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The UK’s premier race for staying chasers isn’t kind to racing’s outsiders. The event is dominated by the bigger stables, and rewards only the highest quality racehorses. It’s no surprise, then, that a strong antepost favourite tends to emerge for the Gold Cup – or that the favourites have a respectable record in the race.
What is unusual in the Gold Cup is to have more than two obvious candidates for the title – which is precisely what we have in 2014. This year’s renewal will feature four credible contenders, each with a legitimate claim to being race favourite.
We can therefore expect a heart-pounding race, but not one that will reward the reflexive backing of the antepost favourite that would have rewarded the casual punter over the last half-decade. With several of the top entries looking of similar quality, the race context comes into focus as we sift through them to find a horse whose form and staying-power both suggest that it will produce the goods on Gold Cup Day.
As already mentioned, favourites have a decent record in the Gold Cup. In the last five years the antepost favourite has won the Gold Cup on three occasions, and placed once. Looking back over every race since 2000, we find that the favourite has won half of the Gold Cup renewals and placed twice.
On the seven occasions since 2000 that the antepost favourite failed to win the Gold Cup, the winner was priced 8/1 or lower, allowing us to filter out horses over this price when looking for a winner. However, we also find that eleven horses priced 20/1 or higher have placed in the Gold Cup since 2000.
Four of the last five winners won their race prior to the Cheltenham Festival. Only the temperamental Imperial Commander failed to score before winning the Gold Cup, but even he announced his intent by winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup handicap chase at Cheltenham at the start of his Gold Cup winning season.
An interesting feature of Gold Cup winners is the fact that the most recent batch has tended to comprise genuine all-rounders. Four of the last five winners won races between 16 and 27 furlongs in length, while all of them had the ability to win on a wide range of ground conditions.
The last potentially meaningful trends we could detect were in the age and stables departments.
The Gold Cup is not a race for inexperienced horses, but neither does it favour vintage champions. Since 1994 only two winners have been outside the 7 to 9-year-old age bracket, and we’ve repeatedly seen even top-class former champions fail to defend or win back their titles once they moved outside this bracket.
The dominance of the big stables is the last thing to take into account. The big players have access to better quality horses, so this is not a major surprise. However, the odds are stacked unusually high against the smaller stables in the Gold Cup, with only seven different stables winning the Gold Cup since 2000.
With this information in hand let us try solve the puzzle of which horse will deliver at the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup. We know that we’re looking for a versatile, in-form racehorse, priced 8/1 or lower in the Gold Cup antepost market and aged between 7 and 9.
Four horses fit in the relevant price margin, with Bob’s Worth trading as antepost favourite, followed by Silviniaco Conti and Last Installment. All three horses are in the right age bracket too, and all won last time out.
Bob’s Worth looks like he’ll attract solid backing ahead of his defence of the Gold Cup. According to our criteria he’s a deserved favourite. He fits in the right age bracket and has demonstrated the versatility characteristic of a Gold Cup winner. His last race was the Grade 1 Lexus Chase, arguably Ireland’s toughest test of Gold Cup potential, which he won on soft ground. Bob’s Worth also hold the distinction of having won three different races at the Cheltenham Festival – demonstrating a real liking for the course and occasion.
Having said that, he’s not a flawless horse, as we saw in the 2013 Betfair Chase when he was beaten by 40 lengths after starting out as favourite. While he bounced back in the Lexus Chase, his capitulation at Haydock in a race where conditions suited him will have cost him some backing. His uneven temperament casts further doubt over his Gold Cup prospects. Given that only the very finest racehorses win the Gold Cup more than once, there’s reason to suspect that he may not be up to defending his title.
However, we can level many of the same doubts at Bob’s Worth’s main market rival – Silviniaco Conti. Paul Nicholls’ French-born gelding was the winner in the King George VI Chase back in December. While we can’t dismiss in a win in such an important Gold Cup test – given the similarity in the field – we also can’t ignore that the race is 3 furlongs shorter than the Gold Cup.
In Silviniaco Conti’s case those 3 extra furlongs matter. He’s never won over a distance greater than 25 furlongs, and he’s failed to win over that distance since 2013. He also fell when asked to travel 27 furlongs in the Gold Cup in 2012. Overall his record suggests that 4 fewer fences and 3 fewer furlongs in the King George may have flattered his Gold Cup prospects, and that a win is too big an ask for the 2nd favourite.
Enter Last Installment, an entry who has been quietly going about his business across the Irish Sea. In 2011 and 2012 he was one of the star performers in longer distance Grade 1 novice chases in Ireland, winning the Fort Leney Novice Chase and the PJ Moriarty Novice Chase. He returned from a long break in 2014 and after a modest start, picked up where he left off with an impressive 8½ length win in the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup.
On the plus side he’s an out and out stayer whose shown himself capable of producing an extra turn of speed when on firmer ground. On the minus side the Gold Cup will be his first away fixture, and his rating suggests he’s not got the class to challenge for the title. All factors considered he’s decent enough value on each-way bets at 8/1, as he could conceivably surprise but is more likely to place.
We were originally backing Cue Card to win the Gold Cup, but with Colin Tizzard’s entry out injured, we’re forced to look elsewhere. While Bob’s Worth is a quality horse we have our doubts about his prospects in this race, and feel similarly about Siviniaco Conti. Enter the dark horse that is Last Installment, who has never competed against the favourites, never run outside of Ireland, and never travelled over a distance greater than 3 miles. However, he did win his last race over 24 furlongs by 8 lengths, which suggests he won’t find staying the Gold Cup distance a challenge. We feel an upset brewing in the 2014 Gold Cup, and with this in mind we’re putting out money on an each-way bet on Last Installment.
|14 March 2014 - Cheltenham 15:20-|
|Click red odds to strike a bet|
|The Giant Bolster||14||14||12||14||14||14|
|On His Own||16||16||16||16||16||16|
|Houblon Des Obeaux||100||80||50||50||66||80|