Below is my Ante Post Preview and Tips for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, run over three miles, two furlongs and seventy yards, on the 17th of March 2017. If you want my best bets for each day of the 2017 festival you need to subscribe to my Cheltenham 2017 Email List. Over the four years since this site was launched my Cheltenham Tips have posted a profit of +274 Points, for a remarkable ROI of +61%.
With the winners for the last two years, Coneygree and Don Cossack, ruled out of this years race with injuries, and the news yesterday that ante post favourite and King George winner, Thistlecrack, has also succumbed to injury and will miss the rest of the season, this year’s Gold Cup has a decidedly average feel to it. Thistlecrack’s trainer Colin Tizzard still has the first two in the market with Welsh National winner Native River, and Betfair Chase winner Cue Card.
Native River was a decent novice chaser last year, but wasn’t deemed quick enough to run in the RSA Chase at the Festival, instead stepping up in trip for the four miler. He enjoyed the stamina test, putting up an improved effort to come second to Minella Rocco. He followed that up by making light of a drop to three miles and one furlong at Aintree, a positive, forceful ride bringing out the best in him.
This season after a prep run over hurdles, Native River went off a well backed favourite for the Hennessy off a mark of 155, and despite getting headed, and coming off the bridle after getting in close to the fifth last, he keep battling away, and after hitting the front again between the last two, he went about five lengths clear before idling close home. His performance had Grand National winner written all over it, and not many considered him a Gold Cup winner in waiting then. Indeed he was still available at 25/1 for the Gold Cup after winning the Hennessy, yet he now heads the market at 3/1, despite the fact he’s done nothing in the meantime to suggest he’s any better a horse, than what we saw that day at Newbury.
Some of that price drop is due to the likes of Thistlecrack and Don Cossack being ruled out, but most of it has come after his wins in the Welsh Grand National, when running off the same mark as the Hennessy over a longer trip which suits, and a worse quality field. He certainly didn’t need to improve to win as he did, and last time he won a three runner grade two, when his only credible rival flopped. He did show more speed in the straight, off what was a steady pace, than I would have expected given his previous runs, and it is possible that his off the bridle, but keeps galloping style, is at least as much to do with laziness, than him being slow. While he goes fine on both soft and decent ground, you would imagine soft ground would be a plus for him to make the Gold Cup more of a stamina test. That being said 3/1 still looks a terrible price on him.
Cue Card suffered a pelvic injury in early 2014, and when he made it back to the racecourse the following season he seemed a shadow of the horse he formerly was. He bounced right back to his best last season though with wins in the Betfair Chase and King George, before falling at the third last in the Gold Cup when still travelling well. Where he would have finished is hard to ascertain. I always thought the trip would be beyond his optimum, and having backed Don Cossack I was more concerned about the eventual second Djakadam at the time Cue Card departed, so I think he would only have been third, but he could easily have come second. I think it’s unlikely he’d have beaten the winner though.
Given this year’s race has no Don Cossack he clearly has every chance on his best form, the negative though, is that since sauntering home at Aintree a few weeks later, he has disappointed in three of his five runs since, and his two wins aren’t the most solid form wise. He easily beat Coneygree in the Betfair Chase, but that one was coming back off a long absence, and hasn’t been seen since, while last weekend in the Ascot Chase, while he eventually ran out a wide margin winner, he only beat a bunch of handicappers, and I thought he took awhile to get the better of Royal Regatta, before that one stopped to nothing in the straight.
It could be that the two mile five furlong trip, is on the short side these days, although again if it is, that would point to him slowing down, which backs up the theory he’s deteriorated, and he certainly has more chance of being fully effective over the Gold Cup trip these days, as he definitely settles much better than he used too. His two best runs this season have also come on soft ground, while he disappointed at Wetherby and at Kempton when Timeform called the ground good. It could be he is now being taken out of his comfort zone on faster ground over three miles, and the Gold Cup trip would be a plus in that respect. Cue Card at his best would have a great chance, but I’m not sure the now eleven year old is still capable of that form, and if he really does prefer soft ground these days, then for one he’s unlikely to get that at Cheltenham, and secondly even if he does, it means his stablemate Native River could turn the race into a real stamina test, and that’s unlikely to suit either, so all told 7/2 looks too short to me.
Djakadam has been second in the Gold Cup the past two years, with his second to Don Cossack last year representing a step up on the previous year’s effort. His run was all the more commendable given the fact he fell in his prep run at Cheltenham in January and required stitches to a cut afterwards. He had a hard race at Cheltenham last year, and it took the edge off him, so you could forgive him below pars runs at Aintree and Punchestown after that, and he returned this season with a victory in the John Durkan over two and a half miles, beaten Outlander by a length and a half.
It’s possible that drop in trip fizzed him up a bit though, as he was a bit keen for a long way in the Lexus just over two weeks later, and he also got caught behind a rival going backwards on the home bend, doing well in the circumstances to go down by just over two lengths to Outlander. Willie has had him spot on for Cheltenham the last two years, and having giving him a break since that run at Leopardstown he’s almost certain to get him there in top nick again. Only Cue Card has shown he can match the level Djakadam showed in last years Gold Cup, but I would think there is more chance of Djakadam repeating, or even bettering that level come March, and as such I think he is the most likely winner of the race.
