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The Paddy Power Gold Cup field has held up really well from the initial entry stage and there’s a fascinating blend of horses with varying degrees of experience.
Fitness can often be questioned at this time of year but there’s next to no chance market leader Saint Sonnet will be found wanting in that regard. Trainer Paul Nicholls – who once claimed ‘the fittest horse wins the Paddy Power but the best horse wins the Caspian Caviar’ - has landed this race twice with fresh horses (each after 100+ days off) in the past and could hardly have his team in better shape, with Saturday’s date no doubt in mind for Saint Sonnet several months ago.
Experience, however - or lack thereof in this instance – has to be a slight concern for a five-year-old having his fourth chase start and just his third in this country.
There’s obviously a very realistic chance he proves to be too well handicapped from a mark of 147, but there’s still a bit of guesswork involved in that assessment, which isn’t necessarily the case with one or two others.
It almost goes without saying but Grade One winners fare well in handicaps and late last month I made the case for returning Kauto Star Novices’ Chase victor Slate House, who was favourite for this last year before falling. He was 25/1 at the time of writing and much more like the right price now around a 10/1 shot.
The shortlist following declarations came down to a couple of other well-treated horses, namely Aso and COOLE CODY.
Aso struggled a bit last season when exclusively competing in Grade 1 and Grade 2 company and never fared better than third in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. Back into a handicap now, from exactly the same mark as when beating Happy Diva on much worse terms on the New Course here in January 2019, he should feel more at home and Venetia Williams’ fine jumper has gone well fresh in the past too.
It's tempting to back both but preference is for Coole Cody, who looks to have a new lease of life since switching to Evan Williams and returning to fences this year, having struggled at the discipline during two attempts in 2018.
There was an element of shock to his 10-length novice chase win at Newton Abbot on August 21, but he's backed that up with two even better efforts in defeat since.
He was probably just outstayed by the Nicholls-trained Soldier Of Love over 3m2f back at Newton Abbot in September, form which was given a timely boost by the third home, Irish Prophecy, winning by 14 lengths at Taunton on Thursday. It was a very creditable effort.
Last time, over this same course and distance at the Showcase Meeting, he was beaten just a length and a half by another Nicholls horse in Southfield Stone. Favourite Pileon was a disappointment on the day, but there was no fluke about the performance of Coole Cody, who really went down fighting.
Southfield Stone was beaten quite handsomely by Protektorat on Friday but faced a really stiff task giving that 149-rated rival 3lb and, in the circumstances, hardly let the earlier form down at all.
Formerly trained by Michael Blake, Coole Cody's finest moment for his previous yard came when winning the Intermediate Handicap Hurdle (2m5f) on this very same card in 2017, a three-length victory that was achieved from an official mark of 136.
Given the stark improvement he seems to have made in recent months, he looks to hold cracking form claims, having been left alone on a chase rating of 137 following last month's run.
He'll also handle anything the weather has to throw at the place on raceday as he’s a dual hurdles winner on heavy ground, while jockey Tom O’Brien is getting down close to his minimum weight for the ride which could also be significant.
It's admittedly not a very sexy profile at first glance, but nine-year-olds won this prize in 2016 (Taquin Du Seuil) and 2017 (Splash Of Ginge), while the last four winners have all been race-fit after recent outings which is a fraction off-putting for nearly everything towards the head of the betting bar Al Dancer.
He's unorthodox in a sense, but as the sole novice in the field is seemingly being overlooked and should be backed accordingly.
Alan King’s GOOD MAN PAT ran well for a long way on his return to the smaller obstacles here last month – far better than the finishing position suggests anyway - and looks a big price at 25s in the Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle.
For a horse who won over three miles on soft ground as a novice hurdler three seasons ago, it’s slightly surprising he hasn’t had more exposure over this sort of trip but the two and a half on relatively quick ground did look a little sharp for him last time.
He was seventh in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last December from a mark of 136 and, having been eased 2lb for his comeback, is now looking potentially well handicapped in this sphere off 131.
He's still only a seven-year-old and soft ground suits best so there shouldn't be too many concerns over the conditions and he’s well worth a dart win-only in a betting market dominated by Chepstow Tea Clipper, who is up 7lb and definitely wouldn't want too much rain to hit the track.
Dr Richard Newland's Captain Tom Cat is another favourite I'm keen to oppose in the Paddy Power First Millionaire Qualifier Intermediate Handicap Hurdle on what promises to be a significantly softer surface than when winning here last month.
The assessor hasn’t gone mad in bumping him up just 6lb for that two-length victory but I like the claims of WHATSUPWITHYOU who finished seventh in the same race, having looked like he might mount a serious challenge coming to the last.
The first run since March may just have been needed and the way his third at Kempton in the spring has worked out – runner-up Flic Ou Voyou winning three times subsequently – suggests Whatsupwithyou is on a dangerous mark.
He'll love a proper test over this kind of trip, especially if it turns more testing through the afternoon, and Luca Morgan takes a handy 7lb off Ben Pauling's unexposed former point winner.
Before the final race from Cheltenham (mares' bumper), ITV squeeze in the Betway Golden Rose Stakes from Lingfield and I’ll be backing ON THE WARPATH for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin.
Appleby has a great record on Britain's all-weather tracks during the month of November (39-108 in total at 36.11% strike-rate) and On The Warpath looks to have unfinished business this year having made just the two appearances.
He completely flopped in the Criterion Stakes won by Limato at Newmarket when last seen but the subsequent absence since the end of June strongly hints at something being amiss there, and he’d shown earlier in the year out in Meydan that he was still capable of high-class form.
His previous run before that came in May 2019 as the heavily-backed 9/4 favourite made most to beat Summerghand three lengths off a mark of 102 in a Newmarket handicap.
That was the horse’s only career start over six furlongs so he’s evidently got plenty of scope to improve dropped back to sprinting now if fully over whatever may have been ailing him in the summer.
Stall eight possibly isn’t the ideal position but this track favours horses who can stay out of trouble towards the front end and if he can get across to slot in behind Good Effort and Soldier’s Minute on his inside, William Buick might be able to pick up the perfect pocket just in behind.
At 15/2 he could turn out to be way overpriced.
Posted at 1700 GMT on 13/11/20
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