Andy Holding turns his attention to next year's Gold Cup, with a 16/1 shot he is keen on
A cracking finish to this season’s blue riband provided the usual large crowd on the final day of the meeting just what they wanted, an epic encounter between three of the best staying chasers around. However, the nip-and-tuck ending, plus the close proximity to the first three home of previous suspect stayer, Monalee, casts a bit of a shadow over the form, so how much of a bearing is this year’s renewal likely to have on what develops during the following campaign?
The winner, Al Boum Photo, was doing what no horse had managed to achieve since Best Mate in 2003 and land back-to-back Gold Cups, so he has to be afforded the utmost praise. Additionally, he proved himself to be tactically versatile in the sense he managed to succeed in a more slowly-run environment to the one he triumphed in the previous season, so you can’t argue about his ability to perform to maximum capacity regardless of how the race pans out. Winner of six of his 10 races over fences, and extremely consistent at the very highest level, Willie Mullins’ gelding is difficult to knock on many counts other than his winning margin of just a neck from the fast-finishing Santini does give plenty of hope for some behind him that day, along with many decent novices coming through the ranks, that he’s far from unbeatable. Now connections’ have worked out that he requires very little racing nowadays – a tactic used by those surrounding Best Mate to great effect – the son of Buck’s Boum will probably go down a similar route next season and use the same race at Tramore as a stepping stone and providing they can get him to peak fitness on the day itself, he will have a golden opportunity to go into the history books along the likes of Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle, and Best Mate.
As the race turned out a little more tactical than what appeared likely beforehand (Bristol De Mai only went a swinging gallop), the cards didn’t really fall as well as what was anticipated for Santini. Seen to good effect off a strong pace set by Nigel Twiston-Davies’ grey in the Cotswold Chase two months earlier, the son of Milan got momentarily outpaced as the pace increased abruptly from the third last and it was at this point where his race was lost. Although he rallied in game fashion once he hit the rising ground, he was only gaining in small increments on the run-in, and in the end he had to settle for an honourable and agonising second place. In hindsight, maybe Nico De Boinville could have made it a sterner test once he’d worked his way to the head of affairs at the top of the hill and tried to draw the sting out of the kick-finishers, but that is always easy to say after the event and the safest conclusion is to probably just blame the lack of overall pace for his narrow defeat. That said, it was still a hugely encouraging effort from a horse who has only had six starts over fences and with time on his side, Nicky Henderson’s gelding may yet have his day in the sun.
A further length behind in third was Lostintranslation and he proved conclusively that his poor effort in the King George at Kempton was just down to a bad day at the office. Impressive winner of The Betfair Chase at Haydock previously, Colin Tizzard’s powerful gelding had undergone a procedure to tweak his wind following his disappointment at the Surrey venue and that surgery clearly worked as it enabled him to bounce back to something like his best at the Festival. Holding every chance at the last, the eight-year-old just didn’t quite see the trip out as well as his two main market rivals and although it is earlier days to write him off as a serious Gold Cup contender, there will always be a slight nagging doubt hanging over him until he really does prove himself beyond three miles.
Monalee produced one of his career-best performances on paper back in fourth, but at the same time, it could be a dangerous exercise to read too much into his effort as he was very much suited by the steady early gallop. Unlikely to ever get the same luxury again in a Gold Cup, Henry De Bromhead’s gelding rates a genuine 33-1 shot based on his overall profile of trips of three miles and shorter being his optimum.
Delta Work was easily the biggest disappointment of the race back in fifth and that modest run by his standards can be put down to a series of notable errors that ultimately chipped away at his reserves of stamina (began with a bad peck on landing after the second which wasn’t picked up by the Racing Post guys). Always having to make up the ground lost because of those mistakes at least four or five times, the laws of physics eventually caught up with Gordon Elliott’s gelding on the run down to the last and in the end, he could only plug on at the one-pace on the run-in. Despite his previous performances at Leopardstown instilling hope that he was a genuine Gold Cup contender, not for the first time his jumping let him down when it mattered the most (same applied to his display in the previous season’s RSA Chase) and unless he becomes a good deal more proficient in this department, he is always likely to come up a little short.
As feared by many beforehand, Clan Des Obeaux just isn’t the same horse at Cheltenham than he is on flat tracks and based on connections’ post-race comments, you would probably want 33-1 about him lining up in a Gold Cup again, let alone winning one, while it’s probably safe to say that the likes of Bristol De Mai and Presenting Percy have also seen better days.
Harking back to the previous RSA Chase involving Santini and Delta Work, it would be dangerous to completely forget the winner that day, Topofthegame, as a viable contender if returning to fray in the same sort of form where he left off. Really impressive on the figures that day back in March 2019, Paul Nicholls’ gelding sustained an injury when not quite as effective around Aintree on his final outing of the campaign and hasn’t been seen out since, but he has time on his side and is in the right hands to re-emerge from the shadows.
