The 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup, is set to run over three miles, two furlongs, and seventy yards. on Friday the 18th of March. Minello Indo beat his stablemate A Plus Tard last year, but has been below that level since, and it’s last years runner up that heads the ante post market currently.

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A Plus Tard benefited from Kemboy and Melon going a bit too quick in the Savills Chase over Christmas in 2020, but that did prove his stamina for three miles. I would have questioned whether he wanted the Gold Cup trip, but in coming second to Minella Indo, and staying on well up the hill he showed the extra distance held no fears, at least on the decent ground that prevailed last year. The race was run at a strong gallop initially before a mid race lull, so given he had some top form over two miles, you would still have to have a slight question mark on his stamina if it turned into a heavy ground slog. While Minella Indo seemed to have a bit more than the bare length and a half margin in hand in last years Gold Cup, you could make a case for A Plus Tard having improved this season based on his very easy victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock back in November, but with Bristol De Mai flopping, he really just beat a bunch of handicappers, so it would be wise not to get carried away.

Last time he was beaten a short head by Galvin, with Kemboy only three quarters of a length back in third in the Savills Chase, and while that looked  a below par run on bare form, Kemboy got an easy time of it in front, and it turned into a sprint from the third last. At that time A Plus Tard was about five lengths behind Kemboy, and it could be the effort of making up that ground in the hottest part of the race, to hit the front jumping the last, told in the closing stages as Galvin rallied to beat him. The speed he showed would again make me doubt he wants a real slog at the Gold Cup trip though.

Galvin was second off a mark of 142 in a novice handicap at the 2020 festival, but has improved hugely since then, winning seven out of his last eight races, including the National Hunt chase at last years festival. His only defeat was at Down Royal back in October when after making good ground to hit the front and look the winner, Frodon battled back to beat him. Given he would normally be a strong stayer at the trip it’s possible the run was needed, as although he won at Punchestown on his comeback two weeks previously that was run at a slow pace and was really just a sprint finish. He stepped up on that run last time when after getting outpaced from the back of the second last he was very strong in the final 100 yards to get back up to beat A Plus Tard, and while he was better positioned than that one when the pace picked up three out, he was also probably the most inconvenienced by the lack of a proper gallop. The bare form of a less than a length beating of Kemboy would need to be improved on to win the Gold Cup, but his strength at the finish suggested he would have beaten that horse easily off an even pace, and the extra trip of the Gold Cup looks certain to suit. He’s still young enough to improve again too.

Minella Indo has a great record at Cheltenham, having won the Albert Bartlett as a novice hurdler, before a second in the RSA as a novice chaser, and then last year winning the Gold Cup. What each of those runs had in common was he improved at least a stone on anything he had done so far that season when going to Cheltenham, and while for his two novice campaigns some of that was due to not having the opportunity to run to a high level, that wasn’t the case last year, as he was only fourth of five in the Irish Gold Cup before crossing the water.

Even knowing all this you couldn’t be anything other than disappointed in his three runs this season though, he ran adequately on his comeback at Down Royal, but the expected improvement from that run didn’t materialize when he ran a shocker in the King George, and although he got a poor ride that day, going too quick after getting in a battle for the lead with Frodon, that one still lasted much longer than he did. Last time he was second in the Irish Gold Cup and while that was an improvement, and the less than even pace wouldn’t have suited, you would still have to be very disappointed that having got within four lengths of Conflated on the run to the last, that he ended up barely holding on for second, when you would have expected a much strong finish from him. So once again he will likely need to improve around a stone at Cheltenham to win, but maybe this year it’s harder to find reasons why we should expect him to do so.

Al Boom Photo won the Gold Cup in 2019 and 2020, but they were very ordinary renewals, and he probably ran up to, or very close to his best when coming third last year, beaten just under six lengths. Since then he got beaten by Clan Des Obeux at Punchestown before winning a four runner race at Tramore on his seasonal debut, neither of which suggest he’s any better than his third in last years race, and while this years Gold Cup looks to be lacking strength in depth he would still need at least three others to underperform for him to win it again.

Protektorat was flattered by his proximity when a three quarter of a length second to Midnight Shadow off a mark of 154 at Cheltenham in November, as he wasn’t able to go with the principles in the heat of the battle, and only picked up the pieces when the leaders wilted. He seemed to show much improved form when running out a twenty five length winner of a grade two at Aintree last time, and while the the step up in trip suited, it normally pays to be very wary of wide margin winners on heavy ground, especially when the field consisted of horses who were either past it, or are just handicappers. He is an unknown quantity to some extent, but the form is a long way from solid, and quotes of just 9/1 for the Gold Cup seem to be taken a very optimistic view of his apparent sudden improvement.

Conflated looked exposed as below top class, and winning a handicap at Navan off a mark of 145 in early December wouldn’t really persuade you otherwise. You could knock out a few of his runs right handed though as he does seem much better left handed over fences, which would make him less exposed than on first glance, but it was still a big step forward to win the Irish Gold Cup by six lengths last time, and I must admit my first instinct was to conclude the others flopped, rather than he’s suddenly a real top staying chaser. The less than even gallop also suited him, as he showed plenty of speed to go clear off the back of the second last, but he did keep it going all the way to the line, when you might have expected a few of the proven stayers to start making some inroads. That said it isn’t the most solid piece of form, and he needs to prove he can back it up, and also do it over the longer distance, and likely better gallop in the Gold Cup.

Tornado Flyer is another one who showed much improved form last time, winning the King George at Kempton having not looked a top grade one chaser previously. His improved form looks to be a lot more to do with circumstance, than ability though, as he was given a patient ride in a race that the leaders went too quick, and he picked up the pieces when they hit a wall, and although he stayed the trip strongly that day, he hadn’t previously looked like he wanted the extra distance of the Gold Cup.

Chantry House went off 3/1 favourite for the King George which looked to have a bit too much potential built in, as although he won grade one novices at Cheltenham and Aintree last season, the Cheltenham form was nothing special at all, and he looked beaten when the leader fell two out at Aintree. He ran too bad to be true in the King George, and did bounce back when winning a grade two at Cheltenham last time, but being all out to beat Santini by two and a half lengths with Aye Right a similar distance back in third is hardly Gold Cup winning form.

After a wide margin handicap win at Haydock on heavy ground last January the bookmakers made Royal Pagaille single figures for the Gold Cup, which looked a massive overreaction to beating inferior rivals on desperate ground. He went off much bigger on the day  at Cheltenham, managing only a distant sixth having never looked classy enough. The ground was on the good side though, and in winning the same Haydock race on soft ground this January, this time off a seven pound higher mark of 163, he showed he likely needs soft ground at least to show his beat, but is still to give any indication that’s he’s capable of winning a race like this, and surely his only chance would be a slog on heavy ground that none of the real top horses handled.

At this stage I think Galvin is probably the most likely winner of the Gold Cup, and the 4/1 with a run price seems a bit big. Yes he will need to improve on his win last time, but a stronger pace over the extra distance of the Gold Cup seems certain to suit him better, and he has less doubts about him than most of the others. A Plus Tard did have excuses last time and could still be an improved horses this year, while Minello Indo can clearly win again if at his best, but that is an if given his runs this season. This years Gold Cup looks to lack a bit of depth to me and I find it hard to see any of the others winning at this stage.

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