If the Coral Cup were a two-mile Flat race, run on ground close to good, there would be no doubt who the likeliest winner would be. Max Dynamite has twice finished placed in the Melbourne Cup and ran up to his best when sixth in the Hong Kong Vase last time, something none of his rivals could get within a country mile of doing.
He will run off 11st 0lb at Cheltenham on Wednesday and is, unsurprisingly, the clear favourite in most books. But the Coral Cup is a hurdle, and it looks as if it will take place on heavy or soft ground, and those facts introduce a significant element of doubt.
Max Dynamite is no slouch over timber, but his achievements are far less meritorious in that sphere. On his most recent start over jumps he finished ninth of 20 in a Galway Hurdle in which he was sent off a short-priced favourite despite a long absence. He has form in the mud, just not form good enough to win a race as competitive as this.
If Max Dynamite is not the bet – and I am not absolutely sure on that score due to his superior ability – then that narrows the Coral Cup to just the 25 runners! Unfortunately, I don’t think so-called trends analysis is going to help us a lot here either. This is what those trends say.
There is just one five-year-old in the field (two if you include one of the reserves), and Project Bluebook looks to have little chance on this ground. Horses running off higher marks have done better than par, but it is minimal.
“Minimal” also describes the differences in achievement by last-time position, though that in itself could be considered to be of value, as last-time winners and placed horses usually fare better than that in valuable handicaps. Perhaps it is no disadvantage to have had your light hidden under a bushel (so to speak) in this one.
There looks to be a bit more worth in those figures relating to wins in current season (you need to be good enough to have won once, but not so exposed as to have won more than once) and absences. A sizeable lay-off has proved to be anything but an impediment in the last decade.
Other – less trends-based – factors to consider are that the race looks like being well-run due to the presence of a couple of front-runners and several more prominent types, and that the majority of trainers are “in form” as judged by %RB in recent weeks (though Nicky Henderson and Ben Pauling less so than others).
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what odds you think the various horses should be and what odds they actually are. Having picked my way at length through the lot of them, I am going to recommend a couple of small each-way bets at long odds: unlike two years ago, when Diamond King did us a big favour, this looks a race in which to tread cautiously.
Dusky Legend appeals as being over-priced after a promising chasing career was shelved before she could lose her novice status. On her final start over larger obstacles, she would probably have split Bigmartre and Cyrname (two of the best novices around) at Newbury but for falling two out.
She has since been a slightly underwhelming third to the flying Maria’s Benefit in a Grade 2 Hurdle at Doncaster, but the two-mile trip was plenty short enough and she was not given too hard a time that day. At her best, she is perfectly capable of going close off a mark of 139.
Jeannot de Nonant is an even bigger price in some places despite having won last time. The fact that that win was at lowly Southwell, and at three miles, seems to have put people off, but it was backed up by a notably good time, which makes Jeannot de Nonant joint-top (with William Henry) in the field by that measure.
The Peter Bowen-trained six-year-old may ideally want even further than this extended 21f, but, let’s face it, lack of stamina would be more of a concern than an excess of it in these conditions. He did travel well in a truly-run race at Southwell, and he remains feasibly handicapped on his form in Ireland when trained by Gordon Elliott and before that in France.
This will be Jeannot de Nonant’s third start since his change of scenery and the other two suggest he has been reinvigorated by the Pembrokeshire air, like others before him.
The early odds point to this being a race worth tackling each way, with a win book of around 120% and a place book of around 102% (an each way bet will split that difference). The latter assumes one quarter the win odds a place, first four places, but you may be able to improve upon that by shopping around.
Recommendations: 0.5pt each way DUSKY LEGEND at 40/1 and 0.5pt each way JEANNOT DE NONANT at 50/1, ¼ odds, 1, 2, 3, 4.