Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase
This year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup is to be contested on Friday 17th March at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. This three mile and two furlong Grade One is known for being the most valuable non-handicap National Hunt event held. The pot this year will be £575,000.
Our Cheltenham Gold Cup tip for 2017 is the Willie Mullins trained Djakadam, runner-up in this race in both 2015 and 2016. Beaten in 2015 by the outstanding Coneygree by under two lengths – a novice who ran to a rating equal to Denman – he followed it up with a four length second place finish behind Don Cossack who ran the race of his life. Both of those horses will miss the race this year, but Djakadam – who also holds an entry he is unlikely to use for the Ryanair Chase – looks set to try to make it third time lucky.
He is superbly consistent, having finished outside the top three just once in his last ten starts, despite competing in seven Grade 1s; that was a non-complete when falling here in the Cotswald Chase. Since then, his jumping has been up to scratch and he has proven versatile groundwise, with good runs on Good and Good to Soft to go with previous wins on Heavy. He would prefer more cut in the ground though, so we will remain hopeful of rain, especillay in the week leading up to the Festival. He is still only eight years old, but has experience which will prove vital. Also, Willie Mullins has hinted that he may be better than last year, stating: “He is maturing away the whole time and I’d be hopeful he could find a little bit of improvement”.
He fits the trends nicely, having finished third in the Lexus Chase on his second season start, looking tired having won at Punchestown just 17 days earlier. He showed on his seasonal reappearance that he can beat Outlander – despite the Gigginstown horse having a fitness advantage – and he will be trained with a view to peaking for the Festival, so there is not too much concern about his defeat in the Lexus. He holds an entry for the Irish Gold Cup on 12th February, and a good performance there would see him shorten from his tipped price.
The statistical trends for the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2017 to keep in mind when betting are:
- All of the previous 10 winners had already won a Grade 1 Chase
- 9 of the last 10 winners were in the top 3 in the betting market (based off start price)
- 9 of the previous 10 winners were aged between 7 and 9, with 6-year-old Long Run being the exception (four 8yos, four 9yos, one 7yo)
- 8 of the previous 10 winners had between two and four runs that season
- 7 of the last 10 winners had placed at the Festival before (with 5 winning); 3 others were fallers and only Coneygree had not run at the Festival before
- Only 6 of the last 10 winners had a run in the same calendar year
- 5 of the last 10 winners had run in the King George, with two winning
- Of the 5 runners not to compete in the King George, 3 ran in the Lexus (2 wins, one place)
- Only 5 of the last 10 favourites have won
- However, only 1 winner in the last 10 years has been a double figure price
Only two trainers have won more than one Gold Cup – Paul Nicholls dominated the race from 2007 to 2009 with Kauto Star and Denman, while Nicky Henderson trained both Long Run (2011) and Bob’s Worth (2013). Jim Culloty won with Lord Windermere (2014) for one of the only recent big shocks off his rating of just 152. Finally, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Jonjo O’Neill and Gordon Elliott round out the last ten winning trainers with Imperial Commander, the brave Synchronised and Don Cossack respectively.
Trends Analysis: The market often gets it right, even if the race is not always won by the favourite; the lack of big price outsiders winning, along with the high Official Rating trend, shows that. Indeed, seven of the last ten winners had Official Ratings of over 170. The age trend is better viewed as a guide to experience; it is often the older, more mature horses who win Gold Cups, although Coneygree winning as a Novice shows that class can make up for a lack of experience. The trainer trends are hardly a shock either, with the biggest stables well represented. That said, who knows how long Willie Mullins will remain without a Gold Cup win given his current arsenal of top class horses?
The Blue Riband event of the entire Cheltenham Festival in many people’s eyes will see a packed field head off over this three mile plus trip which tests stamina, jumping and heart before the winner is finally crowned for 2017. Each winner enters racing folklore, with the likes of Denman, Kauto Star, Dawn Run, Desert Orchid and, of course, Best Mate all immortalised on the famous trophy.
The centrepiece of the Festival, the Gold Cup Chase, is the final championship race and the biggest staying chase in Britain and Ireland. 22 fences, three miles and two furlongs await the horses in a test of jumping and stamina as they charge up the Cheltenham Hill to the roar of the crowd. Won in the past by horses such as Arkle, Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, Denman and, most recently, Don Cossack, the race has an illustrious roll of honour and is the one all trainers and jockeys want to win.
