This year’s £160,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup (2.30pm) should be a cracker with a maximum field of 20 runners set to line up in the extended two and a half-mile handicap chase, highlight of The Open on Saturday, November 16.
The weights are headed by three-time Grade One winner Finian’s Rainbow (11st 12lb, 11/1 with Boylesports, Barry Geraghty rides), who captured the Queen Mother Champion Chase at The Festival in 2012.
His trainer Nicky Henderson is also represented by another Festival winner, Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase victor Rajdhani Express (11st 4lb & 10/1, Mr Sam Waley-Cohen), and last year’s third Nadiya de La Vega (10st 3lb & 11/1, Andrew Tinkler).
Course winner Johns Spirit (10st 2lb, Richie McLernon), from the stable of Jonjo O’Neill, is Paddy Power’s 6/1 favourite having made an impressive seasonal return when successful in the Equus-Fine Dining At The Festival Handicap Chase at The Showcase on October 19.
The heavily-backed Martin Keighley-trained Champion Court (11st 6lb & 13/2, Ian Popham) was also victorious at Cheltenham on his latest start, gamely taking the Grade Two Macmillan Cancer Support Silver Trophy Chase at The April Meeting.
David Pipe, who saddled Great Endeavour to glory in 2011, relies on Byrne Group Plate eighth Ballynagour (10st 6lb & 7/1, Tom Scudamore), while Philip Hobbs goes withColour Squadron (10st 2lb & 12/1, Tom O’Brien) and Wishfull Thinking (11st 7lb & 25/1, Richard Johnson), who won the Shloer Chase at The Open last year.
18-time champion Jump jockey A P McCoy, who recently enjoyed his 4,000th winner which will be marked at The Open by a Celebration Wall which racegoers can sign, rides the Lucinda Russell-trained Tap Night (10st 12lb & 14/1) for his retained owner J P McManus.
Attaglance (10st & 33/1, Brian Hughes) won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at The Festival in 2012 for trainer Malcolm Jefferson before following up in another valuable handicap hurdle at Aintree the following month.
The seven-year-old failed to shine over fences on ground softer than ideal last term, but returned to action with a good second in a Perth novices’ chase at Perth onSeptember 26. He is bidding to emulate Senor El Betrutti (1997) and The Outback Way (1999), who both won the Paddy Power Gold Cup from out of the handicap.
Jefferson commented: “Attaglance heads to Cheltenham in good order. We had the option of running him in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase at the course on Friday, but he would have been running against higher-rated horses off level weights.
“I know that we are a little bit out of the handicap (6lb) in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but he will be getting weight all round. He likes Cheltenham and he would be well-handicapped based on his hurdle form.
“His run at Perth was an improvement compared to last season, when it was too wet for him, but the ground was still a bit sticky. The going at Cheltenham should be fine and we are hoping for a good run.”
Other notable contenders include recent Grade Two Old Roan Chase scorer Conquisto(11st 3lb & 16/1), Grade One runner-up Tap Night (10st 12lb & 14/1) and the Irish-trained pair of Hidden Cyclone (11st 1lb & 14/1) and Gift Of Dgab (10st 1lb & 20/1).
Paddy Power Gold Cup – Paddy Power prices:
6/1 Johns Spirit, 13/2 Champion Court, 7/1 Ballynagour, 10/1 Rajdhani Express, 11/1 Finian’s Rainbow, Nadiya De La Vega, 12/1 Colour Squadron, 14/1 Hidden Cyclone, Tap Night, 16/1 Conquisto, Battle Group, 20/1 Vino Griego, Gift Of Dgab, Astracad, 25/1 Carrickboy, Wishfull Thinking, Easter Meteor, Woolcombe Folly, 33/1 Attaglance, Kumbeshwar
Each way 1/4 odds, 1-2-3-4
The Open gets underway tomorrow (Friday, November 15) with Countryside Day, and a six-race card includes the £45,000 Paddy Power Handicap Chase (1.35pm). A field of 17 has been declared for the two-mile contest, including recent Aintree handicap chase scorer Eastlake and Cheltenham Festival winner Oh Crick.
Balthazar King will be aiming to continue his fine Cheltenham record in the £25,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (3.15pm), run over three miles and seven furlongs of the cross country course. The Philip Hobbs-trained was successful in this race 12 months ago and completed a hat-trick of wins in the Showcase Trophy at the course in October.
The 11 runners for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase include Chicago Grey, who won the National Hunt Chase at the 2012 Festival and Diamond Harry, victorious in the 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. Cross-country specialist Enda Bolger sends a pair of runners from Ireland in Quiscover Fontaine and Zest For Life.
Oscar Whisky, a dual Grade One winner over hurdles, makes his chase debut in the £20,000 Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase (2.05pm) over an extended two and a half miles. Nicky Henderson’s charge faces three rivals including high-class hurdlerTaquin du Seuil, who made a winning start over fences at Ffos Las.
The £20,000 David Johnson Memorial Intermediate Handicap Hurdle (2.40pm) has attracted a field of 20 including Whisper, who scored at Cheltenham’s April Meeting, recent Kempton Park winner God’s Own and the unexposed Top Gamble.
The racing starts with the £20,000 Opus Energy Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase (1.05pm), which has 10 runners, while the closing £12,000 Countryside Raceday Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (3.50pm) also promises to be a highly-competitive affair with a maximum field of 20.