We’re in full flow in the national hunt season now and while I am generally a died in the wool Irish racing man I must acknowledge the wonderful charms of the top UK handicaps at this time of year. The Ladbrokes Gold Cup, the artist formerly known as The Hennessy, is by a mile my favourite race of the year. Nothing can beat a big field of Gold Cup class horses in a blood and thunder handicap at Newbury, where any flaw in a horses jumping technique seems to be exposed more than any track save perhaps Cheltenham.
My affinity to the race is definitely helped by the fact I backed Denman, Madison du Berlais, Carruthers and Native River in recent iterations. Does that count as after-timing? It probably does. Anyway, in this blog I am going to have a stab at finding the winner of this race, the BetVictor Gold Cup, and the Greatwood hurdle; the holy trinity of November racing handicaps and the downfall of many thousands of ten to follow lists the world over.
BetVictor Gold Cup
Outside of Cheltenham festival races, I tend to take a two-pronged approach to analysing ante-post markets. The obvious and more traditional approach is to find the one at a juicy double figure price that you feel has significant scope to shorten in price as the big day arrives. Like any ante-post punter I will do this as a matter of course. My second approach is based on my view that likely on the day favourites tend to be overpriced in top handicaps in the weeks leading up to the race. Generally the bookmakers go around 10-1 the field but we know that the favourite on the day will go off somewhere between, let’s say, 7-2 and 6-1. Therefore pinpointing this horse is an approach I very much like to tackle in the weeks leading up to top handicaps. For the highlight of the November meeting I’m happy to back one horse that fits each approach.
The first is Tully East, winner of the Close Brothers novice handicap chase at last season’s festival. The case for this horse is easy to make. He absolutely bolted up in that competitive handicap, swinging on the bridle coming to the last and winning going away at the finish. He clearly loves the track, his trainer Alan Fleming is in red-hot form with three winners from his last seven runners, and as a 7yo there is plenty of scope for improvement on his preferred good ground. A ten pound rise might not be enough to stop him and a recent pipe-opener over hurdles will have him spot on for the big day. He is worth backing at 9/1 – I think he will be favourite on the day and closer to half those odds.
The other one worth a look is Bentelimar. Having won a Wexford summer novice chase with a magnificent jumping performance I marked him down as a horse to follow. He was jumping and travelling really well through the Galway Plate when he upended at the start of the back straight and you can forget his Kerry National sixth place as he doesn’t stay three miles. Now switched to Charlie Longsdon from Shay Barry he might prove better than his mark of 139, particularly if his new trainer can eke out a bit of improvement. At 40-1 he is definitely worth an interest.
1pt win Tully East (9-1 Paddy Power)
1pt win Bentelimar (40-1 Betfair sportsbook)
Glancing through the previous winners of the Greatwood and it is plain to see the type of horse who performs well in the race. Thirteen of the last twenty winners have been aged 4 or 5 and there are plenty of horses who really stay two miles strongly standing out. The likes of Sizing Europe, Rooster Booster, Dell Arca, Menorah and Old Guard fit the staying two miler bill. With The New One likely to make all at a searching gallop this race could fall into the lap of a strong staying and strong travelling type.
One horse who fits the bill perfectly is Nietzsche and he has been completely overlooked in the betting. He absolutely tanked through last years Fred Winter and could have won the race if he had been held onto a little longer and had jumped the last a little better. His stout pedigree and strong travelling nature give him all the tools to win a race like the Greatwood and he is only six pounds higher than his Fred Winter run. He seems to have been priced up on the back of a couple of moderate flat runs but the case can be made he is a different animal over the obstacles where his form reads 2213113.
1pt win Nietzsche (16-1 generally)
If you gave me the choice of watching one race and one race only before the Cheltenham festival it would hands down be Newbury’s winter higlight. The mix of novice and established form, the stiff jumping test and the raging betting market make this the highlight of the entire winter in my book.
Total Recall now heads the market and he is well entitled to be there having put up an immense performance off a 19 pounds lower mark in the Limerick National. However to go and win this race he will need to be somewhere near a 160 horse. While that isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility I’m not willing to take a short price to find out.
One horse who very very easily could be a 160+ horse is Acapella Bourgeois. He won two grade twos over hurdlers, achieving a rating of 141. Anyone who watched his hurdling career knew that chasing would be the making of him and he delivered on his early promise when winning a grade 2 three mile chase at Navan by a mere 32 lengths. In behind that day was the now 163 rated Road to Respect and while the form cannot be taken literally it did highlight the immense potential of Acapella Bourgeois on his day and with his conditions. He was sent off 5-1 in the RSA and attempted to trade blows with Might Bite throughout the race. Once Might Bite saw him off Acapella folded and fell out the back of the telly but I have a sneaky suspicion he didn’t like the track at Prestbury Park and it just wasn’t his day. If you can forgive that run it is very easy to forgive his subsequent moderate run at Punchestown, where the RSA will have indelibly left its mark.
As such, his current mark of 151 looks very generous with the switch from Sandra Hughes to Willie Mullins a major positive. With the Troytown and Paddy Power in Ireland restricted to horses with a maximum rating of 150 this race is the logical port of call for the strapping son of Network. Still only 7 and likely to have the brilliant Paul Townend as his pilot the 20-1 availble should be readily snapped up, particularly if there is any indication forthcoming from Clossuton that this race is the target. It is not inconceivable this horse will be winning Lexus and Irish Gold Cups later in the season given his slick jumping and preference for soft ground. Pray for rain at Newbury, pray for Willie to make the right call, and pray for Townend to get the nod. If the Gods align and that triumvirate comes up, then get the wheelbarrow out and get as much on as you can at anything above double figures.
2pt win Acapella Bourgeois (20-1 generally)