HORSE RACING FIXTURES AND RESULTS
HORSE RACING FEATURE
Sodexo Gold Cup 2016: Theatre fancied for Ascot curtain-raiser
Ben Fearnley previews the Grade 3 Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday and picks out his best bet.
Given its place in the racing calendar and the money on offer, the Sodexo Gold Cup (previously the United House Gold Cup) often provides a good opportunity for some of the higher-quality handicap chasers to blow away a few cobwebs early in the season. The make-up of this year’s renewal looks no different to normal in that regard, with no fewer than 18 of the 30 horses currently entered set to make their seasonal reappearances, and fitness is expected to play a part here once again.
Few trainers have their horses fitter or in better form at present than Paul Nicholls, and he currently has three horses entered for Saturday’s race, which surprisingly is one of the few valuable handicaps in the British calendar that he is yet to win. Saphir du Rheu is reportedly set to start his season in a Grade 2 hurdle at Wetherby, and Nicholls’ best chance of a first win in the Sodexo Gold Cup looks to be with Southfield Theatre, who has generously been dropped 3 lb by the handicapper following his fourth in the bet365 Gold Cup on his final start last season. That was the final act of a light campaign for Southfield Theatre (just four starts in total) which also included a fall (when going well) in the Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival. His second to Don Poli in the previous year’s RSA Chase remains his best effort on Timeform ratings, and he is well treated from a handicap mark of 147 based on that. With his yard in excellent form and having won on his reappearance in three of the last four seasons, he looks a strong contender.
The one just shading favouritism in the early market is Tea For Two, a second-season chaser open to further improvement after winning two of his three starts in novices last season. His best effort on ratings came when winning the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, where he did well to get on top of the second Southfield Royale who got first run, and there was no disgrace in finishing third in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase on his next start (behind Bristol de Mai) where he was clearly unsuited by the drop in trip. He is regarded as being best on a flat track, however (best runs over both fences and hurdles have come at Kempton), and though he will be suited by the return to three miles, he looks worth opposing as favourite here from a less-than-generous opening mark of 153.