Traditionally, the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown is a race to keep on eye on for movements in the Gold Cup betting.
But this year’s event was about as high class as a bottle of Lidl vodka and 15 seconds of doggie-style down an alley.
Quel Esprit can be happy with his day’s work and the strong-finishing Roberto Goldback is evidently one to bear in mind for the Grand National. But it lacked the quality of other years.
Instead, the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase caused the most ripples in the Cheltenham betting, in particular the fascinating ante-post betting for the RSA Chase.
Grands Crus heads the betting, but the outsiders are massing not too far behind. Here’s a look at how the prices have gone throughout the season.
The accomplished hurdler has taken to fences like a tabloid journalist to a poorly secured voice-mail account. After giving Big Buck’s a run for his money in last year’s World Hurdle, his ability was obvious and the early evidence suggests he’s capable of reaching similar levels over fences. He began the season as a rather generous 8/1 shot (hindsight is fantastic, isn’t it?) for the RSA Chase. A couple of impressive wins in November – one at the Paddy Power Open Meeting and one at Newbury – saw the axe taken to that. He ended 2011 as short as 2/1 for the RSA Chase, but the emergence of some credible challengers has seen that price drift slightly although not to the point where you’d start using the betting slip as an emergency tissue. There had been talk of a potential tilt at the Gold Cup, but sensibly he looks likely to avoid the big boys and take on the less grizzled novices before making the step up next season. He’s 11/4 one month away from the Festival and already almost certain to go off as favourite on the day.
The winner of last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle showed a mix of sketchy jumping and guts when he beat Cue Card by the width of a John McCririck sideburn in his chasing debut at Newbury last November. It was an encouraging start, but the encouragement took a dent when he finished 3rd to Grands Crus in the Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton over Christmas. On that day he bumbled his way around, but the fact that he was able to get it together and muster enough of a performance to finish just five and a quarter lengths behind the winner gave his connections some not entirely useless straws to clutch at. Certainly, it hasn’t hurt his price for the RSA Chase because after drifting out to 8/1 after Kempton, he’s been the subject of strong support since and is now 9/2 for Cheltenham.
Last weekend will have had Michael O’Leary licking his lips and not at the prospect of jacking up the price of Ryanair tickets to Paris in March. Last Instalment gave notice of his potential to be the next superstar from the Gigginstown House Stud when he came good for favourite backers in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown. The talented seven-year-old has been on the radar for a trip to the Festival since winning the Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown last November. But two wins at Leopardstown – the first at Christmas and the latest on Sunday gone – has seen him emerge as one of the big fancies to deny Grands Crus. On the ratings, he hasn’t reached the same standard as the current favourite, but he’s 7/1 and it’d be no surprise to see O’Leary’s fedora grace the winner’s circle after his charge takes the spoils in the RSA Chase.
O’Leary rarely needs an excuse to be smug, but having First Lieutenant heading to the RSA Chasealong with Last Instalment may make it justified in this case. He was a 12/1 shot after winning in Cork last November, but his reputation took a hit when he blundered his way around the Drinmore Novice Chase before being pulled up near the end. He had his hooves up at home when First Instalment claimed the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase, but all of a sudden, the six length defeat he took at the hands of his fellow member of the O’Leary string didn’t look so hopeless and he was soon trimmed to 9/1. He’s not the pick of the pair likely to carry the Westmeath colours into the RSA Chase, but Mouse Morris has provided O’Leary with success in the past, so it’s hard to write him off entirely yet.
A season that began with defeat to Cue Card in October didn’t look like ending up in Cheltenham glory, but Silviniaco Conti has redeemed himself with a couple of interesting performances. He won a novice chase at Wincanton by 25 lengths in November to prove writing him off was premature, but as all he had to do that day was pretty much stay on his feet, the loss to Grands Crus in the Feltham Novice Chase at Kempton was arguably more eye-catching. He finished two lengths behind that day, but importantly, he’s likely to have Ruby Walsh in the saddle for the big day at Cheltenham. He needs to improve to overturn Grands Crus, but with Ruby’s history at the Festival, there are few jockeys better equipped to bring about that progress.
If Ruby doesn’t opt for Silviniaco Conti, it’s likely to be because he’s decided Join Together has better prospects of victory. As things stand, it would be hard to argue because his most recent outing back in December suggests he’s a horse with real talent. He has been an enigmatic performer for much of his short career – sometimes blazing to glory whilst at other times disappointing more than [INSERT THE NAME OF ANY ADAM SANDLER FILM OF THE LAST DECADE]. It was in a novice chase at Cheltenham that he romped to the type of ‘blaze of glory’ victory that makes him very hard to ignore. He beat the not completely useless Mossley by 12 lengths giving him three pounds and it’s that performance that saw him trimmed to 10/1 for the RSA Chase after being a 20/1 shot back in November and not even in the betting prior to that. He’s still got a lot of work to do, but his fondness for the Cotswolds doesn’t hurt his chance of claiming a surprise win.