The Paddy Power Gold Cup is one of the most hotly contested early season races and today’s renewal is no different with three of last year’s promising novice chasers dominating the betting.
Al Ferof, Grands Crus and Hunt Ball are the leading trio. David Pipe trained Grands Crus heads the betting at 5/2 but will have to defy some of the odds if he is to give his trainer back to back winners of the race.
Only three horses in the last ten runnings have carried more than 11 stone to victory but two of those were trained in Nicholashayne by Pipe senior. Martin Pipe is also the trainer responsible for the only horse older than eight to win this race in the last ten years and that was the nine year old Cyfor Malta back in 2002.
Six of the last ten renewals have been won by seven year olds and Our Vic was the only one of them to carry more than 11 stone. The three main market rivals are seven year olds but all of them have are high up the handicap. Al Ferof must shoulder 11-8 if he is to win, while Hunt Ball and Grands Crus have two pounds less.
Grands Crus was touted as a future Gold Cup winner after his three wins over fences early last season but disappointed when he could only manage fourth behind Bob’s Worth in the RSA at the Festival in March.
There were excuses and he hasn’t run since then but if back to his best he is entitled to go off favourite.
Al Ferof couldn’t live with the exhilarating Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle but there is nothing with his speed to contend with here. However he disappointed when stepped up to this trip at Aintree. He was sent off favourite for the Manifesto Novices’ Chase but was a long way behind Menorah.
Hunt Ball and his ebullient owner Anthony Knott were one of the stories of last season. He improved from winning a class five novice handicap chase off 10 stone in Plumpton last November to carrying the welter weight of 12 stone to victory in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices Handicap Chase at the Festival in March.
He just ran out of steam when stepped up in class for the Grade One Betfair Bowl but still ran an excellent race to be third. Connections have a tilt at the big one in mind for him and if he continues that rate of improvement this season then the sky could be the limit.
Alan King’s Walkon fits the profile of a likely winner of this race. He is the right age and isn’t burdened by a heavy weight, with Choc Thornton allotted 10-6. A concern is his lack of winning experience. He has just one win from five chase starts and that came on his fencing bow in Exeter in early December last year.
Walkon will be making his seasonal reappearance but he goes well fresh. A Grade One winner at Aintree as a four year old he hasn’t been his juvenile self since returning after a long break in January last year but if he retains his talent and enthusiasm. He could trouble the main players but is a little short at 7-1.
Nadiya de la Vega is the choice of the champion jockey. She has a 50% strike rate over fences and won first time out over course and distance last month. She is only six and has just 10-8 to carry this afternoon.
However Nicky Henderson’s mare can be a little temperamental and prone to If she is in a good mood and willing to oblige McCoy she could go close at around 14-1.
Grands Crus is potentially the best horse in the race and can be forgiven his Cheltenham disappointment. Hunt Ball, Walkon and Nadiya de la Vega might be best of the rest.