Cheltenham Gold Cup: Ante-post focus

IT happens nine weeks on Tuesday. You know, that familiar roar, when the tape goes up for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The roar kick-starts four days of heaven for National Hunt purists. Yup, the Cheltenham Festival is well within punting distance. After the plethora of festive Jump racing, the fog has cleared a little from the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture and we now have a solid favourite.

Silviniaco Conti fluffed his lines up the Prestbury Park hill last year but a few pertinent tweaks by his genius trainer (yep, I’ve decided Paul Nicholls is worthy of that moniker) have turned a very good chaser into the best in the land.

His King George VI Chase victory was a joy to behold. His pillar-to-post pounding of his rivals broke the equine hearts of so many other Gold Cup pretenders: Cue Card (again) was exposed for his lack of stamina, as was Champagne Fever who ran with the choke out but may be worth another chance in next year’s King George. Dynaste was gallant in second although David Pipe laudably pinned his future colours to the Ryanair Chase mast. Al Ferof still seems to be caught between two stools: his genius trainer wants to let him loose over 2m while owner John Hales still prefers the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The upshot of the King George is that Silviniaco Conti is generally a bombproof-looking 11/4 favourite for the Cheltenham Cup. Only one horse is hanging on to his coat-tails in the market and that is the ever progressive and appropriately named Road To Riches.

He first caught my eye winning a Grade Three novice hurdle at Cork in 2012 despite uprooting the last flight but he has really blossomed over fences since winning the Galway Plate in July. His victory in the Lexus Chase had a stamp of real authority and he had previous Gold Cup winners Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth trailing in his wake. His odds were more than halved for the Gold Cup and he is second favourite at around the 8/1 mark.

So what of other contenders in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting? Lord Windermere’s season will be geared around March 13 at Cheltenham and I am surprised that 16/1 is still available. The jury is out on Holywell although if the ground is good he will definitely be a player. Connections of Many Clouds and Smad Place have not given up hope that their charges could have Gold Cup credentials while the aforementioned Bobs Worth has drifted out to 16/1. That is fantastic value if he is anywhere near his best.

Paul Nicholls intends to run Lexus third Sam Winner in the Gold Cup and 33/1 is also fair each-way value, especially if the ground has some juice.

But while Silviniaco Conti looks a worthy favourite at the time of writing, the 16/1 about Cheltenham specialist BOBS WORTH is surely worth an each-way punt. Don’t forget, he went off the 6/4 favourite last March and looked all over the winner until the final fence.

Anybody any thoughts?

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