The jumps season revs up a few gears this weekend with Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup the feature race of Cheltenham’s three-day Open meeting.
It’s always competitive and you’re basically looking for a second-season novice that has improved during the summer months and is still ahead of the handicapper.
I’ve always felt that the race suits two-mile speedsters who stay the extra half mile rather than the out-and-out stayers, who are dropping back in trip. So I have my doubts that ante-post favourite Kings Palace will be suited by Saturday’s test.
Stamina is no issue for David Pipe’s runner but will he have the pace?
The first seven fences all need to be jumped well as the field go a really strong gallop and early mistakes can prove fatal.
Kings Palace will be travelling pretty much as fast as he can over the first three fences. He’s going to have to jump aggressively and meet them all spot on. If not, he’ll be out of position early and will have to fight hard just to stay in contention.
The Pipe’s could also run Monetaire and La Vaticane and their Pond House stable has some record in this contest. Martin won it eight times and his son, David, has since trained Great Endeavour to win in 2013. They know what’s needed.
The Irish haven’t a great record in this with just one winner (Tranquil Sea 2009) in the last 13 years but Shanpallas could out-run his odds. He was bang there at the last last year before finishing sixth in ground that may have been a bit soft for him.
Saturday could be soft too and that’s a worry. He hasn’t had much luck in running in his last couple of races and looked like he would have gone very close in the Galway Plate but for clipping heels and falling on the climb for home.
Of Paul Nicholls’ four entries PTIT ZIG would be the one I’d love to ride if I was still working there. He looked very good at Down Royal and although he shoulders top-weight, he looks a genuine graded-level competitor.
They can get a breather in handicaps that they don’t get when they’re racing the best around at level weights. He’d be my pick to run a big one in a race where Paddy is paying the first 5 places.
John’s Spirit is a former winner and was just denied back-to-back wins in the shadow of the post last year by Caid Du Berlais. A course specialist, he stepped up with the big boys and ran with credit in both the King George and the Ryanair Chase last season. The one reservation is that he’s probably stopped improving now.
Of the others, Rebecca Curtis’s (above) Irish Cavalier definitely has the profile to win this race. A winner of a Festival handicap last March, he beat Art Mauresque snugly at Newton Abbot on his reappearance.
He’s a second-season novice, has form at the track and is progressing. He could easily be a graded horse in time.
I’ll be at Punchestown this weekend where reigning Champion Hurdler Faugheen makes his seasonal bow in the Morgiana Hurdle (2.15pm) on Sunday.
He’s the highest-rated hurdler in training, is in great form and worked well at Willie Mullins’ yard this morning. We’ll definitely be running a few but for once I won’t have to make a decision because it’s all about Faugheen.
Most of the opposition may come from his stablemates but even the likes of Nichols Canyon (155) and Wicklow Brave (152) have to improve by more than a stone to beat him.
The ground won’t bother him and we’ll get his seasonal bow out of the way first before deciding on whether he goes to Kempton next month over Christmas.
Ticket to ride
If he does, Vautour will probably be on the bus with him but he’ll definitely have to have his ‘A’ game with him in the King George VI Chase at Kempton judging by the way some of the likely runners are progressing.
Coneygree was impressive on his reappearance at Sandown last weekend and I’m not sorry connections’ missed the entries (even though he can still be supplemented). He also has an entry in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury later this month.
I was more impressed with Don Cossack’s win at Punchestown rather than his Down Royal victory but the ground was more testing up there and has continued from where he left off last season.
Even Silviniaco Conti – who had a pipe-opener over hurdles and will probably run at Haydock in 10 days time looks to be in top form ahead of trying to win the Kempton showpiece for the third year on the trot.