Matt Tombs / Thursday 13th November 2014 / 14:20
The Paddy Power Gold Cup has been a benefit for young, up and coming chasers. 8 out of last 10 winners were novices the previous season and one of the other 2, (Our Vic,) had a stellar reputation as a novice, (went off 11/8f for the RSA,) but had had injury problems in his 2nd season and didn’t complete in 3 runs, before bouncing back to win this on his 6th chase start.
A decade or so ago, races over intermediate trips were very much the poor relation of steeplechasing. Anyone who had a good horse to go chasing worked out whether they would compete at 2m or 3m+. With the introduction of the Ryanair and latterly the JLT at the Festival, it’s much more fashionable to campaign good horses at intermediate trips now. That’s one of the reasons why unexposed 2nd season chasers are doing so well – more of them are aimed at the race. Inevitably one or two will be well ahead of the handicapper at this stage of the season, making it very hard for the more experienced, exposed horses to win.
To illustrate how well in the winner will probably be – the last ten winners official ratings peaked the following amount higher than the mark they won off: Imperial Commander (46), Exotic Dancer (38), Celestial Gold (25), Our Vic (22), Tranquil Sea (22), Johns Spirit (17), Great Endeavour (10), Little Josh (9), Al Ferof (9), L’Antartique (8). Whilst injury interfered with the progression of some of the winners, that gives an idea of how much of a potential improver we’re looking for.
Of the 8 2nd season chasers who’ve won, only Al Ferof was a star novice and even he was well beaten in a vintage Arkle. He’s the only winner to have defied a mark of more than 148 in the last decade (won off 159) and it’s much more common for the winner to have had a lower key novice chase season, (which has left them well handicapped.)
The Grade 1 novice form is represented by Oscar Whisky (10/1), who fell at the first in the JLT and was then a decent 2nd to Uxizandre in a Grade 1 at Aintree. He’s 8lb below his hurdles mark on 156 but that looks high for what he’s achieved over fences. Sometimes classy hurdlers are slow learners over fences and if he puts it together he could win off this mark. He’s rising 10 now though and I’m expecting some of the younger horses to improve past him at the weights.
Present View (6/1) is trying to emulate L’Antartique by following up a win in the novice handicap at the Festival and is 7lb higher here (144). L’Antartique was 13lb higher, (had won an intermediate chase in the interim,) and it’s easy to think Present View is still well handicapped. He was a lucky winner at the Festival though as Attaglance would surely have won had his jockey navigated a straight course on the run in. He warmed up with a good 2nd in a novice hurdle, (winner franked the form with a close 2nd in a Grade 2 next time,) and this 6 year old looks on the sort of upward curve needed to win this. He has sound claims but is priced accordingly.
Attaglance (14/1) was running off 137 there, having won the Coral Cup off 2lb higher two years previously. He’s already had 32 races under rules and, whilst he isn’t fully exposed after 10 chase starts, he doesn’t strike me as the sort with enough improvement left in him to win a Paddy Power off 143.
5th home in that Festival handicap, Buywise (8/1,) looks more interesting. His jumping let him down there (off 134) - going well when blundering and losing all chance two out. The problem is that he’s rather showed his hand by surging clear to win by 9l back at the track in April, earning a 12lb rise. He didn’t jump brilliantly when winning in April either and if he were to put in a clear round he looks to have the ability to be better than a mark off 146. However, he’s actually 5lb worse off with Present View for being beaten 7l. The vibes from Evan Williams have been that he’s struggling to get him fit in time and the value has gone.
Johns Spirit (9/1) has kept surprising me, and clearly goes well at this time of year. He won this off 139 last season, the October race off 147 and is now up to 156. It’d take a Ryanair performance to win off that mark and I just can’t believe he’s that good. I’m keen to take him on.
If there’s going to be a more experienced chaser winning, I think Easter Meteor (14/1) is the most likely candidate. He was going pretty well in front when tipping up 2 out in this last season off 140. He’s been switched from Emma Lavelle to David Pipe whose family has such a phenomenal record in this. It would be no surprise to see him improve again and he has a live chance off 148.
Irish runners don’t have a great record, (Tranquil Sea the only winner this century). Shanpallas (16/1) looks to improve that record and comes here in good form having won the Munster National over 3m, off 139, last time. Charles Byrnes thinks he’s equally effective at 2½m. He’s up to 147 here which doesn’t make him look that well treated.
When I looked at the race a few days ago I’d expected to be backing Indian Castle (12/1,) who looks dangerously well handicapped off 140. He won a competitive novice handicap over 2m5f here in January off 135 and was then backed off the boards for the Kim Muir off 140 – starting 7/2f. He ran a good race there, looking booked for 3rd until blundering badly at the last. It’s possible he’ll be equally effective dropped back in trip and he has the advantage that he goes on any ground. The problem is the price. He was 25/1 a few days ago and looked a clever bet. At his current odds, the doubts about whether he’ll have the pace for this put me off, especially if the rain doesn’t arrive.
Ericht (16/1) is a hard horse to weigh up. The vibes are that he’s always been considered a good horse at Seven Barrows, (went off favourite for the 2011 Champion Bumper.) He was backed into 13/2 joint favourite for the novice’s handicap at the Festival, off 140, following an impressive win in a novice at Musselburgh, but made a mistake early on there and never got into it. He made a sound comeback when 7l 3rd to Johns Spirit here in October. He was ridden with plenty of light there, going pretty wide and it looked a case of trying to get him to cope with the competitive nature of handicaps. Nicky Henderson isn’t one to have his horses too forward in October and you could imagine he’ll improve a lot for that experience. He isn’t a reliable type but he does look well handicapped off 137. Barry Geraghty has passed him over to ride Oscar Whisky though, which just tips the balance away from him.
I’m backing another unexposed 2nd season chaser, Caid Du Berlais, (16/1). He’s had just 3 runs over fences, the last off 6lb higher when 7th in the Galway Plate. Whilst Imperial Commander won after just 3 chases and Exotic Dancer after 4 – I’d normally be worried inexperience would be an issue, but that Galway run should have taught him a lot.
He’s always looked really talented, (2nd in the Fred Winter last year off 137, 3rd in the Martin Pipe this year off 143 and just edged out at Aintree off 145.) He’s rated 151 over hurdles but gets in here off 143, looking just the potentially top class type, who hasn’t yet had the chance to show his best over fences, that tends to win this.
The only concern is the weather forecast – it’s currently good to soft and the forecasts vary considerably - it could turn against this horse that Paul Nicholls says thrives on a sound surface. If you’re waiting until Saturday to have a bet and the ground is decent, he’d be a confident selection at anything like the 16/1 currently on offer.
I think the price might have collapsed by then though and, at 16/1, I’m prepared to take the risk the ground won’t be ideal, (like most ex-French horses he’s gone through the mud over there and his breeding suggests he may handle it). It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a Grade 1 horse come the spring and I think he might be chucked in here.
1pt Caid Du Berlais to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup @ 16/1