The Cheltenham Gold Cup picture is about as murky as the pints they serve in the Guinness tent on the day of the race.
It should all become a lot clearer once races such as the Hennessy Gold Cup, Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase have been run, but any ante post look at this stage is a real stab in the dark and our best hope of identifying the winner is to look at the recent trends.
- Aged between six and nine – 10 winners in the last 10 runnings.
- Grade 1 Chase winner – 10/10.
- Ran between five and 11 times over fences – 9/10.
- Won or placed previously at the festival – 8/10.
- Won over at least 3m – 8/10.
- Made their seasonal reappearance no later than that season's Hennessy – 10/10.
- Ran in the Lexus Chase or King George – 9/10 (the exception was Bobs Worth).
- Available ante-post at 12/1 or bigger – 7/10 (no winner was favourite at this stage of the season).
- Back-to-back wins are pretty rare with three-time-victor (2002-04) Best Mate the last horse to achieve that feat, and before him it was L'Escargot (1970-71).
- Kauto Star is the only horse to have regained his crown (2007 & 2009).
- 'Previous' at the festival is worth its weight in gold (no pun intended) and it matters which race they ran in. Five winners had previously won or made the frame in the championship novice hurdles, those being Bobs Worth, Denman, War Of Attrition, Kicking King and Best Mate. Two winners had contested the Arkle (finishing 27), while four had contested the RSA (1311).
- The last winner not to have run at the previous festival was Imperial Call in 1996.
By applying the above we can narrow down the field somewhat and the first 'casualty' is the current favourite Bobs Worth, who probably doesn't jump well enough to regain his crown and will be ten come March. The current champion Lord Windermere may lack the class to follow up, while Silviniaco Conti and The Giant Bolster have fallen short more than once. Boston Bob, who is as short as 14/1 in some lists, and First Lieutenant will be too old. Road To Riches, the winner of a Grade 1 at Down Royal this season, has yet to run at the festival. Both Cue Card and Sir Des Champs went AWOL after Christmas due to injury but score well elsewhere.
Now for the positives and HOLYWELL would have the perfect profile were he to take in either the King George or Lexus en route. I see he's been nudged out to 14/1 following a defeat on his seasonal reappearance but that's been no barrier to Gold Cup success in recent seasons, with the last five winners, including the same stable's Synchronised, failing to score on their comebacks. Besides, Holywell saves his best for the Cheltenham festival, where he's won for the last two years. I also like his stablemate and last season's Irish National winner SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR, who impressed on his recent return at Carlisle and ticks plenty of the above trends. In an open year, it would be no surprise a young horse like him come up through the ranks to take gold.