The 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup might still be over three months away, but the great race generates such mass appeal that an early preview is warranted.
Here I take a look at the main contenders.
The Betfair Chase was highly informative
The Betfair Chase was run at Haydock on November 24th last and proved a very interesting race with all of the top staying chasers in the UK lining up.
Victory went to the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained runner Bristol De Mai, who defended his 2017 crown in once again impressive fashion.
The form is rock solid, with the ever reliable Colin Tizzard trained Gold Cup heroine Native River beaten a fair and square four lengths into second. A close third was the other Tizzard inmate Thistlecrack, with King George hero and even money favourite Might Bite a well beaten last of five.
However, it was the fourth home, the Paul Nicholls trained Clan Des Obeaux, that really caught my eye.
By far and away the lowest rated horse in the race with an official rating a full nineteen pounds below that of top rated Native River, this six year old son of Kapgarde ran an absolute blinder off level weights to finish just under five lengths behind second placed Native River.
What makes his run even more impressive is the fact that he jumped noticeably right at many fences and thus lost a significant amount of ground as Haydock is a left handed track. He also dived at some fences, in particular the first, when he nearly came down, but in the main he jumped very boldly and bravely over what were extremely tough obstacles.
It was also only his second run beyond two miles and five furlongs, with his first run beyond three miles coming at Aintree last spring. On that occasion, under a rushed preparation, he was a solid third behind Might Bite and Bristol De Mai in the Grade 1 Betway Bowl. He is certainly open to plenty of improvement over three miles and beyond.
This six year old is in the hands of the most successful Gold Cup trainer in modern times and is open to significantly more improvement than any of the other Betfair Chase runners, yet he is a general 50/1 shot for the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I’m not saying he will win the Gold Cup, but I am saying that his current odds are ludicrous. This is a horse on the up who has a lot more maturing to do both mentally and physically. If the Nicholls team at Ditcheat can iron out the tendency to jump right and he progresses on all fronts as he promises to, then mark my words, Clan Des Obeaux can be a serious Gold Cup contender come March.
Bristol De Mai is proving slightly unpredictable, but is clearly a serious horse on his day. Connections are adamant that they now have the key to him, and even though he is clearly a top notcher on any track, he still has to prove he is as good around Cheltenham as he is at Haydock. Despite these unanswered questions, he does remain a serious contender for Gold Cup honours.
Native River has been there and done it and must again have a serious chance. He is, however, there to be shot at and there is little juice at this stage in his current odds of around 6/1.
Might Bite represents one of the greatest trainers of all-time in Nicky Henderson and it takes more than one bad run to dispel any Henderson horse. Despite this, I didn’t like the way this battle scarred warrior faded so tamely after the last fence. I also feel that if he couldn’t win last years Gold Cup that he is unlikely to ever win one. I really do feel that last year was his chance and I personally would look elsewhere for the winner of the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Thistlecrack is undoubtedly a class act who proved here in the Betfair Chase that he is no back number. He is rising eleven though and his very best days might be behind him. He has a squeak but I can’t see him winning a Gold Cup at this stage.
Politologue could be an interesting horse
Also on Saturday November 24th, another Nicholls horse, Politologue, was a good winner of Ascot’s Grade 2 Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
Again the form is solid as he gave six pounds and a snug half length beating to the solid yardstick Charbel. The last named had previously given subsequent BetVictor Gold Cup winner Baron Alco twelve pounds and a beating at Chepstow, so the form is solid.
Like Clan Des Obeaux, Politologue is gradually moving up in distance and is open to more improvement than many others. However, I see him as more of a King George candidate than a Gold Cup horse as I’m not sure if the extended three miles and two furlongs of the Gold Cup will be his forte, especially with the stiff uphill finish at Cheltenham. Sure, he has won a Grade 1 up the stiff hill at Sandown, but that was over two miles and he folded tamely at Cheltenham in last years Queen Mother Chase, and also when fancied for the Coral Cup in his younger days.
I like this horse and a case can be made for him at 40/1, but believe me, it is not a profitable system to back horses in a Cheltenham Gold Cup that have twice previously faded up the hill at the festival over distances short of three miles.
Road To Respect wins the JNwine Champion Chase as his stock continues to rise
With the exception of the yet to reappear Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy, Road To Respect might be emerging as Ireland’s main challenger for Gold Cup honours.
He handed out an easy sixteen length beating to the useful and in-form Woodland Opera when landing the JNwin Champion Chase at Down Royal in early November.
As a past Cheltenham Festival winner who ran a solid fourth in his Gold Cup debut last March, this seven year old son of Gamut is open to more improvement and is the right type for a Gold Cup, but it remains to be seen if he will be quite good enough come March.
Can Presenting Percy justify his favourites tag?
The Pat Kelly trained Presenting Percy is the general favourite for the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The reappearance of the interestingly bred son of Sir Percy out of a Presenting mare is eagerly awaited, as he has progressed gradually under the shrewd Kelly and is still potentially open to considerable improvement.
Already two from two at the Cheltenham Festival having won a Pertemps Hurdle Final and a Sun Alliance Novice Chase in the last two years, this seven year old still looks the most likely candidate at this early stage.
Sizing John was an impressive winner of this race in 2017 and is still only an eight year old with relatively few miles on the clock. He has had his problems though and hasn’t ran in nearly a year. He needs to make a satisfactory racecourse reappearance before he can be considered as a serious contender for the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It is obviously still early days to be considering any horse the winner of the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nonetheless, most of the main contenders have already ran this season and things are beginning to take shape.
The yet to reappear Presenting Percy looks a worthy favourite at this stage, but there are many interesting contenders lurking in the shadows. Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux are two of the more likely, with the massively priced latter named a real dark horse that is open to plenty of improvement for his top trainer.