The curtain-closer of the National Hunt season takes place at Sandown tomorrow. I’ll be posting a full preview of the card this evening, but just want to give some early thoughts on the two feature races – the Bet365 Gold Cup and the Celebration Chase.
Bet365 Gold Cup
There has been sustained market support throughout the week for Alan King’s Talkischeap, and the case is easy to see. For any race at this stage of the season, there will be a concern that the contenders will have been trained for an earlier target and are showing up here as an afterthought, or have shown the handicapper their hand during the spring festivals. Talkischeap skipped the Ultima at Cheltenham and other potential spring targets in order to come straight here after a disappointing effort at Kempton towards the end of February. His form earlier in the season suggests that he’s well handicapped. He was 2nd in the Berkshire Novices Chase at Newbury last November, 7 lengths behind La Bague Au Roi (now rated 151) and 6 lengths ahead of Lostintranslation (now rated 161). He looked that day as if a step up in trip would suit and he won next time out over 3 miles, then finished 2nd to On The Blind Side over the same trip, 21 lengths clear of Bob Mahler (then rated 130 and now rated 140 after two subsequent wins). Talkischeap is now rated 145 and so there’s a clear case to be made that he’s well treated and that the step up in trip could see further improvement.
However, my preference would be for a horse not as obviously well treated but still a clear leading contender. Step Back won this race last year in what appeared to be his optimum conditions, leading from the 6th fence and making all from then on. He doesn’t always show his best form in larger fields (he was unplaced on all other starts with 12 runners or more) but if he can get out in front early on and keep the lead, he could be difficult to catch with a display of jumping like last year’s. His jumping hasn’t been as aesthetically pleasing this term but he has only been seen at left-handed tracks and has displayed a strong tendency to jump out to the right, with his form reading 76P. His form at right-handed tracks reads 131. He won this race off 135 last year and was raised to 149, but his subsequent disappointing performances at tracks which didn’t suit have seen him dropped 4 pounds to 145, and while this may not appear to be overly lenient from the handicapper, the image of him pulling 13 lengths clear and powering up the run-in are still strong in the memory. You might argue that he won’t have been suited by the good ground that he encountered this season (his only start on good ground before that came in the Albert Bartlett in 2017 when he finished a distant 9th), but I think that the evidence regarding him needing a cut is a bit inconclusive.
Looking at the other protagonists in the betting, The Young Master was a decent 3rd in the Kim Muir and will stay the trip, but has finished 9th and 8th in the last two renewals of this race since winning it in 2016, the 8th placed finish last year off a mark 7lb lower than this time around. Give Me A Copper is highly thought of but the Ultima seems to have been his main target and he may be priced more on reputation than evidence. Beware The Bear was an impressive Ultima winner and would be of interest if the rain does come, with his form on good to soft reading 21171 and to win this off a mark of 160 would be a serious feat. Joe Farrell was pulled up before two out in the National and looked a tired horse. His previous start was just two weeks before that, and one would wonder whether he’ll be up for this teat today.
It’s possible that I’ll be posting another bet in the race tonight, but I’m happy to go with Step Back at 8/1.
Step Back 1pt win 8/1 (general)
Cyrname doesn’t show up in the Celebration Chase to take on Altior in what arguably would have been the clash of the season. This is obviously massively disappointing to jumps fans, but there’s little doubt that Paul Nicholls will be acting in the horse’s best interests and it’s likely that we’ll see the pair up against each other next season in the King George, assuming that both stay sound in the meantime.
The general consensus is that this will be a procession for Altior and he is undoubtedly better than anything else in the field. It’s possible to question him on the basis that he jumped to the left at Ascot in the Clarence House Chase, and that he had to work hard to beat Politologue at Cheltenham, but on all known form he shouldn’t have any trouble here. That said, I won’t be backing him at 1/4 and I doubt that many will, so we’ll search for an alternative.
Sceau Royal is generally a fairly consistent type and can be expected to run his race, but his form from February until the end of the season reads 0636923, compared to 221111141211114 earlier in the season, and so he’s not of much interest at 7/2, nor will he be of much interest at short prices in the without market. In his defence, he has placed on his two starts so far this spring, but was beaten by Grand Sancy over hurdles and then was 4 lengths behind a below-par Altior at Cheltenham.
Gods Own is now 11 and regularly appears to be past his best before putting in a good performance such as his win last November in the Haldon Gold Cup and his brace of grade one wins at the end of 2016 having finished outside the places on all three previous starts that season. He was very poor on his last two starts and it would take a significant leap of faith to side with him here.
Diego Du Charmil finished a distant third of three in the Clarence House, some 41 lengths behind Altior, and before that finished 2nd in the Desert Orchid Chase, 19 lengths behind Altior. Connections must be applauded for their willingness to continue to oppose Altior when victory looks almost out of the question. The one possible upside for Paul Nicholls’ charge is that he tends to run well fresh (form after over 90 days off is 1125 – the 2nd was when well beaten by Saint Calvados in the Kingmaker Novices Chase last year but when still finishing 17 lengths ahead of the other two runners, and the 5th was a disappointing effort in the Haldon Gold Cup but he did suffer an overreach in that race which may be a good enough reason to excuse the run).
Vosne Romanee ran a career best when winning a handicap at Ascot last November and then wasn’t able to come close to Azzuri when finishing 2nd at Ayr last time out. He’s a proper good ground horse who has never won from 9 starts with “soft” in the going description, but who has won 10 times (and placed another 6 times) from 21 starts on good ground or better. He also loves small fields such as this one, with form over jumps of 13211121453112P1 in fields of 7 or less (8 wins from 16 starts compared to 2 wins from 15 in bigger fields). His form over jumps when back out within two weeks of his previous start reads 1171431 (4 wins and a place from 7 starts compared to 6 wins from 23 after a longer break) and he runs here after a 14-day break. It looks as if the ground will be quick enough and at 66/1 in the win market, it will be interesting to see what type of price we can get in the without market once bookmakers begin to offer it.
Darebin walked over at Plumpton earlier this week and one would imagine that anything he does now would be a bonus. He would probably prefer the ground to be a bit softer but realistically should be out of his depth here regardless.
Altior will take all the beating but at 1/4 he’s not a working man’s price. Sceau Royal represents little value as an alternative considering his poor form in end of season targets, and there’s no real evidence to suggest that Gods Own will be back to his best. It’s hard to envisage Darebin having a say in the race, so that leaves Diego Du Charmil, who does go well fresh but who hasn’t been able to come close to Altior in recent clashes, and Vosne Romanee who will love the ground, the small field and the short break. He has run twice with all three conditions in his favour and won on both occasions (11/10 favourite in a juvenile hurdle in 2014 and 13/2 in a listed handicap chase last November in what was arguably a career best performance). Although it will be interesting to see what price we get in a without market, I’m going to go with a small each-way bet at 66/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair for now.
Vosne Romanee 0.5pt e/w 66/1 (1/4 odds 2 places, Paddy Power, Betfair)