but shorter with most firms, and only has recent Hennessy winner Bobs Worth ahead of him in the betting at the moment. Many good judges are suggesting the extended 3m Gold Cup trip might just be beyond him, but we'll know more on that score if he runs in the Lexus (currently 2/1 fav) in a few weeks. That said, his trainer has gone on record as saying he'll think he'll be fine over it, while although just a point-to-point he has won over 3m in the past.
I guess the sensible thing to do if you do fancy him for the Gold Cup is wait until after the Lexus, but, of course, if he dots-up there then he's likely to be shaved another point or two in the betting, while if he's beaten over that distance then the Ryanair Chase at the Festival, run over 2m5f, might be a better target - he's currently around 13/2 in the betting for that race.
For me, he rates a really exciting prospect and it's great to see the Irish have a few real Gold Cup contenders again, but we all know Cheltenham is a unique course and with that in mind I'd still rather be siding with horses with proven winning form at Prestbury Park, most notably - Sir Des Champs and Bobs Worth.
Onto this week and providing the weather plays us a decent hand and all the talk of frost and snow proves to be wrong then we'll have the Cheltenham December Meeting on Friday and Saturday to look forward to.
The December Gold Cup, or to give the race it's full name - the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup, is once again an ultra-competitive heat with the Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up, Walkon, heading the market.
However, if you like your trends then you might be interested to know that this has been a bit of a graveyard for favourites in recent times, with just Poquelin (2009) going in as market leader since 1996.
Last year's winner from the Henderson yard was Quantitativeeeasing, who we last saw being pulled up in the Paddy Power, will be hoping to become only the second horse to land back-to-back wins in the race since the contest was first run back in 1963.
The Henderson team also have Nadiya De La Vega entered for the race, and racing off the same mark as when last seen running third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup then this lightly-raced mare has been given every chance of at least hitting the frame again, while 4 of the last 10 winners had raced in the PP Gold Cup last time out.
Paul Nicholls will be hoping to land the race for a third time, and will more than likely be pinning his hopes on Unioniste, who at just 4 years-old will be looking to become the youngest ever winner of the race, while he also has Ghizao, who would be an appropriate winner being that he's part-owned by the sponsors, and Cristal Bonus engaged at the time of writing.
Other key trends to note are that all 10 recent winners have been aged 8 or younger, with in fact 80% of the last 10 being 6 or 7 year-olds. I've already talked about the bad record of the favourite, but 8 of the last 10 jollies have also been unplaced.
Henderson (3) and Nicholls (2) have won the race 5 times between then in the last 10 runnings, while if you like following the breeding stats then you'll know that 7 of the last 10 winners of this race were French bred.
Having a fit horse helps too, with 8 of the last 10 winners having had a run within the last month, but if there is a word of caution then you might want to steer clear of the winner should he/she run later in the season at the Festival - 8 of the last 10 tried to follow-up in a festival race and all failed.
Have a good week.....
Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup Trends
10/10 - Won 2-4 times over fences previously
10/10 - Won by a horse aged 8 or younger
8/10 - Favourites unplaced
8/10 - Raced within the last month
8/10 - Won by a horse aged 6 or 7 years-old
8/10 - Finished in the top 3 last time out
8/10 - Ran at the Cheltenham Festival later that season (no winners)
8/10 - Raced at Cheltenham (fences) previously (4 won)
7/10 - Won by a French bred horse
7/10 - Priced 8/1 or shorter
7/10 - Officially rated 142 or higher
7/10 - Won over at least 2m5f (fences) previously
6/10 - Carried 10-13 or more in weight
4/10 - Placed in the top 5 in the Paddy Power Gold Cup that season
4/10 - Raced at Cheltenham last time out
4/10 - Ran in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time out (1 won)
3/10 - Won their last race
3/10 - Trained by Nicky Henderson
2/10 - Trained by Paul Nicholls
2/10 - Won by an Irish-trained horse
1/10 - Favourites (last winning fav 1996)
The average winning SP in the last 10 renewals is 9.5/1
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