Native River shouldn't be entertained in the Gold Cup, writes Jack Houghton, who wants to use Each Way Edge and take a speculative punt on Smad Place...
"It's worth remembering that Smad Place won the Hennessy impressively in 2015, and was giving 11lbs to Native River when only beaten 10 lengths in the 2016 renewal..."
Unusually for a winner from a small-field, Charli Parcs set a fast time when winning at Kempton over Christmas. That was his first run in this country and suggests that he is likely to have the most potential of any in this field. His fall last time casts some doubts, though, as does his lack of Cheltenham form, something that Defi Du Seuil holds over all of the field (three others have run at Cheltenham, none have posted a particularly impressive rating in doing so). The two market leaders, then, are possible winners, although neither looks especially good value in a race where ten horses are separated by less than 5lbs at their best, according to my ratings.
Preference then, would be for Evening Hush. Extending his place terms to finish in the first five makes him a 18/1 shot, and an Each Way Edge seems the best chance of profiting from the race. Evening Hush is within the margin for error of posting the best times in this field and looks as if he will benefit from the fast pace of this big-field Festival charge.
I can't get excited about Death Duty. For all he may have looked impressive in hoovering-up wins in small fields, he has yet to post a good time and all those wins have been on ground softer than he is likely to encounter today.
Wholestone is the most attractive proposition. He has consistently shown he can act on this course and his win here in January is the standout piece of form at the venue, putting him 4lbs clear of the rest. I'm going to be punchy and will reduce the place terms to the first two using Each Way Edge, taking the bigger odds of 13/2.
Of the three market leaders, Djakadam and Cue Card are the most likely to win. Native River ran well to win the Hennessy and Welsh Grand National, but must improve again by a few pounds to beat the other two at their best. Djakadam is my first choice, and reducing the place terms to the first two finishers using Each Way Edge is the best strategy, offering odds of 9/2.
I will also be having a speculative punt on the outsider, Smad Place. Opting for the first five places to pay still offers 22/1 and, at his best, he has little to find with these, making that an attractive bet. It's worth remembering that he won the Hennessy impressively in 2015, and was giving 11lbs to Native River when only beaten 10 lengths in the 2016 renewal. The concern, of course, is his consistency, and the fact that he has yet to produce his best form at Cheltenham, but these doubts are more than compensated for in those odds and place terms. If there's a shock in the race, it will be Smad Place.
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