Matt Tombs / Friday 15th March 2013 / 11:50
1pt Silviniaco Conti to win the Gold Cup @ 5/1 (3.20)
1pt Kid Cassidy to win the Grand Annual @ 10/1 (5.15)
1pt Drumshambo to win the Grand Annual @ 25/1 (5.15)
By the time you get to the Friday of the Festival it’s easy to let your punting be directed by what’s happened so far. Yes, I've lost some money, but I've really just been paying for the best sporting entertainment of the year.
Anyone feeling sorry for themselves on the punting front should think of top amateur John Thomas McNamara who suffered serious neck injuries in a fall from Galaxy Rock in the Kim Muir yesterday. Our sport is based on the bravery of the riders and the best winner today would be some positive news on JT's condition.
On the betting front, it's been a really tough week with the Portfolio’s horses disappointing, throwing away winning chances through poor jumping and even just being aimed at what looks the wrong race. That’s life though and now it’s a test of temperament. It’s six years since I had a losing Festival and my initial reaction is that its time for a professional smash out. There’s a fine line between that and chasing it though, so it’s important to keep disciplined.
Furthermore, Ballycasey's withdrawal this morning is another hit. The good news is that we’ve got the banker of the week in the Foxhunters (Salsify 3/1 from 10/1) and an interesting shortener in Ted Veale in the County (12/1 from 25/1). Salsify looks to have really strong claims in a weak renewal of the Foxhunters provided the ground doesn't deteriorate - it would epitomise the week if he got turned over on testing ground! Ted Veale also has fair claims so we still have some shape despite the Ballycasey bet going down.
That gives us a decent chance of clawing back the deficit but both the Gold Cup and Grand Annual are good betting races and I’m keen to get involved with both. I'm resisting the temptation to go in on the Triumph and the conditionals race as they're not my sort of races.
As if it wasn't proving difficult enough to find winners, we've again no idea how the ground will ride. If no rain falls it'll be a mixture of good to soft and good - probably the best we've had all week. However the water table is so high, 3-4mm would likely make it soft. Importantly, if rain falls on chewed up ground from racing, it might be genuinely testing for the last couple of races. Writing at 11am a mile or so from the course, the rain hasn't yet arrived and so I'm working on the basis there may be some but not a deluge.
In the Gold Cup, the obvious place to start is Bobs Worth (3/1) who loves the course and has won at the last 2 Festivals, winning a good renewal of the RSA last year. Winning the Hennessy off 160 is a harder task than taking many of the Grade 1s during the season so I think his form is well up to scratch (Denman won the Hennessy off 161 the season he won the Gold Cup.) The problem is lack of experience – no Gold Cup winner in modern times has won after just 5 chases and only 1 in open company.
It’s also a long time since a horse won it off such a long break and I don’t like backing horses who’ve had an interrupted preparation at short odds. Nicky Henderson always improves his horses hugely to peak for the Festival but his strategy is not to over-face them and the risk is that they arrive undercooked if they’ve not had a smooth run. It’s hard to tell though – Binocular is a case in point. He looked as if the Champion Hurdle came a couple of weeks too early when a close 3rd at 6/4 to Punjabi in 2009 but had an even worse preparation the following year when winning at 9/1.
It’s amazing how short memories are. One (substandard) Gold Cup won by a slogger and everyone’s talking about how it’s a race for stayers not speed horses. Of course you need to stay but all the rest of the winners this century have been much quicker animals. Best Mate was 2nd in a Supreme, Kicking King 2nd in an Arkle, War Of Attrition won the 2m Grade 1 novice chase at the Punchestown Festival, Kauto Star was a Tingle Creek winner, Denman was 2nd in a Neptune, Imperial Commander was a Ryanair winner and Long Run won a Grade 2 novice chase over 2m. Real class is needed to win a typical Gold Cup. I'm not convinced Bob's Worth will be quick enough if it no material rain falls. If the rain does fall, it'll significantly improve his chances.
Having backed Flemenstar at 25/1 in the spring, I really ought to be keen on Sir Des Champs’ (9/2) chances but every time I look at his price I think he’s been overbet. He wasn’t competitive in his first two runs and then he only just managed to turn the tables on Flemenstar in the Irish Hennessy when Peter Casey’s charge had a lung infection. He hasn’t looked an easy horse to train and whilst Willie Mullins is a genius at peaking horses for the Festival, that magic looks more than priced in. It’s not to say he can’t win – I thought much the same about Bob’s Worth in last year’s RSA – it’s just he’s poor value.
Unless there's a lot of rain to turn it into a slog, the one I like most of the front 3 is Silviniaco Conti (5/1). In the autumn I was against him as he won a weak Charlie Hall and then beat an unfit Long Run at Haydock. But whilst the others have had problems, he's had a clear run and that's crucial in terms of winning a Gold Cup.
Rain would suit Long Run (5/1) as he doesn't quite look to have the pace he had when winning this 2 years ago. He was well short of full fitness when beaten by Silviniaco Conti at Haydock and got on top in the dying strides in the King George. The cheekpieces might wake him up and he could prove hard to pass if they do but he's shortened a fair bit now.
Of the others, the class act is Captain Chris, who was nabbed close home in the King George on unsuitably heavy ground and then was laying it down to yesterday's Ryanair winner Cue Card at Ascot, when blundering two out. He seems to take his racing well and has always been at his best on decent ground in the spring. He's best going right handed but he did jump pretty straight last time and having won an Arkle here, you couldn't say he doesn't act on the course but he's clearly better going right handed. If the rain stays away he's a player.
If the rain does come, it plays into the hands of Cape Tribulation (16/1). He acts on any ground but would see a slog out better than some of these and it's hard to know how much he's progressed this season. He'd be cracking each way value if it rains hard.
If you can wait to see what the weather does I would, but on the basis fresh ground won't ride too badly in the Gold Cup I think Silviniaco Conti is the most likely winner.
Let's hope we've managed to chalk up a winner before we get to the Grand Annual but if not it looks the usual tricky puzzle to get out in. Again, ground will be key and if it does rain the ground will be really chewed up by the time they line up for this.
Favourite Alderwood (6/1) would certainly be disadvantaged by testing conditions. He's obviously fairly handicapped off 140 given he won the County here off 139 last season and he's been laid out for this. He's pretty short in consequence and doesn't look thrown in so I'm keen to oppose him.
Last year I stood in the stands watching Kid Cassidy going down having been backed from 12/1 into 4/1, hoping he'd be the icing on the cake of a good week. It wasn't to be as he just wasn't ready for this sort of tough test. This time he might be trying to dig us out of a big hole off 2lb lower after what might be described as a couple of educational runs in the autumn. If he settles and gets into a rhythm he could still be a fair way ahead of the handicapper and hold up king Paul Carberry is the ideal booking. 10/1 is more than fair.
Have a few quid on Drumshambo (25/1) too for handicap queen Venetia Williams who struck with a 50/1 shot yesterday. This horse is 4/4 in handicaps over 2m and didn't look to get home in heavy ground over half a mile further last time. He's up to 142 now but is really progressive and is a huge price considering he's 3lb better off with 10/1 shot Rody for beating him 2l in December. Of course Rody has improved since then but so has Drumshambo and he's the value.