Friday 23 February 2018

Kempes has class to see off old guard

Julian Muscat

It's time to go with the flow. It's time to recognise that the old guard, which has kept us in thrall at Cheltenham for the last five years, has seen better days.

And in keeping with results at this year's Festival, it's time to expect the unexpected in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20).

So, out goes Kauto Star, two times a previous winner which is bidding to regain the Gold Cup after losing it for a second time. He is discarded with a heavy heart, but this looks like one dance too many for possibly the most naturally gifted steeplechaser since Arkle.

Out, too, goes Denman -- with the caveat that any significant rain might usher him into the mix. Even then, however, this old warrior is surely past his best. Supporters cling to the belief that the breathing operation Denman had after he finished third in the Hennessy Gold Cup four months ago might rekindle past glories. But it's surely asking too much.

This year's Festival has also illustrated that fresh horses have gained no palpable advantage. Indeed, the vast majority of winners ran several times in advance, and this militates against defending champion Imperial Commander. Like Denman, he has not run for four months. Out he goes.

That leaves Long Run and Kempes among the fancied horses. At first glance the former, an impressive winner of the King George two months ago, has a leading chance. Yet his tame capitulation in last year's RSA Chase leaves a nagging doubt as to whether this trip stretches his stamina. This 3? miles around the demanding New Course is a vastly different proposition to Kempton's easy three miles. At odds of 5/1, Long Run represents no value.

Kempes, by contrast, has many of the right attributes. His recent victory in Leopardstown's Hennessy Gold Cup told us plenty about him and this better surface should show him in an even stronger light. What's more, he perfectly fits the profile of a new young horse on the rise -- and Sizing Europe extolled such virtues with his magnificent victory in the Champion Chase on Wednesday.

Kempes had three lengths in hand over China Rock at Punchestown in April, yet he had the same opponent 16 lengths in arrears at Leopardstown last month. His rate of improvement is clear for all to see and he can crown an unforgettable Festival for Willie Mullins after Hurricane Fly's Champion Hurdle triumph on Tuesday.

China Rock will also appreciate any decent ground on offer and warrants each-way support at 33/1.

A look at today's supporting card leaves the impression that Ireland's trainers could savour another golden day in the Cotswold hills. They are strongly represented in every race, and their record in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.40) warrants the utmost respect.

The Mullins stable saddles two, but Gagewell Flyer, the pick of them on riding arrangements, has habitually run from the front in posting three victories from as many starts this term. That will be hard to replicate here and the feeling that Gagewell Flyer may not be from the top drawer is endorsed by Ruby Walsh's decision to ride Join Together for Paul Nicholls.

Join Together, which hails from the point-to-point field, is an improving type, yet he doesn't deserve the prominence of single-figure odds in advance betting lists. He was soundly beaten by Mossley over this trip here in December, when the selection gave 4lbs and now renews rivalry at level weights.

Mossley, in turn, all but sank in a Warwick bog that saw him trail home well beaten behind another of today's rivals, Court In Motion. However, the ground will be very different this time.

Those who stand and fall by jockey bookings should note that Barry Geraghty prefers to ride Mossley's progressive stablemate, Bobs Worth. This one's defeat of Rock On Ruby in January received a boost when the latter was just nailed by First Lieutenant in the Neptune here on Wednesday.

But such strong form lines will ensure Bobs Worth is dispatched favourite for a race in which such horses have a poor record. At around 16/1, Mossley makes more appeal -- especially with McCoy in the saddle.

On the Fringe to fulfil promise for Bolger

After three days without a win, Nigel Twiston-Davies took this day last year by storm with a quick-fire hat-trick. Pride of place plainly belonged to Imperial Commander's Gold Cup triumph, but the trainer himself took more pleasure from the victory of Baby Run, ridden by his son Sam, in the Foxhunters' Chase (4.0). Baby Run returns for more today, but this time with Willie, younger brother of Sam, in the plate.

It will be some feat if Twiston-Davies can serve up a repeat, but he confronts what is by all accounts a special young horse in On The Fringe, from the Enda Bolger stable. Although he has gears to spare, On the Fringe has shown that he stays three miles well. He should have too much ammunition for Baby Run in the closing stages.

And finally, with David Pipe's horses having fared well throughout the week, the Somerset trainer should be kept onside for the remaining handicaps.

There would be no more deserving winner of the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle (2.05) than Notus De La Tour, which chased home Sanctuaire in last year's Fred Winter here and ran another excellent race in the totesport Gold Trophy last time out. He can gain due reward for his consistency.

Pipe has played the long game with I'msingingtheblues which, after a lengthy streak without winning, has slipped to an attractive mark for the concluding Grand Annual Handicap Chase (5.15).

This one shaped with promise here on some rare decent ground earlier in the season, when he was stepped up to 2? miles. He didn't get home then, and this return to the minimum trip is right up his alley.

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