From looking like one of the most interesting and high-class Cheltenham Gold Cups in living memory, the 2016 renewal is suddenly showing signs of falling apart.
The season-ending injury suffered by current champion Coneygree had already robbed the race of one superstar and now there are doubts about the participation of Vautour, despite his fine second in the King George VI Chase.
Following the Coneygree news, alongside the displays in the King George and Lexus Chase (two of the bigger Gold Cup trials), it is Djakadam that has emerged as the new 4/1 favourite.
Let’s assess the current state of those towards the top of the market and a few others at longer prices that may come into the reckoning in the next few months:
Had a hard race in the Gold Cup last year when second to Coneygree and the norm is that horses struggle to win the Cheltenham showpiece having run in the contest before.
But he is still only a six-year-old and has fairly low mileage after just eight chase starts.
Djakadam appeared to show no ill effects of his Gold Cup endeavours when winning at Punchestown in early December, although this was over 2m4f and over a moderate rather than swanky field.
Probably a worthy favourite, but could be in trouble if it becomes a real test of stamina. If the race is slowly run, he will be tough to beat.
Fell two out in the King George when still in striking distance, but he had been niggled along for some way, which makes it difficult to assess how much was really left in the tank.
The fact he has fluffed his lines at two previous Cheltenham Festivals is a concern too and Mr Mulligan in 1997 was the last horse to win a Gold Cup after falling in a King George in the same season.
Did beat Djakadam in April’s Punchestown Gold Cup and is probably worth a watching brief for now until it becomes clear how he recovers from his King George tip up.
Continues to do little wrong, but is hard to get excited about based on the hard work he makes of what should be fairly routine victories.
Only beat Many Clouds by four lengths when getting 5lb in weight at Aintree and then scrambled home to beat the 147-rated First Lieutenant in the Lexus Chase.
However, Don Poli appears the best stayer of the leading Gold Cup fancies, the stiffer track at Cheltenham may help and he may benefit from more cover.
It’s worth remembering that he won the RSA Chase on just his third chase start and after a fairly long layoff, which upset numerous trends for that race.
Don Poli is the enigma of the field given he always seems to just do enough, which makes it hard to assess how good he actually is. He certainly doesn’t have the scars of the others in terms of tough races in his back catalogue.
The first two legs are now down in his quest to win £1 million, after adding the King George to the Betfair Chase this season.
Any stamina doubts have surely now been eradicated by a wind operation and he is clearly the best British hope for the Gold Cup.
His previous Festival record is good, having won a Bumper and Ryanair Chase, and he is in the form of his life. Cue Card certainly looks overpriced for the Gold Cup and perhaps should even be the favourite.
Having failed to get home over 3m on a flat track like Kempton, it seems difficult to imagine Vautour’s stamina seeing out 3m2f at an undulating Cheltenham with a stiff hill to climb up the home straight.
This has led to many expecting a tilt at the Ryanair Chase or even the Queen Mother Champion Chase instead.
The Gold Cup is said to remain the aim for the moment, but with connections already having Djakadam, they may decide to spread their squad in the hope of increasing their number of victories.
However, there is only one Gold Cup and given the prestige on offer, connections may be tempted to run Vautour, especially if able to get him to set a slow pace from the front.
Road To Riches
Third in the last Gold Cup in what was a brilliant performance on ground that was plenty soft enough for his liking.
If the rain stays away this year, Road To Riches would have obvious each-way claims. His only run so far this season in a Grade 2 at Clonmel ended in a routine victory.
Having won the Hennessy Gold Cup thanks largely to a dominant front-running display, it was strange to see Smad Place held up again in the King George where he was never able to land a blow on the main protagonists.
With no Coneygree and conceivably no Vautour in the Gold Cup, the opportunity is there for Smad Place to dictate like he did in the Hennessy and if replicating that display of jumping and travelling, he would have solid each-way claims.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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