The feature race of the three-day Paddy Power Open at Cheltenham is the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday, with an illustrious honour roll including Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander and Grade 2 chaser Al Ferof in recent years.
This years renewal may hold another superstar with festival winners and highly tried horses taking centre stage for 2m 4f showpiece. Previous winner Johns Spirit attempts to regain his crown and become the first horse since Cyfor Malta – in 1998 and 2002 – to win the prize on more than one occasion. Since finishing 2nd off 1 pound lower last year, Johns Spirit has contested races of the highest quality and run creditably throughout finishing 6th in the King George and 5th in the Ryanair. At this level, Johns Spirit is a class act and rarely runs a bad race at this track. However this year he looks weighted to the tilt which makes life difficult for win purposes.
Oscar Rock is horse improving with every run and demonstrated his potential with a classy listed success at Market Rasen in late September, and is clearly racing at the perfect distance for him. Whilst this represents a step up in class, the son of Oscar may be capable of raising his game and is definitely a player for prize money in this heat.
Recent course winner Boondooma represents Dr Newland who places his horses extremely well, and has seen his last five runners finish in the top two positions. This second season chaser has won over the distance before, albeit over hurdles, and whilst his jumping is far from perfect possesses a turn of foot that will see him stay the trip extremely well and makes him a contender.
Having won at the track four times, including a Grade 2 hurdle, Kings Palace heads the market for the Pipe and Scudamore team. Having failed at the highest level at the previous two festivals, connections will be hoping the Gold Cup entry will show the form that has seen him win first time out in every season and claim a number of races in the early part of the season. The Pond House handler has been quoted as saying “He has to go and produce it now but if the real Kings Palace turns up – he’s the one they’ve all got to beat.”.
Evan Williams sends last seasons fifth and previous course and distance winner Buywise back to Cheltenham in hope of claiming the prize. He re-opposes with Old Roan Chase winner Sound Investment, however Nicholls has been raised 4lbs for that success. Buywise often travels well and is proven over the trip however the main concern is his jumping. Buywise is known for misjudging several flights as he travels and that makes him hard to fancy for a win in an event such as this.
During the summer Annacotty moved from Martin Keighley’s yard to that of Alan King and is said to be thriving ever since. Despite falling in the Topham, Annacotty won a similar event here in January and has some proven graded form to his name including his Feltham Novices’ success of 2013. He is reunited with his first ever rider Ian Popham, himself recently back from a crashing fall, and the pair have a good record together. Annacotty has sometimes been found wanting on his reappearance however the change of scenery and his recent hunting ventures should have him spot on for this contest and represents a live each way chance.
Festival handicap winner Darna pulled off a shock when landing the spoils in March when beating Monetaire by a length giving him 2lbs. The pair re-oppose and Monetaire receives a further 2lbs which may be surmountable for the length defeat. Darna has proven he goes well fresh, as has Monetaire, but apart from his festival win he has struggled when dining at the top table. Monetaire has been disccarded by Scudamore and is the clear second string for the stable, but holds an each way chance if reproducing that festival effort off a break.
One of the most improved horses last season was Rebecca Curtis’ Irish Cavalier, who claimed his maiden chase victory in fine style in the listed handicap at the festival after a series of good runs in defeat. He stepped up in class but ultimately fell in the Mildmay Novices chase – won by Hennessy favourite Saphir Du Rheu – before raising his game once more in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown where he took on some of Ireland’s finest. He finished fourth of five runners, but beaten only 4 lengths by Valseur Lido but well ahead of RSA winner Don Poli. Then, three days later, he ran again at the same festival finishing a narrow second to the well handicapped Blood Cotil. Given the summer off, he returned in an intermediate chase and beat Henryville by 1/2 a length however the manner of victory was easier than the distance suggested. Curtis then pinpointed a tilt at the Charlie Hall chase, a grade one fixture which would have been a step back up in class for Aussies Rules gelding. However Curtis decided to keep him fresh for this event and clearly feels there is another chance to exploit his handicap mark of 156 before stepping up to graded events for the remainder of the season. At a generous price of 10/1 this progressive horse has a huge chance of further glory at Cheltenham.