This year Granny Killer is lucky enough to have a man on the ground, albeit for another publication, at Cheltenham, so all Granny Killer can offer is second-string horseman’s, Dave Phelan, views on this year’s Gold Cup.
The only thing more frustrating than the cliched headlines – “nags to riches”, “fine fillies” and so forth – during Cheltenham week is the crushing disappointment that follows that initial burst of overenthusiasm. We at Granny Killer feel the humble punter’s pain, we realise that the smartly-dressed men drinking Champagne on Channel 4 will never understand the overwhelming sense of pride upon seeing your 10p Lucky 15 land at Downpatrick on a stormy January afternoon, which would be better described in an Adrian Mole novel.
We’d love to see Kauto win, we honestly would, but we don’t think it will happen
Firstly, this is a race that, while dramatic and captivating, offers little in the way of major upsets. For those of you plucky enough to stick £50 on the nose at 33/1 we applaud you, but it’s highly unlikely to pay off. Since 2002 six out of the ten favourites have emerged as winners of this race. Of the other four winners – Best Mate in 2002, War of Attrition in 2006, Denman in 2008 and Imperial Commander in 2010 – the biggest priced winner was 15/2 (War of Attrition).
While allowing for Long Run, which became the first six-year-old horse to win the race since Mill House in 1963, age must be considered essential to landing the winner. Our likely winner will be aged seven to ten – although Kauto Star is bidding to become the first 12-year-old horse to win the race since What a Myth in 1969. Also notable is that no 11-year-old horse has won the race since the mighty Cottage Race, which landed its third successive Gold Cup in 1950.
The current favourite, and likely favourite at post time, is last year’s winner, Long Run. This horse went to last year’s festival riding a wave of success, namely his victory over Kauto Star in the 2010 King George VI, in the end Long Run proved the better horse seeing off the challenges of Denman and Kauto Star by four and seven lengths respectively. While Long Run’s success is admirable, his form has dipped. His defeat to a horse five years his elder, although one of the greatest, in Kauto Star for a reversal of the 2010 King George VI Chase in December was worrying.
As odd as it sounds, his victory over Burton Port, which goes into this race as third favourite, last month was not a convincing one. As much as we love Mr Sam Waley-Cohen, we don’t rate Long Run as in the same league with the likes of Best Mate and Kauto, therefore we’re going to discount him at this early stage.
Second in the betting is the old champ, Kauto Star. This is as fine a horse many are likely to see, it’s as distinguished as the best of them and a win for Kauto (we’ve dropped the ‘Star’ because we love him that much) would be nothing short of a fairytale ending to a colourful career. Trainer Paul Nicholls, who has landed the spoils with Rock on Ruby and Big Bucks this week, has insisted his charge will be ready to challenge Long Run and he thinks the horse is in as fine form as ever. This doesn’t account for the fact that the tactics deployed by both trainer and jockey, Ruby Walsh, in riding Kauto are a world apart from those utilised with the Kauto of old.
There was a time Kauto was an almost menacing influence, Ruby would have his mount stalk his rivals for most of the race before sweeping past with a kick that no one had ever seen the likes of. Kauto is now, more or less, being asked to make all – a tactic that worked in the 2011 King George VI. That tactic is a dangerous one when as stern a task as the Cheltenham hill awaits him at the business-end of the race. We’d love to see Kauto win, we honestly would, but we don’t think it will happen – his age, his tactics and his long-term form are all against him, not to mention he’s too short a price at 7/2. Therefore, we are discounting Kauto, but if any horse can overcome the proverbial and literal odds it’s this one.
The nod, therefore, goes to 7/1-shot Burton Port. Nicky Henderson, who has been in blistering form at this year’s festival, has two of the market principals in Burton Port and Long Run. Sam Waley-Cohen, being the son of Long Run’s owner, will mount Henderson’s primary charge, which has drifted from 5/4 to 2/1 in recent days. This means that Burton Port has been left in the more-than-capable hands of Barry Geraghaty, who has the distinction of being top jockey at this year’s festival. Burton Port was second by half a length at Newbury to his aforementioned stablemate last time out. On that occasion, Burton Port was allowed to claim ten pound, but there is nothing to say that hike is not insurmountable. Also notable, on that run, was how strongly he finished in comparison to Long Run, and on a run up the hill petrol in the tank may prove crucial – this and the fact he had not had a run in over a year up to that point but nearly managed an upset are massive positives. We expect him to improve significantly for that run and to take this in stylish fashion…well not really, a lazy round of jumping and winning by a snot would do the trick.
If we were going to offer another, possibly each-way, route, it would be Synchronised. This Jonjo O’Neill-trained nine year old beat Rubi Light, which was second in last year’s Ryanair chase and finished a respectable fifth in this year’s epic running, last time out and has been steadily improving this year. Tony McCoy on board is no bad thing either.
Selection: Burton Port (7/1)
Main dangers: Long Run (2/1) and Synchronised (10/1)