Cheltenham Festival Focus: Get Stattler on side for the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Daryl Carter.
Daryl Carter is back with week two of his Cheltenham Focus column.

Welcome to week two of Cheltenham Festival Focus. Here, with a review of the week's action and a Cheltenham Festival ante-post selection to add to his portfolio, is Daryl Carter...

  • A weekly round-up of the action
  • Daryl adds a 16/1 chance to his ante-post list
  • Short term "one to watch" offered

Weekly round-up

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There was little to pick up from last Sunday's meeting at Aintree. The card lacked any real depth with a view to the festival. Still, Riders Onthe Storm could be a good bet for a handicap should they keep him sound.

Chepstow's meeting on Tuesday, October 25th, threw up a race to follow for the season. The opening 12:55 won by Kim Bailey's Chianti Classico recorded a good comparative time, and there were some promising types in behind.

The winner is undoubtedly one to follow, as is the runner-up, Henri The Second, for Paul Nicholls, who looks like a future chaser and will improve when stepping up in trip. Still, in terms of the Cheltenham Festival, there was little for us to get stuck into here.

On Friday at Wetherby, Grade 1 winning hurdler Gelino Bello was given a nice introduction to fences when scoring narrowly in the opening contest over fences. The bare form of a 1/2 length victory leaves him a mountain to find, but taking that literally would be folly. In reality, he won cosily enough in what was a schooling session, and he is now 16/1 for the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham. I am no more than lukewarm on him.

Saturday at Ascot saw Goshen make his chase debut, ending in disappointing fashion for his supporters. He does not look like a chaser to follow, and his 50/1 for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival should be more like 100/1.

At Galway on Saturday, Common Practice made his third hurdle start a winning one improving significantly on his two previous outings. He won with any amount in hand for trainer Joseph O'Brien and rated 83 on the flat; he holds plenty of potential. The race lacked depth, but it compared very well to the following Maiden Hurdle won by Three Card Brag, and he did it in a canter. The comparative race form suggests Common Practice could prove a useful Juvenile Hurdler this season.

Later on the card, Path D'oroux won very nicely for Gavin Cromwell and looked like an exciting prospect for the Novice Hurdle division. He hit the line hard in very testing conditions and will now head to the Royal Bond.

He could be a player this season but is not currently in the betting for either the Supreme Novice Hurdle or the Ballymore on the Betfair Sportsbook. He is now a point-to-point winner, bumper, and Hurdle winner, and the third from his Punchestown bumper win was also third behind Marine Nationale. Interesting!

At Wetherby, Molly Ollys Wishes fought out a gutsy victory in the Mares Hurdle to score for the second year running and improve her first-time-out record to four wins from six outings. She has twice been a non-runner at Cheltenham twice, so she lacks course experience, but her Betfair Sportsbook price of 25/1 for the Mares Hurdle at the festival looks more than fair, but she may lack the star quality of a Brandy Love.

Sporting John disappointed in the Grade 2 Hurdle on the card, but more success for Dan Skelton as Proschema blew the race apart with an excellent performance. He's not priced for the Stayer's Hurdle at Cheltenham on the Betfair Sportsbook but should perhaps be around a 25/1 chance. He has course-winning form, and handicaps will be out of the question on the back of that run.

Bravemansgame simply sublime in Charlie Hall

Betfair's Paul Nicholls and his exciting chaser Bravemansgame stole the show at Wetherby when he stamped his authority on the Charlie Hall Chase to score in good style over Eldorado Allen.

His jumping is impeccable, and he was spring-heeled and faultless for the nearly entire 3m contest. Bravemansgame had a second bout of wind surgery before this race, but he easily put up a career-best effort and took his form to a new level by the dispelling of this solid-looking field.

The form looks very reliable at this stage, with Eldorado Allen having such a good record fresh in second. All roads lead to the King George at Kempton, for which he is now 5/2 joint-favourite with Allaho. The time was faster than standard for this contest, and he did it fairly easily.

He is now a 14/1 chance for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Paul Nicholls remains convinced that course would not suit him, and I would agree, so hold your ante-post bets because he may not even run.

Senor disappointing but the market overreacted

The disappointment of the race came from Ahoy Senor, who was sent off as a strongly backed favourite for the race but was constantly pestered on the front end by Paint The Dream. He was shuffled back through the field on the second circuit, but he didn't do too much too soon.

