Get Colour in your book
As we move into the middle of December that means another big day at Cheltenham this weekend and with that comes plenty more Festival clues for next March.
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The Stan James International Hurdle will give us some more pointers for the Champion Hurdle - a race that's shaping up to be a real cracker-jack of a contest. However, I'm going to take a look at the December Gold Cup, or as it's known this year - the Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup.
I managed to win this race once during my riding days when Another Coral got me home in front back in 1992 - a win that gave David Nicholson his only victory in the contest.
Former champion trainer Paul Nicholls won the race 12 months ago with Saturday's Aintree winner Unioniste and that made it three wins in this race in the last four years for the Ditcheat handler.
Nicky Henderson is another of the powerhouse yards to look out for as the stable have won it three times since 2002, while the O'Neill and Pipe teams are others with decent recent records in the race.
All of the above yards look to have leading chances again with several entries at this stage, but in recent years the Paddy Power Gold Cup, run last month, has been a useful guide to finding the winner of this race.
Jonjo O'Neill's Johns Spirit - who we tipped up for last month's race, took the honours in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, so it's easy to see why he's one of the more fancied in the betting for Saturday's big race.
However, another 9lb rise makes life even harder and he's now gone up 23lbs since this time last year. Yes, at six years-old he's certainly an improving horse, but I just got the impression he had a tough race last time after looking to get a bit tired up the hill and that might have taken it's toll.
The second that day - COLOUR SQUADRON - gets a 2lb pull for the ¾ lengths he was beaten and let's not forget he was also hampered by the fall of Easter Meteor. That was also his first run since March, while the Hobbs yard are no strangers to winning this race having taken it back in 2004 with Monkerhostin.
Many will notice that he's actually still to win a race over fences, which is a worry in such a big race, but he's now finished second three times from his five chase starts and, based on that last run, it doesn't look long before he's going to break his fencing duck.
Martin Keighley has indicated that Champion Court is more likely to line up in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Thursday rather than tackle this handicap off top-weight.
However, if he does take his chance, I would expect a better run this time around. He gets a nice weight pull with Johns Spirit and Colour Squadron while, after running well for much of the way, he just looked as if he needed it a bit after tiring in the closing stages. That was his first run since April and we can expect better this time - He fits plenty of the key trends and likes it here at Prestbury Park - having won twice over fences and once over hurdles.
December Gold Cup Betting Trends
11/11 - Aged 8 or younger
10/11 - Won between 2-4 times over fences previously
9/11 - Finished in the top 3 in their last race.
9/11 - Went onto run at the Cheltenham Festival that season (no winners)
9/11 - Raced within the last 4 weeks
9/11 - Raced at Cheltenham (fences) previously (4 won)
8/11 - Won by a French bred horse
8/11 - Aged 6 or 7 years-old
8/11 - Had won over at least 2m4f (fences) previously
8/11 - Favourites unplaced
8/11 - Officially rated 142 or higher
8/11 - Priced 8/1 or shorter in the market
6/11 - Carried 10-13 or more in weight
4/11 - Raced at Cheltenham last time out
4/11 - Raced in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time out (1 won)
4/11 - Placed in the top 5 in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time out
3/11 - Won their last race
3/11 - Trained by Nicky Henderson
3/11 - Trained by Paul Nicholls
2/11 - Won by an Irish-trained horse
1/11 - Favourites (last winning fav 1996) The average winning SP in the last 11 runnings is 9.2/1
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