Road to Cheltenham: Gold Cup conundrum takes centre stage
It’s at times like this when Road to Cheltenham look-aheads, or re-caps, whichever way you wish to look at it, come into their own.
The packed Christmas programme always throws up plenty of pointers and this year’s schedule hasn’t disappointed.
Thistlecrack, Altior, Min, Douvan, Yanworth, Native River, the list of festive heroes goes on and will only be extended further as we head into the New Year.
Indeed, at the time of writing we haven’t yet seen the outcome of this year’s Lexus Chase.
However, we’ve decided that this is a worthy time for reflection and we’ll catch our breath again in early January.
Here are just a few of the big RTC talking points…
Colin Tizzard’s Gold Cup conundrum
There’s no doubt that Colin Tizzard’s Christmas cup has well and truly runneth over.
On Boxing Day, Thistlecrack demolished the rest of the field, including stablemate Cue Card, to land the King George VI Chase.
And then gutsy hero Native River went on to score in the Welsh National just a day later.
But where do we go from here?
As reported in the immediate aftermath, Thistlecrack is now odds-on at 4/5 to land the Cheltennham Gold Cup next spring while Native River is 12/1 for National Hunt racing’s biggest prize.
Whether the owners of the latter decide to go down the Gold Cup route remains to be seen, but it’s a nice problem for the Dorset handler to have.
Much like he did with the belated decision to run Native River at Chepstow, Tizzard will offer his own counsel while being prepared to wait patiently for his client’s final say.
Besides, the bigger question arguably surrounds Cue Card’s festival destination. The ten-year-old is 10/1 for the Gold Cup but 4/1 joint-favourite for the Ryanair.
Few could begrudge connections opting to go down the latter route in order to avoid another encounter with his almost untouchable rival.
Lump on Altior for the Arkle?
Nicky Henderson has made no secret of his hopes for Altior and the precocious six-year-old is certainly repaying his saddler’s faith in him.
We all knew the son of High Chaparral had the scope to be a star over fences and his latest win in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton only further highlighted the immense potential.
Altior was sent off a 1/9 shot for good reason and the facile nature of his 18-length success was entirely expected.
It was the perfect riposte to the triumph of Min a day earlier and it’s no surprise both are duking it out at the top of the Racing Post Arkle market.
Altior is now just 6/4 to take the 2m contest, in from 7/4. Min is next best at 3/1 and from what we’ve seen so far we reckon it’s time to lump on the former confirming last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle form.
Willie is back in the groove
Write Willie Mullins off at your peril. Christmas has been kind to the Closutton handler but perhaps we should have expected nothing less.
The venerable trainer enjoyed a five-timer on the second day of the festive meeting at Leopardstown with French import Meri Devie doing the business in the opener. She’s now 12/1 for the Triumph Hurdle.
Bacardys then justified favouritism before Douvan, Saturnas and Ballyward all went on to score.
In the case of Douvan, Mullins has issued his strongest hint yet that his superstar will be kept at the minimum trip.
And following another bloodless victory, that spells more despair for any potential Queen Mother Champion Chase rivals with Douvan a worthy 1/2 favourite in that market.
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