Sectional Spotlight: Gold Cup

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands has analysed the performances of the leading players in the key races ahead of National Hunt racing’s blue riband, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

  • Thursday 21 February
  • Blog
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“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”: Sherlock Holmes

I sometimes wonder what Sherlock Holmes would have made of horseracing analysis, and of how he might have coped with applying deductive reasoning and clinical logic to the problem of a horserace, only to find his selection undone by unforeseeable randomness. It might have tested him.

Nonetheless, we can all learn from the master sleuth. Reasoning and logic are important in trying to crack horseracing puzzles, even though no-one should be thinking in terms of “impossibilities” and immutable “truths” where the essential uncertainty of a sporting event is concerned.

As I worked my way down the list of the major contenders for this year‘s Magners-sponsored Cheltenham Gold Cup, due to be run on Friday 15 March, I found myself thinking “no”…”no”…”not that one either”…and, finally, “well, hel-lo”.

The favourite Presenting Percy is by no means an “impossible” winner of chasing’s blue riband, but his claims rest on an impressive victory at the last Festival as a novice in the RSA Chase, a comfortable enough success over hurdles in January, and little else. He has seemed as difficult to track down of late as Moriarty.

A defeat of Monalee and Elegant Escape in that RSA looks even better now than it did at the time, but it does not look outstanding form by Cheltenham Gold Cup standards. Monalee has generally seemed a rung or two below the top level, before and since, while Elegant Escape is a stamina glutton.

Neither is Clan Des Obeaux an impossible winner. He beat Thistlecrack readily in the King George VI Chase at Kempton (sectionals and overall time not especially impressive) and won at Ascot last weekend. But he may not be an out-and-out stayer nor quite as good as one or two of the others if they perform to their very best.

Native River is, however, an out-and-out stayer, as he showed by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year on heavy ground and from the front at the chief expense of Might Bite. But, if you bet him to repeat under what may be less testing conditions, you are doing so on the back of a well-beaten third in that aforementioned King George VI Chase, in which he got badly outpaced for much of the way.

All of Presenting Percy, Clan Des Obeaux and Native River are at single-figure odds at the time of writing.

Next in is Kemboy, who has come from relative obscurity to win his last four, most recently the Savills Chase at Leopardstown by seven and a half lengths from Monalee (half a length further than Presenting Percy had managed in the RSA).

The problem is that the Savills was a highly tactical affair, in which Kemboy recorded a 109% finishing speed and third-placed Road To Respect might have shaken him up with a trouble-free run. Kemboy’s two-and-a-half mile speed was certainly seen to good effect.

Road To Respect, who I briefly fancied for this before Christmas, does not seem quite good enough (he was fourth last March), and neither quite does Bellshill, who short-headed Road To Respect in a depleted Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown earlier this month.

Thistlecrack has not won since what was a slow-time and ultimately substandard King George back in 2016, but that one-and-a-half length defeat by Clan Des Obeaux at Christmas arguably makes him a bit over-priced.

And then there is AL BOUM PHOTO, who might get dismissed in that he looked like finishing only third to Presenting Percy when falling two out in that RSA Chase, but who has very likely improved since and who could just have run a Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning figure on his only start this year.

He won at Fairyhouse soon after Cheltenham and would have won at Punchestown (thereby showing himself to be superior to Monalee) but for a brain fade from his jockey, and his Listed win at Tramore on New Year’s Day might well have been far better than has generally been appreciated.

Al Boum Photo wins the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

I suspect I know what you are thinking, for it is what I initially thought: you don’t find Cheltenham Gold Cup winners at lowly Tramore.

But this was an exceptionally good race for the track, in which Al Boum Photo not only slammed 160-rated performers Total Recall, Invitation Only and Alpha des Obeaux giving them weight, he did so in a very fast time (over a furlong quicker than the handicap chase later on the card) and with strong late sectionals.

If a more feted horse had done something like that at a more mainstream track, it would not still be available at 14/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

There is a possibility that Al Boum Photo will be diverted to the Ryanair Chase instead, but I suspect connections are not entertaining an angel unawares here and realise that he could easily play a major part in the big one given the chance. It was not stamina that was the issue at the end of a well-run extended three miles at the Punchestown Festival.

The “non-runner, no bet” concession means the bookmaker takes the risk of Al Boum Photo’s non-appearance, not you, and this sort of scenario is exactly where it comes into its own.

By a process of elimination, Al Boum Photo looks the most appealing bet in jumps racing’s marquee event. “Elementary”, as Sherlock himself might have said.

Verdict: win AL BOUM PHOTO, non-runner, no bet

Sectional Spotlight: Gold Cup

Cheltenham 15:30, 15 March 2019

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