Wednesday 28 September 2016

Don't doubt the Don in battle for Cheltenham gold

Cheltenham selections: two a day

Ian McClean

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

‘People have been crabbing Don Cossack, but for me he has all the trumps for Friday’s blue ribband. He jumps very well off spring ground, stays the trip and crucially has the best form in the book’ Photo: Edward Whitaker
‘People have been crabbing Don Cossack, but for me he has all the trumps for Friday’s blue ribband. He jumps very well off spring ground, stays the trip and crucially has the best form in the book’ Photo: Edward Whitaker

Tuesday Festival Trophy

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Warren Greatrex will be walking his yard this weekend wondering whether the dirty dozen he needs to withdraw will oblige him at the overnight stage so the trainer can begin preparing Out Sam, instead of leaving Sam Out. Out Sam will be massively tempting off a feather weight, as an upwardly progressive novice who beat a 142-rated rival hollow at Newbury last day conceding 4lbs, before that horse won next time out. Moreover, the third horse at Newbury, beaten over 16 lengths, had a rating of 149. So figuring out how precisely Out Sam ended up with a handicap rating of 139 can lead you to only one conclusion - he can't be trained by an Irishman. Indeed Greatrex was so pleasantly stunned by the mark, he re-routed Out Sam from his original intended Wednesday date with the RSA to capitalise on the once-in-a-lifetime golden ticket from the handicapping Willie Wonka. If there's a gift horse running over the four days this is it (if it gets in). If not, back Doctor Harper.

Selection: Out Sam 8/1
(if absent, Doctor Harper 14/1)

Arkle

The horse I'm most looking forward to watching is undoubtedly Douvan. His jumping the last day at Leopardstown was as electric as Sprinter Sacre in his prime and the prospect of absorbing four minutes of him gracefully winging around the Cotswolds amphitheatre is worth the air-fare on its own. Ok, 2/5 is hardly a working man's price but there is still an angle to the race if you isolate the spectacle of Douvan and examine the 'without the favourite' market. The presence of the jolly ensures a small field, with only three credible rivals for the win-or-come-second option. Keeping this ultra-simple, Vaniteux is still too airy at his obstacles while The Game Changer, I suspect, may not be seen to best advantage at this track. Sizing John finished close enough in the Supreme last year and will ultimately prove a much better chaser. His jumping is mustard and I see him a clear second best here.

Selection: Sizing John 9/4
(betting without Douvan)

WEDNESDAY

Champion Chase

Another Mullins hotpot representing probably the second most mouth-watering spectacle of the week. Just like the Arkle, the value lies in the market without Un De Sceaux, and once again I'm nominating a Potts runner, but at a much bigger price. I am fielding against all three previous winners. Admirable as Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets all are, they have each exceeded their best before date and are unlikely to be running a personal best on Wednesday. Felix Yonger and God's Own are both plausible but I am even more keen on Sizing Granite at much bigger odds. You don't expect much improvement after leaving Henry de Bromhead but Kerry Lee found a bit in the locker with Bishops Road this year and Colm Murphy, we already know, is capable of readying one for Cheltenham. Indeed, on the bare form of Granite's Aintree Grade One in April (God's Own and Traffic Fluide behind) he has very little improvement to find to be in the shake-up. Conditions will be ideal and I could see him seriously outrun his odds.

Selection: Sizing Granite 12/1
(betting without Un De Sceaux)

RSA Chase

This looks a simple question of whether you want More or No More. More Of That and No More Heroes stand head and shoulders above their rivals here and both are unbeaten since switching to fences. No More Heroes has been exuberant over his obstacles; More Of That has been plain efficient. The fact remains, however, that More Of That beat Annie Power in a World Hurdle and No More Heroes could only manage third to Martello Tower in an Albert Bartlett. There is bags more of that yet to come from the Jonjo O'Neill runner and I suspect it will be just too much for Gordon Elliott's horse on Wednesday.

Selection: More Of That 9/4

THURSDAY

World Hurdle

The interesting aspect of the stayers' division is that, more than any other, it is often dominated by one horse. The evidence is that just three horses have won nine of the past 15 renewals of the World Hurdle. Baracouda, Inglis Drever and Big Buck's were in a league of their own in their own league and totally dominated all-comers during their respective reigns. Although not yet acknowledged, this could just be the dawn of the age of Thistlecrack. Still very lightly raced for an eight-year-old, the Kayf Tara gelding has won seven of his 12 starts and has looked a vastly improved performer this season. All ground comes alike to Thistlecrack; he has comprehensively the best form, the yard is in cracking form and there could still be more to come. I am not a fan of shorties at the Festival but Thistlecrack can be summarised in one word. Banker.

Selection: Thistlecrack 6/5

Kim Muir

From under the cluster of unfamiliar amateurs, the two horses that stand out amongst the current declarations are Cause Of Causes and Doctor Harper. Cause Of Causes was desperately unlucky not to win this race two years ago, undone only by a mistake at the last. Compensation awaited last year when Gordon Elliott's horse made no mistake in the National Hunt Chase. He arrives on a mark just 2lbs higher than two years ago and, with the crucial assistance of Jamie Codd from above, must go very close. Codd was the man in the plate again in this race last year when the Pipe/Johnson family's The Package humiliated the opposition. The same connections' Doctor Harper has a choice of Festival engagements, and wherever it turns up the eight year-old is irresistibly well-handicapped.

Selection: Doctor Harper 7/1
(if absent, Cause Of Causes 6/1)

FRIDAY

Gold Cup

Undoubtedly the most fascinating Gold Cup in recent memory, with even the doughtiest professionals still foxed by a contest Churchill might have described as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. My view on the main protagonists is as follows: Vautour was undone by stamina rather than talent at Kempton, and while he might be in better form in the spring I can see him struggle in the very latter stages. I have similar reservations about Cue Card's stamina. Don Poli has the opposite profile and with the ground drying out could find things happening too quickly. Djakadam too would be suited by slower ground. People have been crabbing Don Cossack, but for me he has all the trumps for Friday's blue ribband. He jumps very well off spring ground, stays the trip and crucially has the best form in the book. He would have won the King George in my view had he remained upright and - a feature unexplored by most commentary - that came in spite of a nightmare passage throughout the race at a track that played against his strengths.

Selection: Don Cossack 9/2
Grand Annual Chase

Novices have a good record here and while I have utmost respect for both Rock The World and Dandridge, preference is marginally for Velvet Maker. By Friday we might properly understand the type of question Barry Connell's novice was being asked against Douvan at Leopardstown in January, and, the fact that he kept the Mullins machine honest all the way to the last when most would have cried 'enough', augurs well for his chance here. I'm all for using Grade Ones as a prep for a handicap and 146 could easily underrate Velvet Maker's ability. His jumping was particularly sweet at Leopardstown and I'd be surprised if this hasn't been the plan all season.

Selection: Velvet Maker 7/1

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