How to bet £20 ante-post on the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
Wednesday 11 January 2017
In the first of a series of How To Bet £20 ante-post specials, Andy Stephens tries to find some early value in the Gold Cup market
Race: Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
When: Friday March 17
Number of horses entered: 39
The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is the toughest of all the races at the Festival. Horses have to dig deeper than they have ever done before to win it and even the cream of the crop can be vulnerable.
Kauto Star is recognised as one of the all-time greats but he suffered four Gold Cup defeats and the gruelling nature of the race means there has been only one back-to-back winner since 1972. Coneygree, the 2015 winner, has run just twice since and been ruled out of this year's running, while it was confirmed on Wednesday that Don Cossack's finest hour last year turned out to be his last.
So when people tell you that all Thistlecrack has to do to win this year’s renewal is turn up, then take it with a large pinch of salt. Whatever the final make-up of the field, he will still have to gallop hard for an extended three and a quarter miles and negotiate 22 of the stiffest fences in the land.
There can be little dispute that he is the most likely winner to judge by his emphatic success in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
You can quibble with the strength of the form (especially with runner-up Cue Card below his best) and the winning time (Might Bite would have clocked a quicker one in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase had he not fallen at the last) but Thistlecrack won with tons in hand and, having had only four races over fences, he is open to more improvement.
At nine years of age, Colin Tizzard’s star is probably at the peak of the powers and we know Cheltenham holds no terrors for him, that he is versatile regards the ground and should stay the trip standing on his head. Plus there is the prospect of a small field, which will also help him.
Is he an ante-post proposition at a best price of 10-11? No, because backing any horse at such cramped odds two months before the big day is inviting ruin.
Twenty-four hours can be a long time in the life of a racehorse, let alone nine weeks, and unless he produces something spectacular on his next intended start - in the Betbright Trial Chase at Cheltenham on January 28 - he cannot be much shorter on the big day, especially with bookmakers pricing up “good things” at inflated odds at the Festival in a bid to get our custom.
Two each-way alternatives are Djakadam and Minella Rocco, chalked up at 14-1 and 40-1 respectively. This pair do have the scope to shorten in the weeks ahead.
Djakadam has finished runner-up in the past two renewals but never quite got the credit he deserves and he is still a year younger than Thistlecrack.
His close second to Coneygree in the 2015 running was a tremendous effort given he was only six at the time. The race was run at a relentless end-to-end gallop on softish ground and was a thorough test.
Last year he did not seem to reproduce that running but still found only Don Cossack too strong. That effort probably needs marking up because he did not have an ideal preparation after suffering a nasty cut in his previous race.
This term, Djakadam got off to a solid start when proving too strong for Outlander over an inadequate 2m4f in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
He started 5-4 favourite for a competitive renewal of the Lexus Chase on the strength of that success over Christmas but he could not confirm his superiority over Outlander - keeping on at the one pace to be two and a half lengths third.
Djakadam lacked a bit of zip and, with the benefit of hindsight, would have been performed better being ridden closer to the pace and/or asked to engage top gear quicker.
Anyway, that is water under the bridge and what we do know is that the demands of Cheltenham - when he will have to jump and gallop for about 45 seconds longer - will play more to his strengths. In addition, he is one of just two entries in the race for Willie Mullins/Rich Ricci - the other being super sub Vroum Vroum Mag - so we know he will be trained to the minute for it.
He lacks the wow factor of Thistlecrack but the Gold Cup is often about guts and, should the favourite fluff his lines or suffer some kind of misfortune, then he looks in pole position to take advantage.
Outlander, one of eight Gigginstown entries, also warrants a second look at a general 20-1, but stamina could be an issue for him and his fall in the JLT last year can hardly be viewed as a positive.
My other each-way fancy at this stage is Minella Rocco, chalked up at 40-1 by several firms.
Typical of so many from the Jonjo O’Neill yard, this imposing gelding peaked at the Festival last season when proving too strong for Native River in the 4m National Hunt Chase.
He ran well on his return back at Prestbury Park in November, off a mark of 155, but probably would have come off second best behind Many Clouds at Aintree next time even if he had not fallen at the final fence.
That suggests he is short of Gold Cup standard - he was receiving 5lb from Many Clouds (50-1) - but I very much doubt Aintree is his track and, in any case, that race probably came quick enough after his exertions on tacky going at Cheltenham.
O’Neill will need to work his magic but he has done it time and again in staying events at the Festival and there is more than a hint of unfinished business about Minella Rocco who, if nothing else, will definitely not be beaten through lack of staying power.
JP McManus and O'Neill could also be represented by More Of That (66-1), but his limitations have been exposed.
Native River (6-1) has more than franked Minella Rocco's Festival form, landing the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National.
He is most likeable but those handicap successes were achieved off a mark of 154. At six times the price, I’m happy to take a punt on Minella Rocco again getting the better of him.
Plenty of others in the ante-post market carry wealth warnings.
Cue Card (14-1) and Valseur Lido (25-1) are more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase, while Don Poli (33-1) and Empire Of Dirt (50-1) seem to have the Grand National as their principal objective.
Alary (25-1) has been the subject of upbeat bulletins from the Tizzard team but it is difficult to gauge how good he is, or how he will take to the tempo of English races.
If he does prove good enough then there must be an array of superstars in France because he won only two of his 20 races there.
How to bet £20 ante-post on the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup:
£6 each-way on Djakadam at 14-1 with 32Red, Sky Bet and William Hill
£4 each-way on Minella Rocco at a general 40-1