Outlander was a decent novice chaser for Willie Mullins last year, without looking likely to develop into a leading Gold Cup contender, but he has improved since moving to Gordon Elliot this season, and his win in the Lexus showed he is just as good, if not better at three miles, than he is at shorter. Indeed the way he went away on the run in, having looked to have a battle on jumping the last, suggests he may even improve for more of a stamina test. That was a career best for him though, and while he beat Djakadam that day, we already know that one is capable of better, were as we don’t know if Outlander is.
Having spent most of last season, and his first start of this campaign, getting thrashed by Douvan over shorter, Sizing John got back on the winning trail when stepped up to two and a half miles at Thurles in the middle of January. The race was run at a crawl though, so although he won going away, it was a speed test, and he looked to have huge stamina doubts when stepped up to three miles in a substandard Irish Gold Cup last time.
The pace was again on the steady side though, and as a result he was cantering all over stayers like Don Poli on the run to the last, before taken his measure on the run in, to beat the closing Empire Of Dirt by 3/4L, with Don Poli a further 3/4L back in third. Given how well he travelled he didn’t exactly go clear on the run in, and I think Empire Of Dirt would have beaten him if he had been asked for his effort sooner, and jumped the last better. The run did prove he gets three miles when the pace isn’t strong, but the Gold Cup is over another two furlongs, with an uphill finish, and with Native River very likely to make it a test. That combined with the fact he would need to improve a good bit on this form to win, means I’m not interested in Sizing John at his current 9/1.
Don Poli is likely to run in the Gold Cup now, after his connections deemed his Grand National weight unacceptable. While he looks well established now as a decent chaser rather than a real top notcher, this could be a poor Gold Cup, and it could also play to his strengths, if as expected Native River gets them all racing a long way out. He stayed on into third, albeit 10L behind Djakadam in last years Gold Cup, and he seems to travel with a little more zest this season, since moving from Willie Mullins to Gordon Elliot. He’d need a real stamina test to win it, but that is possible, and it’s certainly possible that he could at least place again.
Empire Of Dirt has improved hugely since pulling up in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown over Christmas in 2015. He won his next three handicap starts, including an easy victory in the two mile five furlong handicap chase at last year’s festival. He took another step forward when winning the Troytown at Navan in November, before that second place to Sizing John last time. He too travelled well on the run to the final fence, but his jockey sat over a length down on the two leaders, and when he got in close to the last, losing both ground and momentum, it meant he did very well to get within 3/4l of the winner at the line, leaving the impression he was the best horse in the race. He too would need to prove himself over the extra trip of the Gold Cup, and his owner seems keen on running him in the Ryanair.
Champagne West seemed exposed for Philip Hobbs, his last run for him was when pulled up at 50/1 in last years Ryanair, but while he has improved for Henry De Bromhead this season, last time making all to win the Thyestes at Gowran Park off a mark of 154, I find it hard to believe he’s suddenly a Gold Cup horse. Giving weight away to inferior rivals in handicaps is much easier than beating rivals of your own ability, and it’s that flaw in the handicap system, that often leads to horses getting overrated for big weight carrying performances in handicaps. He will be meeting much better rivals in the Gold Cup and he will need to do much better than he has when meeting top rivals in the past.
Bristol De Mai is another who has shown much improved form in handicaps this season, but he flopped behind Native River last time, and has plenty to prove now. More Of That has been a disappointment since winning the World Hurdle back in 2014, suffering from wind problems in the interim. He was still in with a chance when falling at the last behind Sizing John last time, but I don’t think he’d have won, and the extra stamina test is unlikley to be in his favour at Cheltenham.
Minella Rocco fell early on in that Leopardstown race, and also came a cropper in his previous start, so he has to iron out those jumping issues for a start. His form is also a good way short of the likely required standard, but if it is a real test, he could be staying on when plenty of others have cried enough. The only other horses under 50/1 in the market are Vroom Vroom Mag who would be an unlikley runner, and unlikley to stay even if she ran, while Zabana would also have stamina doubts having faded late in the Lexus. He did win over three miles one at Punchestown though, although the pace wasn’t strong, and if there was a different excuse other than stamina for his weak finish in the Lexus he wouldn’t be the worst 40/1 shot in the world.
I think Djakadam should be favourite, and given he’s currently 11/2 third favourite with a run, I think that’s the stand out bet at this stage. Don Poli will likely need a real stamina test, and one or two others to underperform if he is to win, but another place in the race, is well within his capabilities, and at 16/1, with 1/4 the odds a place, he looks worth a small each way bet.
2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup – Ante Post Tips
3 PT Win Djakadam at 11/2 BOG with Bet 365
1 PT EW Don Poli at 16/1 BOG with Bet 365