So if the general consensus that the class of 2020 are, by and large, a group that have frailties in several departments, it has got to be worth looking towards the novices’ coming through to see whether any from that category can make a big impact next season.
Similar to the previous season, The RSA Chase has to be the first port of call when looking for likely candidates and of the three that fought out a rousing finish, both the winner, Champ, and runner-up Minella Indo, appear to have the right sort of credentials to raise their game to another level.
The former went into the contest a slightly uneasy favourite on account of a fall in the Dipper Chase over the New Course back in January and for majority of the three-mile journey he seemed to be remembering that tumble and looking unlikely to justify his position in the market. Always looking to be putting in an extra stride at his obstacles, indicative of a horse who had suffered a nasty experience previously, Nicky Henderson’s gelding, as a result, found himself with plenty of ground to make up on his two main market rivals as the leaders touched down over three out. Still 10 lengths or so down approaching the last, the son of King’s Theatre managed to produce an unbelievably powerful finish on the run-in to cut down Minella Indo in the dying stride and it came as no surprise to find out that he had touched a high of 400-1 on the in-running betting exchanges. Time-wise, his overall number was as good as anything throughout the course of the four days, suggesting it was a truly-run affair and even his final circuit time worked out only half-a-second slower than Politologue who took the Champion Chase over a mile shorter. To be able to produce these sort of figures despite not jumping that well is testimony to his raw talent and tenacious attitude and providing his technique can improve to the level expected of a top-class chaser, he clearly has the engine and stamina to be a strong contender for top honours in his second season over fences.
For nine tenths of the journey, MINELLA INDO (best price 16-1) looked to have the race at his mercy and if it wasn’t for a bad mistake at the last when he lost loads of momentum, and the power-packed surge of the eventual winner in the latter stages, Henry De Bromhead’s gelding would have rightly been lauded as a worthy winner of an above-average renewal. The way he jumped and travelled throughout spoke heavily in favour of a chaser totally at home over the larger obstacles and there is no doubt last season’s Albert Bartlett hero has carried forward his top-class hurdles form over to his new discipline. If anything, he went through the race a little too well in the sense his pilot Rachel Blackmore didn’t know whether to stick or twist with Allaho alongside for the first two miles and as it turned out, the pair appeared to soften each other up judged on the final analysis. That said, it was still a hugely encouraging effort in defeat by the Beat Hollow gelding and considering this effort was only his third outing over fences, even more praise should be piled on his plate. For the second season in succession, his best performance of the campaign has come at the Cheltenham Festival, backing up the view that he truly is a big-time player when it counts the most, and looking the type who will continue to improve both physically and mentally with age, the best could yet be to come from the seven-year-old.
Despite running a blinder back in third, Allaho once again just came up a little short over the three-mile trip and although you can hardly take a swipe at connections for running him in the race in favour of the Marsh Chase the following day, it is fair to say he would have taken plenty of stopping over the 2m4f journey had they gone down that particular route. Now 3-1 down in his clashes with Minella Indo, it will be interesting to see which path Willie Mullins’ gelding treads next season as on all known form he looks to be crying out to be dropped back in trip rather than been asked to keep banging his head against the wall over three miles.
Of the novice handicappers who triumphed at the Festival, both Imperial Aura and Simply The Betts have the sort of qualities to suggest they can take their games to another level, it is just a case of whether than can prove themselves equally effective beyond 2m4f, which is tricky to decipher at this stage.
Logic dictates that Al Boum Photo has to be chalked up favourite having proved he is a worthy champion for the second time and there is very little reason to argue with those sentiments. However, winning the Gold Cup for a third time truly would be something special and, with the competition likely to be even tougher next season with a whole host of smart youngsters coming through the ranks, there could be better value to be had elsewhere.
Taking the view that this year’s RSA Chase was as good as any other renewal run before, both Champ and Minella Indo have to be marked down at serious considerations when drawing up a shortlist of would-be champions and, of the pair, the latter makes the most appeal at his present odds. Unlucky in many respects not to have triumphed at Cheltenham, his body of work makes for impressive reading and, with the strong possibility of even more to come with further experience, he has the potential to go to the very top. Despite being a big, robust type, he seems a fairly straightforward horse to get fit at home based on his lightly-raced profile and with connections probably seeking maybe just two or three runs maximum before arriving at the Festival next season (likely to contest the Savills and Irish Gold Cups at Leopardstown), he will have hopefully done enough by then to justify taking the current big-looking 16-1 about him now.