The December Gold Cup, or Caspian Caviar Gold Cup to give it its current name, falls a month after the crown jewel of the Cheltenham Open Meeting, the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and naturally tends to feature many of the same protagonists. This year is set to be no different, as five of the first six home here in November look set to re-oppose one month on.
The Paddy Power is one of the great handicap chases, which horses invariably have on their radars for some time as their main early-season assignment. This, coupled with the fact that those good enough to win here in November will obviously face a hike in the handicap for their troubles, means that only a few horses have completed the valuable pre-Christmas double.
Recent winners of the Paddy Power to have struggled in this race include Caid du Berlais, who failed to finish last year, and both Johns Spirit and Great Endeavour, who won in November prior to being unplaced in December. With just three horses having managed the double, which was completed most recently by Exotic Dancer in 2006, things don't bode well for this year's Paddy Power winner Annacotty, who has a 5-lb rise in the weights to contend with after gamely holding off Buywise last month on his first start for Alan King. Annacotty, who won the Feltham over three miles as a novice, was well suited by the strong stamina test that this year's Paddy Power provided. With conditions not certain to prove so ideal this time, and with lively contenders both old and new awaiting him, he is worth taking on in this race.
Although doing the Paddy Power/December Gold Cup double is tough, the races often inform one another, with previous winners in the shape of Quantitativeeasing and Poquelin both finishing second prior to winning this race in the same season. With those two horses in mind, many punters will once again be drawn to Buywise, the ultimate cliff horse. He ran yet another tantalising race in last month's Paddy Power, rounding the home turn with plenty still to do after some characteristic jumping errors, and finishing strongly up the hill in eye-catching fashion to claim second. Buywise had to switch after he jumped the last and but for that he may well have won, though he was suited by the way the strongly-run race unfolded, and he is now facing a further 5-lb hike in the weights. Given the obvious risks involved with backing Buywise, coupled with how suited he was by how the race unfolded in the Paddy Power, at the current prices, he offers little value on Saturday.
Sound Investment, beaten less than a length by Buywise in November, must also enter calculations here, with Paul Nicholls having saddled three winners in this race since 2009. Although now entering his third season as a chaser, Sound Investment may well have more to offer, after posting successive career-best efforts in winning the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and then placing in the Paddy Power. We can never rule out a little further progress with these steadily developing Nicholls horses, though asking Sound Investment to carry a mark of 162 to success in such a competitive handicap seems unlikely.
The final runner worth a mention from the Paddy Power won by Annacotty is Irish Cavalier, the current favourite for this race, who touched 1.55 on the Exchanges in-running when cruising into contention last time, only to fade back into fifth on the run-in having clearly pressed on earlier than ideal. With his BHA mark unchanged, he makes the most appeal of the horses arriving here from the Open meeting, and looks set to put in a bold bid to make amends, though his current price in such a deep renewal looks short enough.
Phillip Hobbs has only won the December Gold Cup once, with Monkerhostin in 2004, but he looks to have two live chances this year in the form of Village Vic and Champagne West. Village Vic is certainly worth his try in this grade after posting subsequent career-best efforts on both his starts this season. He is up 7 lb for his last win in a much deeper race here though, and it is Champagne West who makes the more appeal.
Champagne West has plenty of Cheltenham form to call on for his handicap debut over fences. He was a creditable fourth in the 2014 Albert Bartlett behind Very Wood on his final start over hurdles, and confirmed his promise as an embryonic chaser when winning what is traditionally a high-quality novice race at last year's Open meeting. It was perhaps crucial for Champagne West that the field jumped six fewer fences that day due to low sun, as he looked a sketchy jumper on two of his three subsequent starts last season, winning despite that at Cheltenham again before failing to complete when sent off joint-favourite for the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase in January on his final start. Between those two dates though, Champagne West put in a solid round of jumping when second in the Dipper behind Ptit Zig. If his excellent yard can improve this aspect of his game, he appeals as being on a lenient mark here, with more improvement a definite possibility, and he is worth backing at current odds, at nearly double the price of current favourite Irish Cavalier.
Back Champagne West at 10/1 in the December Gold Cup