Connections of Rather Be have pinpointed Baron Alco and Festival conqueror Mister Whitaker as the principal dangers to the ante-post gamble in Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Nicky Henderson’s charge is 9lb better off for a head with Mick Channon’s Mister Whitaker, compared to their run in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase in March.
While Mister Whitaker has already run and won this season at Carlisle, Henderson has kept his powder dry – part by design and part by necessity.
The Seven Barrows handler has made no secret of the fact that Rather Be has only started to bloom recently, but he does have an excellent record fresh in any case.
“As Nicky has already stated earlier this week, he comes into the race in good form after turning a corner a couple of weeks ago,” said Matt Morgan, who owns the seven-year-old with his wife, Lauren.
“Jerry (McGrath) has schooled him a couple of times and rode him in his last piece of work and he was delighted with him.
“It’s obviously ultra competitive, but he’ll love the ground and we know he goes well fresh having suffered only one defeat after a break in a bumper against a good horse of Charlie’s (Longsdon, Snow Leopardess).
“I fear them all, especially Baron Alco and Mister Whitaker, who I think will become graded class in time – I just hope that we do too!”
Channon’s son and assistant, Jack, acknowledges the threat posed by Rather Be on the revised terms – but was happy with what he saw at Carlisle.
He said: “He has been so economical at his fences, he won’t put in a big stride and have a big lunge at it – he just gets up and over with no fuss. I think he just saves so much energy at his fences and he just gives so much at the finish.
“He has been a revelation for us. Last year he went right up in the handicap and he has gone up even further and he never fails to deliver. We were chuffed (with Carlisle).
“He is a horse that can run quite fresh first time and we had him about 90 per cent fit. If he is to go on and be a real top horse, he should be able to defy that penalty, but he has got to take on Rather Be again.”
While Morgan fears Baron Alco, some might not even rate him as the best of Gary Moore’s two contenders, given the yard also runs the classy Benatar.
“Benatar and Baron Alco are both in good form at home,” said Moore.
“Benatar came out of his first run of the season well. He pulled hard that day and was too fresh.
“He is a talented horse and I have been happy with him since.
“Baron Alco ran really well at Chepstow when narrowly beaten on his return and we have been pleased with his work, too.”
Neil Mulholland is another trainer with two chances, in Kalondra and Shantou Village.
“Kalondra travels well and jumps well. A race like this you would think would play to his strengths,” Mulholland told At The Races.
“On his Irish run, you’d have to be happy with his rating (148). On his run the time before that when he finished third, if we could plan the race again I’m sure we’d have done a few things different, but that’s the way it is.”
“To be fair to Shantou Village his run in the Kerry National was very good, he won a nice race in Worcester the time before. He’s definitely on the verge of running a big race in a race like this.”
Javert ran well in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree for Emma Lavelle, who feels there is plenty in his favour again.
“He likes nice ground and going left-handed. Looking at the forecast at Cheltenham, the ground should be perfect for him,” she said.
“He ran really well in the Old Roan at Aintree, where the ground was probably quick enough. He travelled so well there and didn’t seem to be weary and it was a lovely run.”
Splash Of Ginge won last year for Nigel Twiston-Davies sparking scenes of wild celebration, but that was in very contrasting conditions. He will be joined by stablemate Ballyandy.
“Ballyandy was a bit disappointing at Wetherby, as he didn’t jump very well, but he has schooled since and that went well. I am hoping he will run a good race,” said Twiston-Davies.
“Splash Of Ginge ran a nice race over hurdles last week. He obviously won this race last year, but he will need all the rain we can get.”