Your first thought when looking at the declared field for Wednesday’s Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle might have been “you have to be kidding me”: I know mine was!
Twenty-six declared runners, none of which can be safely ruled out, plus two reserves, over two miles and five furlongs of Cheltenham’s Old Course poses one heck of a puzzle for the punter.
But, fear ye not. Difficult though the race itself undoubtedly is, the shape of it makes each-way betting far from unappealing and various bookmakers are topping that up with enhanced place terms. If you are to have a bet in this year’s race, go each-way, not win-only, is the advice.
That is the approach, but what is the selection? As usual with these previews, I looked first at some of the Key Trends from the last 10 years, measuring their effect in a number of ways, notably by place impact value (first-four finishes compared to chance) and % of rivals beaten. This is what I found.
Younger horses, higher-weighted horses, horses coming off longer breaks, and those that fit into the mid-range of betting (16/1 to 33/1 in fractional terms) have fared best, but not to any large degree other than in that last category.
Last-time position is surprisingly neutral. Indeed, given that last-time winners could usually be expected to out-perform last-time seconds and thirds, who in turn could be expected to out-perform others, it may be concluded that a prominent position on a horse’s latest start is effectively a negative.
Overall, however, I would suggest there is “not much to see here”. Let’s move on.
What we can reasonably assume is that the race will take place in fairly testing conditions – the ground is on the soft side already, and rain and strong winds are on their way – and be subject to a true gallop. On that latter point, seven runners have consolidated Timeform Early Position Figures of 2.2 or less, indicating habitual front-runners or pace-setters.
A few recent Coral Cups have tested speed more than stamina: this is unlikely to be another one.
Ultimately, it all comes down to getting bigger odds than a horse’s chance warrants, with betting being an extended test of your judgement in such matters. I had a go at pricing up the Coral Cup – no mean undertaking in itself – and one horse above all others appeals.
Cracking Smart can be made well-handicapped on his splitting of Next Destination and Duc des Genievres in a Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Naas last year and showed clear signs of being back on track when third to Tiger Roll in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan last time.
That latter race probably did not suit him, in that it was steadily-run and Cracking Smart is something of a stayer. A return to a longer trip in the Stayers’ Hurdle was considered, but this one on soft ground and with a generous gallop should be absolutely fine. The gelding has only once finished out of the first three since being switched to master trainer Gordon Elliott.
Other thoughts include that it would require a Lazarus-like recovery for the same owner/trainer’s Farclas to come back to his Triumph Hurdle-winning form given that he has beaten only eight rivals in five races since (though stranger things have been known to happen at the Festival) and something similar from the Nicky Henderson-trained Apple’s Shakira (just about the best fit on “trends”) given that she was pulled up on her only appearance this campaign.
More obvious cases can be made for the likes of Brio Conti, still somewhat untapped given this sort of test and representing the in-form Paul Nicholls, and Uradel, who served notice of an imminent return to form with a never-dangerous fifth at Leopardstown recently.
But a fully back-to-form Cracking Smart has plenty going for him, also, and is more than twice the odds of Uradel for a start. Shop around and you may get some of those preferential place terms, too.
Recommendation: 1 pt e/w CRACKING SMART at 14/1