Horse Racing Tips

Timeform preview: Gold Cup Handicap Chase

Horses jumping a fence at Cheltenham
Cheltenham hosts the three-day November meeting

"...he proved better than ever when chasing home Lostintranslation..."

Timeform on Count Meribel

Timeform preview the Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday...

Nigel Twiston-Davies has won this race on four occasions, most notably with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander. Splash of Ginge provided the trainer with his most recent success, scoring at 25/1 two years ago, and he will attempt to regain his crown at Cheltenham on Saturday.

However, he is now an 11-year-old and was largely out of form last season, so the trainer's best chance of recording a fifth win in the contest rests with Count Meribel. Count Meribel won two of his four starts last season, including a novice event over C&D at this meeting, and he proved better than ever when chasing home Lostintranslation in an intermediate chase on his return at Carlisle last time.

That was a likeable effort and he certainly fits the right sort of profile for this race: a seven-year-old who has course form and arrives on the right sort of mark. Indeed, he sets the standard on weight-adjusted ratings and looks to have been underestimated in the betting at around 14/1.

At even bigger odds, Sky Pirate is of interest for the Jonjo O'Neill yard that has won this race three times since 2006. He very much caught the eye when seventh in the Kim Muir at the Festival, simply finding the test too much, and left the impression he would be seen to much better effect at this sort of trip.

The six-year-old was in the process of showing as much when falling on his return at Wetherby last month, looking a big threat at the time, and there is the prospect of even more to come after only six starts over fences.

Count Meribel and Sky Pirate have already run this season, but recent evidence suggests horses making their seasonal reappearances on Saturday will be at no disadvantage. In fact, 10 of the last 19 winners of this race lined up after more than 100 days off the track.

Other stats that could be worth considering are course form - 14 winners of the race this century had previously won over fences at Cheltenham - and the age of your selection.

Seven-year-olds have been most prolific in this race since the turn of the century, with Baron Alco becoming the ninth winner from that age group when beating Frodon 12 months ago. By contrast, no horse aged older than nine has won the race in the same period.

The favourite for this year's renewal is the Colin Tizzard-trained Slate House. He has always been held in high regard by connections and finally put it all together over fences when making a winning return in novice company here last month.

That was his first start since undergoing a wind operation and he ran out an impressive winner, jumping fluently under a patient ride and having far too much for his rivals in the closing stages. The time of that race suggests a positive view should be taken and he undoubtedly has the potential to build on that.

Saint Calvados made a winning reappearance here on the same day as Slate House and also features prominently in the betting. He registered a very smart display to defy top weight in a useful two-mile handicap, and seemingly benefited from a breathing operation and for being ridden with more restraint than is usually the case. He looked at least as good as ever on that first start in a handicap for almost two years.

He's raced only at around two miles in Britain/Ireland, but both his sire and the way he raced on his latest start suggest he's worth trying over this longer trip.

Others to note include Siruh du Lac and Spiritofthegames, who have already shown their suitability for this sort of test by finishing first and third, respectively, in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at the Festival here in March.

The progressive Siruh du Lac got the verdict by three quarters of a length from old rival Janika, who gave the form a boost when winning last week's Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. He will be making his seasonal reappearance here, but the traits he showed last term - notably an excellent attitude and sound jumping technique - should continue to stand him in good stead in this sort of race, and further improvement is possible.

Similar comments apply to Spiritofthegames, who was arguably unfortunate to have registered only one win in his first season over fences. Dan Skelton's charge also lines up here without the benefit of a previous run, but that is certainly no negative as far as he is concerned - he has won on reappearance in each of the last three seasons.

The only Irish contender is the Joseph O'Brien-trained Us And Them, who finished second on five occasions (including in four Grade 1 events) last season after winning his maiden at Navan. The six-year-old shaped well after five months off when third behind Snow Falcon in the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park last time, and, entitled to strip fitter here, he looks sure to give another good account on handicap debut.

Knocknanuss has form that ties in with a couple of these. He finished three places behind Us And Them when fifth in the Arkle at the Festival here in March, and shaped with promise when third behind Saint Calvados here on his return. He looks on a good mark on that evidence and could play a part if curbing his enthusiasm now back up in trip.

This is clearly an open contest and plenty are in with a chance. However, Count Meribel and Sky Pirate look the pair to side with based on their relatively unexposed profiles over fences and clear scope for improvement.

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