Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Big Race Verdict: Paddy Power Gold Cup can go to a closer

Betfair Ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake's Big Race Verdict is on the Paddy Power Gold Cup

Kevin Blake returns with his Big Race Verdict, this week looking at the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham, a race in which he expects a strong pace that will play into the hands of a hold-up performer...

The Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase (14:20) is the main event at Cheltenham on Saturday. With it being a high-class renewal of the race, it appeals as being the best contest to peel back the lid on and get stuck into.

Before getting into the specifics of the individual contenders, it makes sense to get a feel for the likely shape of the race from a pace point of view.

This race is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham. That is the track in the lighter green colour on the map below.

As can be seen, the most obvious difference between the tracks is that the Old Course is a shorter, tighter track. There is a general view that horses that race close to the pace are favoured over fences on the Old Course, but as with many aspects of racing analysis, it is dangerous to generalise.


A race just to set the pace?

It is often the case in racing that when a bias emerges, be it real or just perceived, the actions of the jockeys seeking to capitalise on said bias can result in any edge being lessened or even reversed. We can often see this with regard to pace biases.

If the jockeys take the view that pace is holding up very well and it is difficult to make up ground from the rear, the resulting rush to get to the lead and race prominent can lead to races being run at overly-strong paces. Even if there is a pace-favouring bias at play, all the bias in the world won't help horses that have been asked to go an unsustainably fast pace in the opening and/or middle sections of the race.

That is worth bearing in mind as we get stuck into the Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase. When one goes through the runners in search of which ones are likely to go forward, it produces a lengthy list.

  • The Real Whacker and Stage Star were high-class novice chasers that made the running in all of their starts last season. Though, in the context if this race it is worth considering that securing the lead is often a less arduous task in novice company than it is in a high-level handicap chase like this.

  • Whistleinthedark is another second-season chaser that often pushed the pace as a novice last season.

  • Authorized Act made the running a few times as a novice chaser last season and the fact that he was able to sit prominently in a helter-skelter renewal of the Galway Plate suggests that he has enough pace to be prominent in this if that is what his connections want to do.

  • Final Orders has done most of his winning over fences when making the running or racing prominently.

  • Il Ridoto is tactically versatile, but did produce his career-best effort when forcing the pace to win a valuable handicap chase around the New Course at this track in January.

  • Notlongtilmay often pushed the pace as a novice chaser last season, but he was content to race prominently on his seasonal reappearance over two miles at Cheltenham. He ran well there and his connections may be happy for him to follow up the leaders given how much other pace is in the race.

  • Unexpected Party produced a career-best effort when helping push the pace in a four-runner Listed novice chaser at Chepstow last time, but might well revert to less positive tactics in this much more competitive contest.

  • Easy As That produced his career-best effort when helping force the pace in a handicap chase at Newcastle in February, but lacks chasing experience and may not be asked to be as forward in this more competitive contest.

Experienced pace mappers will know that a scenario such as the above where the raw details suggest that the pace of the race will surely be strong can sometimes be a dangerous assumption to make.

Jockeys and their advisors are all looking at the same set of evidence that we are and in scenarios where the pace map of a race looks red hot, it can occasionally be the case that so many jockeys decide not to be as forward as usual for fear of getting hooked up in a pace battle that the forecast hot pace doesn't materialise to the expected extent.

Straightforward, isn't it?!

In this case, the combination of the perceived pace-favouring nature of the track combined with so many regular front runners is enough for me to conclude that the pace of this race is likely to be above-average or even stronger.

This conclusion shapes how I approach the race in terms of the profile of horse I want to support. So, which way am I leaning?

Kielan can get Harper's backers out of the Woods

Well, I'm siding with one that will be ideally suited by the way the race is likely to pan out. A horse that has rightly been called a few names in the not-too-distant past, but one which almost certainly has a lot more ability than he has shown on the track yet. The horse is Harper's Brook.

Trained by Ben Pauling, the seven-year-old has only had five runs over fences, but it is the most recent two of them that are of particular note.

Set a tough task for one so inexperienced in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham Festival, first-time cheekpieces were applied and he was given a much more positive ride than usual, picking up the running after the sixth fence and being given an attacking front-running ride from there.

He was still travelling quite well coming down the hill, but his mid-race exertions soon told, stopping very quickly and being pulled up before the final fence. Harper's Brook was an unproven stayer at the trip and under that ride, his stamina almost certainly failed him.

Dropped back to two-and-a-half miles for a valuable novices' handicap chase at Sandown the following month, he was given a much more patient ride by Kielan Woods and looked sure to win at his ease when being delivered to lead at the final fence, but then disaster struck.

In as vivid a display of a horse seizing defeat from the jaws of victory as one will ever see, Harper's Brook pulled himself up in front, slowing right down and allowing Gloire D'athon to beat him. It was a remarkable display of recalcitrance, but one which will arm his connections with the knowledge of exactly how to ride him from now on. In short, don't hit the front until as late as one dares.

The likely setup of this race will allow Woods to be as patient as he likes on Harper's Brook. It won't be an easy task, but the pain of Sandown will make him brave as the very last thing he'll want is to hit the front too soon on him again. We have to take his fitness on trust, but his record when fresh is solid and Pauling has his team in good order.

Harper's Brook was raised 2lb for his run at Sandown and finds himself a further 2lb out of the handicap here, but that isn't something I'll be worrying about. If the race pans out well for him, the extra weight is unlikely to be a difference maker and the fact he is out of the handicap is most likely adding a couple of points to his price.

It might not be the easiest of watches, but hopefully Harper's Brook can swoop late and fast to conquer the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Back Harper's Brook in 14:20 Cheltenham @ 14/115.00

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