December Gold Cup Preview: Old rivals, New result?
Ahead of the December Gold Cup on Saturday, Keith Melrose examines the leading contenders and comes up with a bet...
It's a few weeks yet until we'll all be encouraged to 'ring out the old and ring in the new', in the words originally scribbled by Tennyson, but Cheltenham is jumping the gun this Friday and Saturday at the International Meeting.
We're talking in terms of courses, of course: the Old Course, used for the Showcase and Open Meetings so far this autumn, is being allowed to hibernate until the Festival in March, with the New Course taking over in the meantime.
For most cases, the shifting of courses is incidental- Cheltenham, whether Old or New, is galloping and undulating, a test of stamina and the ability to make up ground quickly. Not so in this week's December Gold Cup, for the reason that so many of these runners also clashed in the Paddy Power over the Old Course a few weeks back and that even these marginal differences could have a bearing on the rematch.
Even if this race were held on the Old Course, there are plenty who'd take Paddy Power runner-up Colour Squadron over winner Johns Spirit. Philip Hobbs' charge was unlucky not to win, losing more than the fast-diminishing three-quarters of a length he eventually went down by when forced to evade the fallen Easter Meteor two out. He now has a 2 lb pull in the weights to boot: like the change of course that's a small, yet potentially significant margin.
The difference between the Old and New Courses lies partly in the latter's slightly more galloping nature, with its longer finishing straight and extended run to the second-last. It's unclear whether Johns Spirit or Colour Squadron will be better suited by this, but there's little doubting that fourth-placed Attaglance will benefit. He was more prominently-placed than either of the first two, normally a benefit in big-field handicaps over the Old Course, but was outpaced coming down the hill before keeping on. Whether he'd have been six lengths better off over the New Course is doubtful, but by the same token he shouldn't be twice the price of the aforementioned pair under more suitable conditions, however marginal.
Three others from the Open Meeting re-oppose on Saturday. Champion Court and Easter Meteor both fall into largely the same bracket, being respectively consistent and in-form prominent racers who ought to give a good account but probably aren't well handicapped enough to win such a competitive handicap. Tap Night needs to be treated differently.
Two below-form runs so far this season paint a fairly unpromising picture of Tap Night's chances, but it would be misleading to take them at face value. Visibly not at his sharpest on his return, Tap Night was looked after by AP McCoy (who chose him over Colour Squadron) after his chance had gone in the Paddy Power, making late headway into eighth. He's been dropped 2 lb for that: it's those small margins again, but this time it mightn't be quite enough, as for all it's easy to see Tap Night running well he has yet to convince that he has a mid-150s performance in him.
Others of interest did not run in the Paddy Power. Salut Flu looked poised to, dropping out only at the final declaration stage. He was quite fancied ante-post by some at Timeform and, although he'd be interesting again from a mark just 7 lb higher than when he emphatically won the Byrne Group Plate at the 2012 Festvial, it's a case of once bitten, twice shy for backing him before his participation is beyond reasonable doubt.
Following his Cheltenham spill, Easter Meteor ran at the Hennessy meeting, where he split Cantlow and Grandioso, two of the entrants on Saturday. The winner was fairly convincing, though the vibes suggest he was fully ready that day and therefore expecting further improvement might be hopeful, at least until he steps up in trip.
Improvement is more realistic where Grandioso is concerned. A six-year-old with just five starts to his name over fences, he jumps and travels well enough for these big handicaps. Grandioso is respected, with trainer Paul Nicholls having a purple patch even by his standards, but to argue he's value at around [10.5] from a BHA mark of 147 is more difficult.
A final mention must be given to Home Farm, the horse most likely to leave card-skimmers at a loss. He's Irish-trained and finished third in last season's Irish National, while his recent reappearance over an inadequate trips promised more. A BHA mark of 143 corresponds fairly generously with his Fairyhouse effort, though vastly differing conditions muddy the water sufficiently to leave him out at [13.0].
At the time of writing, 18 remain in the December Gold Cup and it's as competitive as you'd expect with realistic cases to be made for most of the runners. We're back to the idea of small margins making the difference, with our strictest process of elimination leaving us with just two to focus on. The two in question are Attaglance and Colour Squadron, preferred in that order with Attaglance deemed to provide better value. Let's hope the New Course can have its say and deliver a new result from last time.
Recommendation: Back Attaglance @ [13.0] & Colour Squadron @ [7.0] in the December Gold Cup
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