Meteor to light up Cheltenham
Jack Nicol provides a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
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Gauvain is a classy sort at his best but has not won since he took the Peterborough Chase back in 2011 and looks up against it under top weight for trainer Philip Hobbs. This will be the Sternkoenig gelding's first start over fences for over a year and a mark of 151 could still be a little high for the eleven-year-old who is yet to win for Hobbs. His course form offers some hope having recorded three of his eight victories at Prestbury Park but you'd imagine number nine won't be forthcoming.
Cantlow gained a valuable success when taking the Bet365 Open Handicap Chase at Newbury last time out and this looks the ideal race for the eight-year-old who was third in the Pertemps Final over hurdles in 2012 Cheltenham Festival. The loss of AP McCoy (opts to ride Colour Squadron) is obviously a blow but his trainer, Paul Webber, reports the eight-year-old to be fresh and well ahead of this assignment. Cantlow should be in the mix as they come down the hill but his 8lb penalty for that Newbury victory makes him opposable for win purposes.
Easter Meteor was going great guns in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last month and was still a length up before taking a heavy fall at the second last. A 3lb rise for that effort is sure to have been frustrating for connections but the seven-year-old left that tumble behind when he finished a valiant second behind Cantlow in the aforementioned race at Newbury. On 3lb better terms with Cantlow for his one and a quarter length defeat you'd expect him to be able to reverse the form this time around. Aidan Coleman takes the ride for the first time on the Midnight Legend gelding and a reproduction of his Paddy Power run with a clear round of jumping would surely see him go close.
Johns Spirit has been massively improved this season and is currently 2-2 with both victories coming here at Cheltenham, including a three-quarter length success in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his last run. The six-year-old was just clinging on from the fast-finishing Colour Squadron that day and a 9lb rise will start to make life difficult. Trainer Jonjo O'Neill reports the Gold Well gelding to be in good form ahead of the race but admits he needs to improve further if he is to defy his latest hike in the weights. The Jackdaws Castle handler knows how to win the race, having saddled Legal Right and Exotic Dancer to victory in recent years and it would be foolish to rule out his representative here.
Paul Nicholls has won three of the last four renewals of this race and is represented by the lightly raced Grandioso here. The six-year-old is another to have contested the Bet365 Chase at Newbury last month where he finished third behind Cantlow and Easter Meteor and receives a 6lb and 3lb pull from those rivals respectively this time around. You'd imagine he'll have come on a great deal for that run with it being his first start since February and, with Nicholls particularly upbeat about his chances earlier in the week, you can expect him to play a major part.
Colour Squadron has been quite unlucky throughout his career and little changed when he was hampered by Easter Meteor upon finishing second in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time out. The seven-year-old was closing on Johns Spirit all the way to the line that day and it is enough to persuade champion jockey AP McCoy to get on board this time around. The Old Vic gelding's losing run now stretches to 10 races and a 7lb rise for the Paddy Power second does not help matters, he does remain open to further improvement though, and is another who holds decent claims.
Tap Night proved to be a useful novice last term, with three victories and good second place finishes in graded events at Aintree and Ayr respectively. The six-year-old has been disappointing so far this season, having returned as a beaten favourite on reappearance at Carlisle before finishing a well beaten eighth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Jockey Barry Geraghty reported that the Pleasant Tap gelding lacked for experience last time out and it is hard to see him getting competitive in a similar contest.
Salut Flo is definitely the most intriguing runner in the race as he was last seen when victorious in the Byrne Group Plate at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. The seven-year-old has suffered a leg injury and a serious bout of colic since that success but is back to full fitness now and must be noted off a mark of 144.
David Pipe has been the man to follow in recent Saturdays but it may be best to watch Salut Flo this time around as a 639-day absence should be too much to overcome.
Silver Roque impressed with his jumping when bolting up at Sedgefield last time out, but an 11lb rise looks quite harsh considering it was a fairly weak contest. Trainer Fergal O'Brien is enjoying a fine season and has already surpassed last year's tally of 28 winners and must be feared with his runners at Prestbury Park considering the yard operate at a 16% strike rate at the course. Silver Roque must improve if he is to get competitive but is still unexposed at the trip and won very easily last time out and, of the outsiders, he is the most attractive proposition.
Nicky Henderson's sole representative is the big, grey mare Ma Filleule, who is having her first start over the larger obstacles in the UK for the Seven Barrows handler and is, therefore, somewhat of an unknown quantity. The five-year-old has previously raced four times over fences in France, where she was successful on three of those starts and pulled up on the other occasion.
Such efforts have earned her an initial mark of 142 and that looks a strict enough rating to contend with in such a competitive race and she's one to take on for now.
Attaglance is another to have contested the Paddy Power Gold Cup and was not disgraced when beaten six lengths into fourth position. That performance was undoubtedly his best over fences and the seven-year-old will be 9lb and 7lb better off with Johns Spirit and Colour Squadron respectively having raced from out of the handicap that day. The fact the Passing Glance gelding is yet to score over the larger obstacles is obviously a concern but, having won the Martin Pipe Conditional's Hurdle at the Festival in 2012, he clearly has a liking for the track and, with a pull in weights on a few of his rivals, he could be in the mix.
Double Ross is another who likes racing at Prestbury Park having won an intermediate hurdle last year before finishing third in last season's renewal of the Martin Pipe Conditional's Hurdle at the Festival. The seven-year-old enjoys a bit of cut in the ground and with the current going described as 'Good' he is unlikely to encounter his favoured conditions and is up against it. Oppose.
Sew On Target
Consistent eight-year-old who finished third behind Johns Spirit at the Open Meeting back in October and a reproduction of that run in receipt of 16lb with that rival could see him in with each-way claims. However, you'd imagine this race will be too hot for the Needle Gun gelding and he is opposed.
A highly competitive handicap which has gone the way of Paul Nicholls in three of the last four years and bidding to enhance that record is the exciting and lightly-raced Grandioso.
Nicholls' six-year-old finished behind EASTER METEOR last time out and it's Emma Lavelle's charge who gets the vote ahead of that rival.
The seven-year-old was running a great race before crashing out at the penultimate fence in the Paddy Power Gold Cup but the Midnight Legend's second place finish next time out demonstrated that he'd suffered no ill-effects from that fall and must have excellent claims here.
Johns Spirit and Colour Squadron - first and second respectively in the Paddy Power Gold Cup - must be respected but their subsequent rise in ratings makes them hard to fancy.
1. Easter Meteor
3. Johns Spirit