2021 Racing Post Gold Cup

We welcome the two-day International Meeting at Cheltenham which gets under way on Friday and we are in for a real treat this weekend, with the feature race being the Racing Post Gold Cup, a Grade Three handicap run over two miles, four and a half furlongs, which is among the treats in store on Saturday and is one of many highlights of the Christmas National Hunt racing calendar.

This year’s renewal, sponsored for the first time this year by Racing Post, has a more open feel than some recent runnings, especially with the absence of Paul Nicholls’ dual winner of the race - Frodon, who impressed on his return in Ireland when seeing off top-class opponents, including the Gold Cup winner in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase. The race itself, however, makes a fair bit of appeal from a betting point of view and a good starting point would be to mention to likeable and popular Evan Williams-trained Coole Cody, who could return to Cheltenham after luckily emerging unscathed from his fall here last-time-out, where he came down at the second-last fence when still in contention in his quest to register a second consecutive Paddy Power Gold Cup. He was sixth in this race last year off a similar mark, so he can’t be ruled out with a clear round at 14-1, but you get the suspicion that he may find a few too good that are open to a bit more improvement.

Trainer Paul Nicholls, who has won it a record five times, has five entries this time round, with his main hope probably resting with Lalor, who shaped with real encouragement when third on his first run for the twelve-time champion trainer in November's Paddy Power Gold Cup, where stayed on strongly up the hill to be nearest the finish. That run ought to have sorted him out fitness-wise and therefore has an obvious chance, but his single-figure price at a general 6-1 doesn’t appeal in a race that is historically competitive as this, so we will give him a swerve. Alnadam, trained by Dan Skelton, who caught the eye when seventh in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival, is currently fourth favourite but he was completely outclassed and beaten out of sight on his reappearance and looks short enough. Yes, he will appreciate the drop in trip, but he doesn’t strike as a horse who’s capable of winning a race of this nature so is passed over.

Dostal Phil is sure to have his supporters, who came from miles back to take fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup when a place behind Lalor on seasonal return last month. The eight-year-old boasts some strong handicapping form, who’s yet to finish out of the frame in all completed chase starts and a small one-pound rise for that display here last time makes him of some interest. He’ll appreciate the stiffer track on the new course and, with his stable amongst the winners, Philip Hobbs’ charge is an each-way player at a general 7-1 and would probably be my main play of those towards the top of the market. Noble Yeats has been supported over the last week or so and was impressive when beating a good horse on chase debut but he’s looked a bit lacklustre in two subsequent starts and this is a tough race to bounce back.

Connections of the classy Sue Smith-trained Paddy Power Gold Cup winner, Midnight Shadow, who was tipped by myself for that race last month, could bid to complete the double but have indicated an ambition to go for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton. Even with Coole Cody crashing out last time, I’m pretty adamant he’d have won it anyway as he did really well to keep himself upright and the partnership intact with Ryan Mania onboard when making a last fence howler on the landing side. He does have to compete from a seven-pound higher here, off 147, as you’d expect, but he was second in this race twelve months ago and it is surprising to find him available at double digits, 12-1, given the form has worked out incredibly well. For instance, the runner-up - Protektorat, absolutely hosed up in the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase at Aintree over the weekend. As mentioned, he’s not been done any favours by the handicapper on reassessment of that latest win, but he’s a very good horse and another bold showing seems likely on the cards, especially with connections dreaming of a potential tilt at the King George.

It’s a testament to Donald McCain’s training ability that his winning machine Minella Trump has won nine consecutive races this year, albeit in lower-graded affairs. This seven-year-old is clearly thriving this year and can’t be dismissed lightly but this will be by far his stiffest examination to date and I feel as though the better-quality opponents may have his measure. Meanwhile, the Philip Hobbs-trained Zanza ran a good race to finish sixth in the Paddy Power, forcing a dead-heat with Simply The Betts, and has only been raised a pound for that eye-catching display. If he can keep himself in contention at the top of the hill, there probably won’t be many finishing better than him and he could improve on that position here.

A more attractive proposition with the four places available could be Nicky Henderson’s consistent FUSIL RAFFLES (best price 12-1), who has improved with each outing this season and did well to win the Charlie Hall Chase, albeit a fortuitous winner having been helped by the unfortunate fall of Shan Blue. He has mostly performed with credit at Cheltenham, however, and remains the only horse to have beaten Chantry House over fences, while his second in the Marsh Novices’ Chase is a top-class piece of form as he had last year’s winner of this event, Chatham Street Lad back in fourth, while Asterion Forlonge, who looked set to win a Grade One over the weekend, was held back in third. He looks fairly solid and arguably a point or two too big with conditions likely to be in his favour and he could easily outclass these with an error-free round of jumping.

Fusil Raffles - 0.5pts e/w @ 12/1

The Ladbrokes Trophy-winning team of Williams and Charlie Deutsch are in great form and this might well have been the culmination of a long-term plan for FARINET (best price 20-1), trained by Venetia Williams, who hasn’t been seen since winning the Listed Paddy's Rewards Club Novices' Handicap Chase when getting the better of Up The Straight in a competitive race at Sandown, and I was impressed by how he kept finding having hit the front plenty soon enough. The 157-rated and stablemate Cepage is also entered, who could feature and is likely to keep the weights down for this six-year-old, who will be suited by the forecast soft ground and remains unexposed after just two starts in the UK, following a good spell in France. He gets in here off a featherweight and his mark of 133 is lenient. He is nowhere near the handicapper's grip, so he makes plenty of each-way appeal at this stage of the week with four places on offer at double-figure odds.

Silver Hallmark is another one of the interesting ones, who has been backed into as short as 7-1 and has the right sort of profile for this assignment. The seven-year-old is lightly-raced for his age and shaped really well when fourth on his return in a listed event at Carlisle. That form could hardly have worked out any better with the winner, Fiddlerontheroof, who he’d previous pushed to a half-a-length second on chase debut at Exeter, subsequently finishing second in the Ladbrokes Trophy, while Ahoy Senor, who unseated at the second last, returned a thirty-one length winner of the Grade Two Ladbrokes John Francome Novices' Chase to strengthen the form line. The winner, however, provides clear indication that Fergal O’Brien’s charge is well-treated as he goes into handicaps on a mark of 145 with some of the best form on display. I get the impression he’s the sort of horse who will most prove effective in a strongly-run affair so, providing he can cope with the different demands, he surely has a decent each-way shout at the prices.

Farinet - 0.5pts e/w @ 20/1