Both circuits were evenly run, and the second (which should always be the case) was run around eight lengths faster, suggesting Lucinda Russell's runner underperformed rather than blew his top on the first circuit.

This was not the Ahoy Senor we saw at Aintree last term, but the positives are that he has significantly improved on his seasonal return for the last two years, so the market may have overreacted to pushing him out to 33/1 for the Gold Cup. He does now have something to prove.

OUT for the season

Willie Mullins' Albert Bartlett winner, The Nice Guy, is out for the remainder of the season. He was the favourite for the Brown Advisory, but that position is now taken up by Minella Cocooner at 7/1.

Willie Mullins also confirmed that Champion Bumper runner-up Redemption Day and promising youngster James's Gate would miss the season.

Quilixious has picked up an injury and is out for the season, confirmed in Henry de Bromhead's stable tour.

Short term one to watch

Since Day One scored at Ayr on October 24th but was given a considerate ride on Chase debut, clearly learning on the job, he had enough speed to fight off a Grade 2 winner over hurdles. He could be one to rack up a sequence.

Stattler a smashing bet for Gold Cup glory

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A perfect blend of speed and stamina is required of a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. A Plus Tard, Al Boum Photo, and Sizing John, to name a few, had winning chase form over shorter trips than the Gold Cup distance, which bodes well for potential superstar Galopin Des Champs (3/1) at the head of the market. However, he is far from bombproof in the jumping department, and it's no given that he sees out this trip despite having won a Grade 1 over 3m when racing over hurdles.

There's little denying his class, but there are reasons to take him on at the top of the market. His three-mile hurdle win at Punchestown saw him use his speed to good effect off of a slow gallop (the overall time was only 24 lengths faster than the Irish Gold Cup over fences, and they ran over 1/2 a furlong further).

His excellent Leopardstown victory married up well on the final circuit to Chacun Pour Soir, who won over 2m. There was plenty of talk about this class act having the speed to drop back to an Arkle distance, and again after the Turners Chase win, connections said he could drop back to 2m.

There is no question about his ability or his outstanding natural speed - he has clearly shown that to be of the highest calibre - but his stamina still remains a question, and he is a free-going sort that needs to settle to see this trip out. Confidence in the camp seems high in this regard, but it is yet to be fully tested.

A Plus Tard makes more appeal at this stage on the back of an excellent Cheltenham Gold Cup win last term. Still, again the race favoured those with the more natural speed with a strong finishing percentage and a furlong per furlong time only a shade quicker than Billiway. The first circuit was run 12 lengths faster in the Gold Cup than the Fox Hunters, and with the field closely matched at the third last, it suggests it turned into a sprint.

A Plus Tard remains a very, very classy horse and one who will be hard to beat if in the same mood but is well found in the market, of course.

This year's renewal could prove slightly different, with the likes of Ahoy Senor, Hewick, and L'Homme Presse likely wanting to make this a true test of stamina, and there are sure to be others to come out of the woodwork before March.

Stattler (16/1) was well beaten by Galopin Des Champs at Punchestown last season over hurdles but is one of the most improved horses for the switch to fences I have seen in a long time.

His jumping was impeccable when scoring in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last term, and despite winning over 3m6f, he showed plenty of speed from the third last to the line (only a shade slower than Edwardstone). A Grand National may be the target, but like Galvin, last term, a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup may be too tempting to resist for owner Ronnie Bartlett.

He has all the attributes for a Gold Cup test, and with proven stamina, on his side, he makes plenty of each-way appeal at this stage. He is three for three over fences, and he finished the season with a career-best wiping the floor with a solid yardstick in Run Wild Fred. The bare form needs improving, but the ceiling for this seven-year-old is not known, and it would be disappointing if more were not to come from him. Seven of the last nine winners have been eight-year-olds, and his peak is approaching.

Looking at those ahead of him in the betting, Allaho 10/1, L'Homme Presse 10/1, Bravemansgame and Capodanno (both 14/1) - two are highly unlikely to run and those in the betting below him, include Ferny Hollow 33/1, Shishkin 33/1, Bob Olinger 66/1, Gaillard Du Mesnil 50/1, and Dusart 33/1 who are all also highly unlikely to run.

With improvement this term, Stattler could quickly become a strong candidate for this contest.

Recommended bets

Daryl's ante-post selections.


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