Bidding to be another rare novice winner of the race, the short priced favourite Thistlecrack would certainly be a worthy addition to that list of winners. Winner of the 2016 World Hurdle in brilliant style, he has transitioned to fences this year and although much was expected of him after his fantastic season prior, no one could have expected how sublime Colin Tizzard’s nine-year-old would be. Winning four races in easy style against no sort of opposition, he finally got his first real test in the King George VI Chase at Kempton against his stablemate Cue Card in the match up of the season so far. Travelling menacingly throughout the contest – with jumping that could not be matched – he drew readily clear with a devastating turn of foot after four out and was never for the catching, with a jubilant Tom Scudamore easing his mount up in celebration on the run in. It was quite a remarkable performance and quickly stamped out any doubts that he was unable to jump at a Grade 1 level, dispatching his stablemate who has been one of the top players in the division for a number of years. Now a best priced 5/4 for the race, he looks to cement his position at the head of the market when he returns to Prestbury Park for the Cotswold Chase in his final preparation run. Colin Tizzard made his intentions completely clear: “We’re trying to win a Gold Cup, so are we going to leave him in his box for ten weeks? No. He’s a big, strong boy but he quite often looks a bit tired in his stable for a few days after a race. It might appear he’s not been involved in a hard finish but I’m glad it’s five weeks between his races. That’s plenty of time to recover.” The step up in distance should be no problem for him considering how well he has travelled in three mile races. It is hard to get away from him with how much class he has shown thus far. There is still a slight concern about his jumping, with his tendency to sometimes stand off the fences by some margin. However, he is overall a good jumper and a spectacle to watch, correcting himself well when needed. Cheltenham is not a forgiving circuit though in terms of jumping errors as many of the greats have found out. Therefore, it does remain as a question mark in the back of people’s minds as it only takes one slight error to bring down a horse at Prestbury Park. His price suggests that defeat is almost out of the question, but that is certainly not true. His run in the Cotswold Chase will be crucial as he will need to show a polished round of jumping to prove his price is justified.
Although unable to live with his stablemate in the King George, the likeable 11-year-old Cue Card is not one to discount. The 2015 King George VI Chase winner, and an unlucky faller in the 2016 Gold Cup, he was arguably the top staying chaser last season on his completed starts. However, that title may well have been ripped from his grasp with his stablemate coming onto the scene. Possibly not at his best in the King George Chase, he was still comprehensively beaten by Thistlecrack and looked to have no answer for him. The step up in trip for the Gold Cup would certainly suit him better than in the King George Chase as he was running on gamely at Kempton and he obviously suits Cheltenham as the 2013 Ryanair Chase winner. He may well end up going down that route again due to his defeat by Thistlecrack, with Tizzard himself suggesting it (“The Ryanair we are definitely thinking about and we are likely to take Cue Card to Ascot for the Ascot Chase“), which may be the better route as he is unlikely to turn the tables on his stable companion. If he does, however, reoppose he could be a good each way alternative in the race with his price a best priced 20/1 due to his latest defeat.
Installed as second favourite after his win in the Welsh Grand National, Native River has been running through the staying handicap division this season. Finishing an admirable second in the National Hunt Cup at the Festival in March, he went on to Aintree to win the Mildmay Novices’ Chase a few weeks later. He has also been a revelation over fences since reappearing this year. Winning the Hennessy Gold Cup in fine style in November, he moved on to Chepstow where he shrugged off top weight of 11st 12lb to win the Welsh Grand National. Richard Johnson was sweet on the chances of the seven-year-old in the race, stating after his Welsh National win that: “I see he’s now second favourite for the Gold Cup and he has to be a big player as he stays and jumps. If you take Thistlecrack out, it’s a very open race.” Whether he now warrants the 8/1 price tag is another matter, as he does need to prove himself outside of handicap company. But his Welsh Grand National win off top weight does seem to indicate that he would certainly be worth the chance in the race given how well he jumps and travels. There is no doubt that he will stay the trip; it is more a question of whether he has the turn of foot up the hill to live with some classier rivals than he is used to facing. Regardless, he adds to the ever growing list of brilliant horses under the care of Colin Tizzard and is another dangerous horse in the Gold Cup field.
For two years running Djakadam has now bumped into one horse who was just too strong for him in the Gold Cup. Runner-up in the 2015 and 2016 editions, he ran with credit both times but has not yet managed to reach the pinnacle of the staying division – he was just lacking an extra gear on both attempts. His preparation for this year’s race has gone relatively well as he was a game winner of the John Durkan at Punchestown on his comeback run. However, he was unable to get to the leader in the Lexus Chase a month later, finishing third. Although it could be called unlucky (he was shuffled back on the home turn when lacking room and was staying on all the time) he never looked like getting past the eventual winner. He will now head straight to the Gold Cup, with Willie Mullins quoted as saying the Irish Gold Cup will come too soon. However, Mullins still holds every hope that his eight-year-old can still put on a bold performance come March: “I thought he jumped fantastic, I thought he stayed the whole way. We might try a different tactic with him the next time. We might just let the horse enjoy himself more because he was jumping so well.” The extra two furlongs coupled with the Cheltenham hill will certainly suit him better than conditions on his latest runs. He is not a horse to rule out, as a best priced 16/1 looks a very good Each Way price for him.
