BetVictor Gold Cup 2016 – The Champ Returns

BetVictor Gold Cup - The Champ Returns 1

The Open Meeting at Cheltenham is one that jump racing aficionados circle in the calendar. A chance to see three days of races, crammed with Festival clues is an itch that must be scratched. The feature of the meeting is the BetVictor Gold Cup, established in 1960 and sponsored by Mackeson, the class of the race was immediately obvious.

The inaugural running went the way of reigning Champion Chaser, Fortria, and one of the top Autumn handicaps was born. Fortria would return to win the race again in 1962, one of just five horses who are dual winners of this contest. Just two – Half Free in 1984/85 and Bradbury Star 1993/94 – have won the race in back-to-back years. sat down with Hannah Bishop, racing manager for owner Mrs Prowting, to discover if Annacotty could etch his name into the history books as the third.

The Early Years

Champions often have compelling backstories. Annacotty, or Gerry as he is affectionately known at home (after Gerry Hogan, who played an important role in the purchase of the horse), is no different. “Mrs Prowting had her first horses in training with David Nicholson, right up until he retired.” Both Annacotty’s grand dam, Mulloch Brae, and dam, Mini Moo Min, were trained by ‘The Duke’ and as a keen owner within the yard, she has enjoyed watching both in action.

“Interestingly, Mini Moo Min was Alan King’s first ever winner”: on 4 December 1999 after taking over the licence from his mentor. “We had picked him [Annacotty] out on paper before the sale due to Mrs P’s connections to the bloodline, so we were keen to see him in the flesh. Annacotty has an air of class about him and a fabulous walk, but it was watching the videos of him pointing in Ireland that cemented the idea that we had to have him.” And so it was at Brightwell Sales at Cheltenham in 2012 that Annacotty was purchased for £35,000.

Home Life

“He is a total gent of a horse, kind polite and easy. He is very workman-like in his behaviour, but sometimes his excitement shows when he is saddled because he trembles, which is always a good sign.” Therefore, a trip to the pre-parade ring on 12 November is a must if he is stood in the saddling box, connections smiling from ear to ear because he is trembling; he might just be about to run another huge race!

“We have always been very aware of how he can hit a flat spot during his races, so after his summer break Annacotty has had a wind op.” That will be music to the ears of many who try to follow those who have had their breathing tinkered with. It will be fascinating to see how it helps the horse to travel in his races.

Cheltenham 2015

Annacotty’s last three wins have all come at Prestbury Park. “Mrs P loves Cheltenham, so we try to target races there.” November 2015, on his first run for Alan King was the middle of those three (he won in January 2016 on heavy since) but what does Bishop remember of the day itself?

“I’m not very good at watching him run! I pace with nerves!  Three fences from home, I remember thinking he’s run a blinder no matter where he finishes. But then the gap opened for him and his jumping was superb. Annacotty gave us his all. I was confident that he wanted to win it for Ian from two out. I expect they could hear us from the paddock shouting him home! There were an awful lot of proud tears, it really was a racing fairy tale, a dream come true for us all.” So, can he follow in the hoofprints of just two before him and repeat last year’s heroics?

Cheltenham 2016

A dry autumn has been against him in a bid to repeat, “obviously we are all hoping it rains hard between now and raceday!” There is plenty of confidence however, with the whole team at Barbury Castle working hard behind the scenes. “Ian [Popham] goes in for schooling once a week, so has a great rapport with the horse. Alan King’s team are fantastic, totally first class – I can honestly say that I have never seen Annacotty look better in himself.”

Now 9lbs higher than last year, it’s going to be a tough ask for him to repeat. However, if the rain comes his chances would increase and at a general 25/1 paying four places, we couldn’t put anyone off an each way nibble on the eight-year-old.

The Future

How is the rest of the season shaping up for Annacotty?  “We’d like to get the first race out of the way before we make solid plans! The December Gold Cup came too soon for him last year, but he is at his best on the heavy winter ground. Stepping him up in trip and perhaps taking him over to Ireland are all options to consider, but perhaps it will be a long wet spring and you will see him back at the Festival!”

Having won the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day 2013, Bishop dreams of lofty ambitions: “My dream is to run in King George, but Mr Ricci and Mr Mullins need to stay in Ireland!” That’s the beauty of horse racing, dreaming big and with a horse whose rating would be mid 160s were he to repeat on 12 November, why not?

We would like to thank Hannah Bishop @HannahBishop79 for her time and insight as well as Francesca Aloft @FranAltoftPhoto for the picture of Annacotty. Photograph used with her kind permission.

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