On the Gold trail

  • By: Will Hayler
  • Last Updated: January 27 2013, 16:33 GMT

You know that feeling when you've overstretched yourself at the all-you-can-eat buffet and it turns out that you actually can eat too much? Probably not. But run with me on this one.

Katenko: Gold cup value?
Katenko: Gold cup value?

I entirely respect the friends of mine who put the effort into cracking the all-weather game, but it's not really for me (especially without Southwell).

And so having been on a starvation diet for a couple of weeks, perhaps I over-indulged at Cheltenham's straining feast table on Saturday. But if you can't get carried away at the home of jumps racing, where can you?

Mad Moose's defeat of Somersby and the hard-to-fathom Sanctuaire for second place might make some less relaxed about handing out even more plaudits to Sprinter Sacre, but he was just brilliant.

Having had a small bet on him winning by more than 10 lengths, I was gutted to see Barry Geraghty sit enitely motionless throughout the final stages. But even without encouragement from the saddle, the bet was still a winner (about my only one of the day) as Sprinter Sacre is that very rare thing - a horse that just can't help winning easily. The only way Geraghty could have got the winning margin down to just a couple of lengths was by getting off after the last for a cup of tea before getting going again.

Sometimes he seems just too perfect. And the truth is until Simonsig and/or Overturn move out of novice company, the two-mile division probably isn't a vintage one.

For richer, for poorer, I have made a habit of opposing almost every single short-priced favourite at the Cheltenham Festival in the last 20 years. But Sprinter Sacre's victory in the Champion Chase is a certainty.

As much of a certainty is that the mood in the Twiston-Davies camp won't have been sweetness and light on Saturday night after the narrow defeats of Imperial Commander and The New One.

The former did himself no favours by tanking along for the first mile of the Argento Chase. If he'd settled better, I reckon he'd have won.

That's not to take anything away from the admirable Cape Tribulation and the brilliant ride he got from Denis O'Regan. But Imperial Commander had successfully fought him off at least twice already before he finally ran out of reserves in the last 100 yards and the winner edged past. He didn't deserve to lose.

The form isn't good enough to see either figure in the finish of the Gold Cup, but Hunt Ball ran a fair trial for the Ryanair if his owner sees sense and re-directs him. While trainer Keiran Burke said after the race that better ground will see Hunt Ball's stamina last out over the Gold Cup trip, I beg to differ.

If we did see a horse who might just be good enough to figure in the Gold Cup, it might just have been Katenko.

He lost his form for Jean Bertran de Balanda in France before joining Williams, but appears revitalised by a change of surroundings.

Fruity O'Rooney is a very solid yardstick, who ran his typically honest race off a mark of 139, but he wasn't in the same league as the winner who could easily be a proper 160-plus horse.

He jumps brilliantly, handles very testing conditions, and showed a battling attitude when second to Wyck Hall at Ascot (since when he has improved).

Were his handicap mark not about to rocket up again, I'd think him the perfect horse for Aintree's Topham Trophy, but instead I imagine connections will have to give him a go in the Gold Cup just to find out what they've got.

The rest of the card? The comprehensive bursting of Coneygree's bubble was a surprise, as was Vino Griego's conversion from one-horse-horror-show to star feature.

I was tickled by Paul Nicholls' insistence that Irish Saint was more of a long-term chasing prospect than Rolling Star after his defeat in the opening Triumph Hurdle Trial. My moles tell me that Nicholls had been remarkably bullish about his horse's chances before racing in the Timeform hospitality suite - perhaps accounting for the solid market support behind Irish Saint in the final minutes before the race.

This might well have been very decent form and I wouldn't be in a rush - as Nicholls seemed to be - to play it down. But Rolling Star probably wants more cut in the ground than he will get back at the Festival in six weeks' time.

Nicky Henderson didn't really get the answers he was looking for from Oscar Whisky, who ran a fine race in defeat behind Reve De Sivola and stayed every yard of the three miles without somehow quite really looking as if he was a stayer. Does that make sense? Probably not.

It's taken me a long time to forgive Reve De Sivola for losing his way quite so badly over fences, but there really wasn't anything to dislike about this performance. Most notable was the way he really stuck his neck out to hold off the runner-up, something that didn't always seem to come naturally to him in the past (remember that slightly ungainly head carriage when second to Peddlers Cross in the 2010 Neptune Novices' Hurdle?).

The 5/1 available about him repeating the verdict over Oscar Whisky in the World Hurdle looks a perfectly fair price.

Rumour has it that Jonjo O'Neill's famously twinkly eye went into overdrive when he saw that Mr Watson had been handed a rating of 127 for his handicap debut. He'll go up to 138 or 139 for his chosen Festival target but is probably capable of running very well there, even off that new mark.

Remember that this is the horse who rearranged Tony McCoy's teeth when chucking him off and kicking him at Wetherby a couple of months ago so he owes the champion a favour. He may not have finished paying that debt yet.

But cheesy as it might sound the best news from the day was seeing the ungainly-but-talented Bold Sir Brian get to his feet with jockey Peter Buchanan after an ugly-looking fall.

Given that it is still only months since we lost both Campbell Gillies and Brindisi Breeze, the prospect of Lucinda Russell's horsebox returning home empty bears no contemplation.

Instead we had plenty of positives to take home and chew upon, even if a number of horses passed the winning post looking extremely tired and don't have that long to shrug off the effects of such arduous races.

All of them apart from Katenko. The moment that Venetia Williams confirms he goes straight to the Gold Cup, I will be chucking a few quid on each-way at 33/1.

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