A horse who is really starting to improve this season is Outlander, who started off the season when second in the Belfast Chase which was a good starting point. Even though he fell in the Clonmel Oil Chase, he was well in command at the time when clouting the final fence. He would almost certainly have won the race that day and was very unlucky. He however made amends a month later when running on strongly to win the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, beating Don Poli and Djakadam and with the more fancied Gigginstown runner Valseur Lido beaten a good way in fourth. Thanks to that, he has now propelled himself into the Each Way picture for the race and Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old is now a more realistic price. Reopposing Djakadam at the Festival will obviously be tougher, but he was staying on strongly on his previous runs over three miles and the extra two furlongs may well bring out further improvement. He is worth his place in the race against some more established names in the staying division.
Recent winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup have a great record when appearing in subsequent renewals. Best Mate managed to secure three consecutive titles (2002, 2003, 2004), whilst Kauto Star took home the crown in both 2007 and 2009. He would go on to fall in 2010.
This unlikely misstep from the mount of Walsh put an end to the months of hype regarding the third head-to-head between himself and 2008 winner Denman. It was Imperial Commander who upset the party further as he put seven lengths between himself and fellow front-runner Denman in the closing stages.
Long Run became the first six-year-old since Mill House in 1963 to triumph and ended the run of successive nine-year-old winners. Sam Waley-Cohen held his ride in mid-division for much of the race before tracking the two-time seeking Imperial Commander in third, with Denman and Kauto Star also prominent.
The reigning champion faded quickly and pulled up two out leaving the other two former winners to fight it out at the head of affairs. Long Run sealed victory with a superior jump over the last as his rivals tired. Denman finished second, whilst Kauto Star hung on for third.
The reigning champion went off the 7/4 favourite in 2012. It was not to be for the Waley-Cohen team, however, as Synchronised took the honours despite having to be ridden along in the early stages by AP McCoy. The Jonjo O’Neill trained hold-up horse came from off the pace to break up the leading party of five two out and jumped the last in front, staying on strongly to secure victory from The Giant Bolster and Long Run in second and third respectively.
Bobs Worth sealed the deal in 2013, beating a small field of eight after being prominently placed by Geraghty; the pack was lead by former winner Long Run. The eventual champion looked beaten coming down the hill, but took advantage of the fall of Silviniaco Conti and eventually took the lead with one to jump. Sir Des Champs finished two lengths behind, with Long Run again third.
Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth, who was in our Gold Cup tips in 2014, took to the start line again two years ago but could not bring down Lord Windermere – a 20/1 chance who was ridden extraordinarily patiently at the back of the field. The eight-year-old was ridden off the pace before beginning to pick his way through the main body at fence 14. He penetrated the leading pack with a good jump over the second-last and pinched the title from Own His Own, of whom he finished a short head in advance.
2015 was one of the most intriguing years yet, with a “Will he or won’t he (run)?” situation developing for the novice Coneygree. Easy front running winner of all three starts in his first season chasing, the RSA was the obvious option, but his owners and the Bradstocks took the brave decision to run him in the big race. He was the first novice winner since 1974, certainly helped by the late rain leading to Soft ground, but for such an unexposed horse he jumped beautifully and ran his opposition into the ground. Sadly, his season was cut short after just one run (an easy Listed win at Sandown) by injury and he will return to try to regain his crown in 2017. Coneygree was bravely chased home by the Ricci colours who all other owners were, by this point, sick of. Just a six-year-old, his return, along with the development of Don Cossack, could make 2016 one of the most exciting renewals in living memory.
In 2016, Don Cossack claimed victory for Gigginstown House Stud, Gordon Elliott and Bryan Cooper. Sent off the 2/1 favourite, he was rather fortunate that Cue Card fell at the third last fence as he seemed to be travelling the better at the time. However, jumping is the name of this game and if you fall you deserve it, so nothing can be taken away from the winner. Sadly Don Cossack has now been retired and full details are on the article provided.
At the initial entry stage, there are 39 Cheltenham Gold Cup runners:
- Arctic Skipper
- Bristol De Mai
- Champagne West
- Cue Card
- Don Cossack
- Don Poli
- Empire Of Dirt
- Fine Rightly
- Irish Cavalier
- Kylemore Lough
- Lord Windermere
- Many Clouds
- Minella Rocco
- More Of That
- Native River
- Perfect Candidate
- Road To Riches
- Roi Des Francs
- Saphir Du Rheu
- Sausalito Sunrise
- Shantou Flyer
- Silviniaco Conti
- Sizing John
- Smad Place
- Sub Lieutenant
- Taquin Du Seuil
- Tea For Two
- Theatre Guide
- Valseur Lido
- Wounded Warrior
- Vroum Vroum Mag