Worth his weight in Gold
Ian Ogg's horse-by-horse guide to Friday's Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day of the Festival.
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Already a winner at two Festivals having won the Albert Bartlett and the RSA Chase but he has only been seen once since winning the latter. Highly impressive when winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury back in December, the form of that handicap has worked out well but a minor setback forced him to miss his prep run on trials day. Lacks a recent run and something in experience after just five chase starts but there's no doubting his potential to improve further and he's already near the top of the tree as things stand.
Victory in last season's Pertemps Final vindicated connections' decision to revert to hurdling while the form he has shown in two chase starts this term far exceeds the efforts of his novice season. He spreadeagled the field at Wetherby over Christmas before successfully stepping up to Graded company with a narrow defeat of former Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase. That run earned his place in the line-up but he will have to take his game to a new level in this field although that's not entirely inconceivable as he still appears to be on the upgrade.
Hasn't always jumped fluently but certainly has an engine when everything comes together as he showed when winning the 2011 Arkle before following up at Punchestown. Only sixth in last season's Ryanair where he jumped to the right (albeit not as markedly as when pulling up in that season's Argento) and that tendency has been negated by racing right-handed this season and has seen him produce three impressive displays with the highlight being his close second in the King George. That form gives him leading claims but doubts about his jumping persist and better ground would have suited despite his good showing at Kempton.
He hasn't looked the same since running away with the 2011 renewal but it's still hard to knock a horse who has won two of his next six starts and also finished second to Kauto Star twice and third in last year's Gold Cup. His jumping still doesn't entirely convince - and he may have regained his King George crown with more ease but for getting a couple of obstacles wrong in the closing stages - but he rarely looks like falling and, indeed, has never done so. Set to wear cheekpieces for the first time (reported to have improved his work at home) and they could just have a positive effect and help him to regain his title.
One of the success stories of the season having won a handicap here in November before landing the Welsh National under an ice cool Paul Carberry. Well beaten in a Grand National Trial at Haydock next time but that course doesn't play to his strengths and it was by no means a bad performance in the circumstances. This is a whole different ball game, however, and the likely stronger pace could put pressure on his slightly suspect jumping (has his own way of negotiating a fence) and it's doubtful that he's got the class to be competitive but he could be staying on when others have cried enough.
Has yet to race at this track but his trainer has revealed that that's been down to a lack of suitable races occurring at the right time during his career rather than any fears that he might not act around this demanding circuit. Firmly put in his place by Grands Crus in last season's Feltham but hasn't looked back since a wide margin success at Aintree, winning a Charlie Hall and a Betfair Chase before completing his hat-trick with a more than satisfactory display in the Denman. Possesses the highest official rating in the field and has significant scope for further progress.
Sir Des Champs
A dual Cheltenham Festival winner (Martin Pipe and Jewson) who has always been held in the highest regard and viewed as a Gold Cup horse. In light of that, his defeats in the John Durkan and Lexus Chase appeared very disappointing while even his victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup was tarnished by the subsequent revelation that the runner-up was a sick horse at the time. However, in hindsight it appears as though he's been brought along with just one race in mind and he has improved from start-to-start while the return to racing on better ground is expected to aid his fencing.
The Giant Bolster
Intensive schooling helped him to overcome some serious issues with his jumping and enable him to fulfil his trainer's hopes and expectations in an excellent season which saw him win a valuable handicap at this track in January before finding only Synchronised too strong in this race itself. Respectable reappearance at Haydock when 7 lengths behind Silviniaco Conti given the course didn't play to his strengths and put a King George prep behind him when again beaten 7 lengths by Silviniaco Conti at Newbury when in receipt of 4lbs. Clearly that gives him something to find but he was coming back at the finish and is clearly well suited by the demands of this race and he looks capable of running another big race without getting his hands on the big prize.
Talented individual on his day as he showed when finishing a one length third in the 2011 RSA Chase but little went to plan last term in his second season over fences. Back to somewhere near his best this campaign and easy to excuse his Argento Chase flop on unsuitably heavy ground but whichever way you dress it up, he's never shown a level of form to suggest that he can be competitive in this company.
A terrific renewal with last year's second and third lining up against two exciting up-and-comers who are open to considerable improvement.
With a Gold Cup and two King Georges to his name, it's not too difficult to argue that Long Run should be heading the market as far as the form book is concerned and, although he hasn't sparkled as once looked likely, he hasn't deteriorated and the fitting of cheekpieces is an intriguing move.
Bobs Worth missed his prep but he has proved that he can go well fresh and the lack of a recent run shouldn't really be an issue in this day and age. His Hennessy victory was more impressive visually than Sir Des Champs' performances in Ireland where his jumping has left a little to be desired relative to what's required at this level.
The better ground may assist in that regard while his stable are enjoying a fabulous week and he is not passed over lightly but Nicky Henderson's runner has always looked like a future Gold Cup winner and he is taken to come out on top.
Of the remainder, Silviniaco Conti has 'done nothing wrong' as they say and Paul Nicholls, who knows a thing or two about Gold Cup horses, has been fighting his corner but he's never quite captured my imagination and, rightly or wrongly, I'm content to take him on. Long Run's efforts over the last two seasons suggest that he may not possess the x-factor which once looked likely whereas the two market leaders quite possibly do; he looks sure to be there or thereabouts. The Giant Bolster may not have the class of one or two of his rivals but he may well be able to make the frame for a second consecutive year.