Big Race Verdict on the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury
Irish raiders can play a major role
50/151.00 outsider Max Flamingo can out-run his price
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The Coral Gold Cup at Newbury is a race with a very proud tradition spanning just over 65 years.
Thanks to what was one of the longest-running commercial sponsorships in British sport, some crusty types still refer to it lovingly as the Hennessy, but whatever one wants to call it, the race evokes some wonderful memories for racing enthusiasts of all ages.
Those that can remember the victories of Mill House and Arkle (twice) in the mid-1960s are likely to be small in number, but even for younger followers of the great game there are an array of names amongst previous winners of it that will be familiar from racing legend such as Bregawn, Burrough Hill Lad and One Man.
In all, nine horses that have won the Coral Gold Cup have also won the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
Denman The Destroyer
My own direct memories of the race go back just over 20 years, but that relatively short snapshot still evokes a lot of pleasant nostalgia. Strong Flow, Bobs Worth, Many Clouds, Smad Place and Native River all spring to mind, but of course the memory bank is dominated by the sheer brilliance of Denman.
As good as he was when winning it off a mark of 161 under 11-12 in 2007 en route to the top of the sport, to see him do it again under top weight off a 13lb higher mark having looked past his best the previous season was once-in-a-generation stuff.
If you weren't fortunate enough to see it live or even if you did and your memory of it has dimmed, please, watch it again. It really was special.
Lack of pace could hamper hold-up horses
Anyway, enough of the nostalgia. It's time to look forward to the latest renewal of the race at Newbury on Saturday.
Firstly, it should be noted that the Betfair Sportsbook are paying six places, so that is definitely worth noting if you are looking at playing the race in that style.
The race has attracted 20 runners which will lead to a widespread assumption of a well-run race, but it should be said that the field isn't littered with regular front runners.
Ahoy Senor and Mahler Mission fit that bill, but both have tended to push the pace in smaller fields and wouldn't be sure to be bulling to lead at all costs here. Eldorado Allen can usually be relied on to get forward, but again he is often just as happy to sit handy if something else wants to drive on.
In terms of any potential tactic changers, the only one with first-time positive headgear is Ga Law and he is a hold-up performer.
To conclude on the pace map front, it would be dangerous to assume the pace will be above-average and I would be reluctant to side with one that is likely to be held up in the hope of the well-run race.
Mahler has a tough Mission on his hands
So, what is going to win?
Inevitably, incurably, my eye will always be drawn to the Irish-trained contenders in any valuable race in the UK and all three of them are worthy of attention for differing reasons.
The shortest-priced contender amongst the raiding party is the John McConnell-trained Mahler Mission.
His return to the big-race scene might well be triggering for some punters, as the memory of his fall at the second-last fence when in front and still going well in front of the seemingly struggling eventual winner Gaillard Du Mesnil in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is likely to still be raw for some.
He looked sure to play a leading role that day and the case for him being fairly handicapped based on that run is there for all to see. He has had a prep run at Carlisle and seems sure to have been aimed at this.
However, the negative is that John McConnell finds himself firmly in the cold column in terms of trainer form. His last winner came at Ludlow on October 11th and he has had just over 120 runners since then. The tide will turn for him, but with none of his last 20 runners having been involved in a competitive finish, one of the biggest handicap chases of the season doesn't seem likely to be the stage on which his fortunes change.
The other Irish contender towards the front of the market is the Gavin Cromwell-trained Stumptown. In contrast to McConnell, Cromwell is in particularly good form at the minute.
This horse will be familiar to many having gone close to winning the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March and while he hasn't matched that form since, there was more promise in his latest run in the Kerry National.
This longer trip and more galloping track will both be in his favour and his prominent place in the market looks justified.
Outsider Flamingo chanced to put in a Max effort
The third and final Irish contender is the Francis Casey-trained Max Flamingo and he is a very big price. However, I wouldn't dismiss him at all.
Francis has taken over the license from his late father, the legendary character Peter Casey, and while they don't have many winners, Max Flamingo has shaped as though he could be capable of winning a big race on a couple of occasions in his career.
He last hit a vein of form in the first half of 2022, running particularly well when a close seventh in the Irish Grand National of that year and winning a maiden chase and novice chase either side of that.
While he hasn't driven on since then, he has shown plenty of promise in his two warm-up runs over hurdles for this race. In particular, he hit the line really well in first-time blinkers in a handicap hurdle over a grossly inadequate trip of just over two miles at Down Royal last time.
Still a relatively young horse, he might just be coming into form at the right time. At the time of writing, he is the outsider of the entire field, but that underestimates him.
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Read Daryl Carter's Saturday Racing Tips here.