Sodexo Gold Cup Preview: Theatre to put on a show at Ascot

Jumps racing returns to Ascot on Saturday
Jumps racing returns to Ascot on Saturday

Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday and recommends an ante-post bet.

"His second to Don Poli in the previous year’s RSA Chase remains his best effort on Timeform ratings, and he is well treated from a handicap mark of 147 based on that."

Given its place in the racing calendar and the money on offer, the Sodexo Gold Cup (previously the United House Gold Cup) often provides a good opportunity for some of the higher-quality handicap chasers to blow away a few cobwebs early in the season. The make-up of this year's renewal looks no different to normal in that regard, with no fewer than 18 of the 30 horses currently entered set to make their seasonal reappearances, and fitness is expected to play a part here once again.

Few trainers have their horses fitter or in better form at present than Paul Nicholls, and he currently has three horses entered for Saturday's race, which surprisingly is one of the few valuable handicaps in the British calendar that he is yet to win.

Saphir du Rheu is reportedly set to start his season in a Grade 2 hurdle at Wetherby, and Nicholls' best chance of a first win in the Sodexo Gold Cup looks to be with Southfield Theatre, who has generously been dropped 3lb by the handicapper following his fourth in the bet365 Gold Cup on his final start last season. That was the final act of a light campaign for Southfield Theatre (just four starts in total) which also included a fall (when going well) in the Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival. His second to Don Poli in the previous year's RSA Chase remains his best effort on Timeform ratings, and he is well treated from a handicap mark of 147 based on that.

With his yard in excellent form and having won on his reappearance in three of the last four seasons, he looks a strong contender.

The one just shading favouritism in the early market is Tea For Two, a second-season chaser open to further improvement after winning two of his three starts in novices last season. His best effort on ratings came when winning the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, where he did well to get on top of the second Southfield Royale who got first run, and there was no disgrace in finishing third in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase on his next start (behind Bristol de Mai) where he was clearly unsuited by the drop in trip. He is regarded as being best on a flat track, however (best runs over both fences and hurdles have come at Kempton), and though he will be suited by the return to three miles, he looks worth opposing as favourite here from a less-than-generous opening mark of 153.

Like Nicholls, Jonjo O'Neill is also seeking his first win in this race, and he could saddle Holywell, Minella Rocco and Another Hero in a bid to end that run. Another Hero remains open to improvement after being given a considerate reappearance at Chepstow earlier in the month, but he'll likely be a couple of lbs out of the weights if taking up his entry. Both Holywell and Minella Rocco would be capable of winning this, but it is likely that they will both have bigger targets later in the season, with a possible Grand National tilt on the cards for National Hunt Chase winner Minella Rocco.

A Good Skin and Irish Cavalier also both ran at Chepstow's Persian War Meeting and have an obvious fitness edge over many of the others, though the former put in the more convincing reappearance effort in finishing third behind Potters Cross. A Good Skin is building up a solid profile in some valuable staying handicap chases (second at Kempton and then again in the Kim Muir at the Festival last season) and is a place contender here once again.

The Young Master was better than ever when winning the bet365 Gold Cup on his final 2015/16 start and is another to note, but he is reportedly also set to be trained for the Grand National this season.

With Tea For Two needing to improve to defy his opening handicap mark as well as there being some doubts about the suitability of this galloping track, he looks opposable as favourite despite still being unexposed. With doubts about several of the other principals in the betting, the most solid option looks to be Southfield Theatre, who has dropped to a dangerous mark following a light campaign last season and represents a yard who are in red-hot form at present.

Recommended Bet

Back Southfield Theatre at 7/1 for the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot

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