The Argento Chase (2.25pm, Cheltenham, Saturday) is not only a competitive race in its own right, but promises to provide some useful clues for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15.
The race has taken on a slightly different complexion following the defection of Bobs Worth and likely defection of Tidal Bay, but still offers six Gold Cup hopefuls a chance to enhance their Cheltenham credentials.
David Pipe’s eight-year-old Grands Crus (4/1) was good enough to finish third, beaten 14½ lengths, behind Long Run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, and beat Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth by 2¼ lengths and 3 lengths, at level weights, in the Feltham Novices’ Chase on the same course on the same day in 2011. He was apparently off colour when fourth, beaten 18 lengths, behind Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase so, although he has something to prove at present, he shouldn’t be dismissed completely out of hand. However, it’s doubtful that 3 miles 1½ furlongs on soft ground is really what he needs.
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander (5/1) returns to action after an absence of 680 days, having not been seen in public since pulling up lame in the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He’s rated 21lb lower than he was in his heyday and is well handicapped with Tidal Bay as a result, but he has to prove he retains ability and it’s surely asking too much for him to win a race as competitive as this after such a layoff in any case.
Anthony Knott, owner of Hunt Ball (8/1) has said some very silly things about his horse so far this season and has insisted on entering the eight-year-old in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, despite trainer Keiran Burke believing that the Ryanair Chase, over 2 miles 5 furlongs, is a better race for him at the Cheltenham Festival. Hunt Ball ran much better in the Peterborough Chase at Kempton last time than he had in the Paddy Power Gold Cup the time before, but still hated the ground. He also has questions to answer over 3 miles 1 ½ furlongs, having never won beyond 2 miles 5 furlongs.
Wayward Prince (12/1) is the second lowest rated horse in the race, according to the BHA, and isn’t favoured by the race conditions. He’s 10lb worse off for the 5 lengths he beat Midnight Chase when second to Silviniaco Conti in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in early November and, although he went on to win at Aintree last month on his only subsequent start, he may come up a little short in this company. Nevertheless, he appears to be have been rejuvenated by the switch to Hilary Parrot, so it would be no surprise to see him run well.
Neil Mulholland’s Midnight Chase (14/1) doesn’t hold a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry this year, but was fifth behind Long Run in 2011 and seventh behind Synchronised last year. He may not be quite the force of old, but it’s worth remembering that he won this race last year, beating TidalBay, to whom he was conceding 6lb, in the process. He was pulled up behind the same rival in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstwon over Christmas, but shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Cape Tribulation (14/1) returned to form with a vengeance when comfortably beating Mr Moonshine by 11 lengths in the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby at Boxing Day for just his second win. Exactly what that form amounts to is difficult to judge and whether he’s ready for this step up in class, on unfavourable terms, remains to be seen.
Venetia Williams’ Quartz De Thaix (16/1) is another without a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry, but he’s been in the form of his life so far this season, winning twice and just being touched off by Master Overseer over course and distance six weeks ago. Strictly speaking, he has something to find with the likes of Weird Al and Imperial Commander, among others, on official BHA ratings, but he’s another who could go well at long odds.
In a race where most of the runners have question marks hanging over them for one reason or another, our betting advice is to back Quartz De Thaix each-way at 16/1. He’s already improved 23lb over fences since November and, if he continues in a similar vein, he can surprise some better fancied rivals.