The 2m5f December Gold Cup (2.30pm, Cheltenham, Saturday) is the betting highlight of the second day of the International meeting.
Alan King’s Walkon (5/1) heads the betting on the strength of his three-length second to Al Ferof in the Paddy Power Gold Cup four weeks ago.
That form entitles him, once again, to beat Nadiya De La Vega (10/1), who finished 12 lengths behind in third and is just 5lb better off, and Quantitativeeasing (16/1), Michael Flips (25/1) and Kingsmere (28/1), who were all pulled up.
However, Walkon appears best fresh, so it will be interesting to see if he retains the same enthusiasm at the second time of asking. Last season his form tailed off after an impressive win on his seasonal debut. There must be a danger of the same thing happening this time around.
Next in the betting comes Paul Nicholls’ Unioniste (6/1), who was originally allotted just 9st 8lb in the long handicap. Wishfull Thinking’s participation means that he is 6lb out of the handicap proper, but useful claimer Harry Derham takes off 5lb. A risk to his participation is that he needs a non-runner as he is merely a reserve.
Unioniste won on his debut for Paul Nicholls at Aintree in October and was far from disgraced when third, beaten 8½ lengths, by Dynaste in a novices’ chase over 2m4f here last month. He won on heavy going when trained in France, so should be suited by underfoot conditions if the rain arrives. He appears to jump well enough to make his presence felt off a featherweight. Of course, he is still a novice, so whether he’s ready for the hurly burly of a competitive handicap at this early stage of his career remains to be seen.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Astracad (10/1) won a novices’ chase over 2m on soft going at Perth in April and made a promising reappearance when fourth, beaten eight lengths, behind Shooters Wood here last month. He’s won over 2m4½f in the past, so the extra distance should be well within his compass. However, he remains 6lb higher in the weights than for his last win in a handicap and that may just be enough to find him out.
Notus De La Tour (8/1), hailing from the David Pipe yard, has not been seen since falling at the third fence in the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but had run with credit in two Grade 1 novices’ chases at Leopardstown on his two previous starts. However, he is just 4lb better off with Walkon for the 8¾ lengths that one beat him at Exeter last December. It’s probably asking too much for him to win a race as competitive as this on his seasonal debut, though he does come from a stable that has a reputation for getting them ready first time.
Cristal Bonus (8/1) was an easy winner of the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Chase over 2m4f at Down Royal on his seasonal reappearance six weeks ago. Paul Nicholls’ runner has never raced in a handicap, but his level of superiority over Bog Warrior, who’s rated 153 and was four lengths down when falling at the last at Down Royal, suggests his current handicap mark of 157 is about right. He is not obviously well handicapped, but may have more improvement in him after just five starts over fences and looks one to keep on the right side of.
Philip Hobbs’ nine-year-old Wishfull Thinking (14/1) was no match for For Non Stop on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree in October, but improved to beat Doeslessthanme by 18 lengths in the Shloer Chase here a month ago and could go well, despite the welter burden of 11st 12lb. His latest victory was his first for over 18 months, but he’s just 3lb higher in the weights than when winning a novices’ handicap chase at Punchestown in the summer of 2011.
Trainer Nicky Henderson’s Quantitativeeasing (16/1) finished second in last season’s Paddy Power Gold Cup before winning this race. He fared less well in the Paddy Power this time around, being pulled up with five fences to jump. It is worth remembering that conditions were so testing that only six of the 18 runners completed the course that day. He remains 8lb higher in the weights than last year, but it wouldn’t be a total surprise if he left that form well behind.
Another horse pulled up in that race, Andy Turnell’s eight-year-old Michael Flips (25/1), had previously made a promising reappearance over an inadequate 2m1f at Ascot and has since run creditably over the same distance at Newbury. He remains 5lb higher in the weights than when winning a handicap at Taunton in January, but his novice chase form at the end of last season reads well in the context of this race.
- In a hugely competitive race, our betting tips advice is to back MICHAEL FLIPS each-way at 25/1 with BetVictor. Provided the going at Cheltenham doesn’t come up bottomless, he looks great value returned to this 2m5f trip.