The Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday represents the first major handicap of the jumps season.
The race has been won in recent years by the likes of Taquin Du Seuil (2016), Al Ferof (2012) and Imperial Commander (2008).
This year’s renewal has attracted a field of 14 and looks to be a typically-competitive contest over the 2m 4f trip of Cheltenham’s Old Course.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is the leading trainer with four wins and is represented this time around by Torn And Frayed, while last season’s Brown Advisory and Turners Novices’ Chase winners both feature in the shape of The Real Whacker (Patrick Neville) and Stage Star (Paul Nicholls).
Here Tom Chilman takes a look at all the runners….
1. THE REAL WHACKER
Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies, Trainer: Patrick Neville
Proved himself to be a top-class novice last term in winning all three starts over fences here, culminating in a heroic victory in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase from the fast-closing Gerri Colombe. The runner-up has since gone on to win Grade Ones at Aintree and Down Royal, so even if Patrick Neville’s charge was somewhat fortunate to come out on top in March, the form is there for all to see.
The seven-year-old’s jumping is bar far his best attribute, with all three chase victories coming in bold front-running fashion, and he may once again prove hard to peg back under Sam Twiston-Davies. However, this looks a particularly deep field to be giving upwards of 7lb away to, and bigger targets lay ahead.
2. STAGE STAR
Harry Cobden, Paul Nicholls
Looked a smart novice hurdler, highlighted by his win in the 2021 Challow Hurdle, but took his form to a new level over fences last season. Dominant early-season wins at Warwick and Plumpton were followed by an equally-impressive victory here in a Class Two novices’ handicap over course and distance, but the best was yet to come.
Up against the might of the Irish, the seven-year-old put in a determined display from the front to win the Turners Novices’ Chase by three-and-a-quarter lengths from the re-opposing Notlongtillmay, before a below-par fifth at Aintree ended his campaign. The choice of Harry Cobden here, Stage Star has a good record fresh, but the partnership may struggle to dictate matters this time around.
Gavin Sheehan, Richard Hobson
Progressed nicely in handicaps last season despite only managing to record the sole success at Chepstow in December. The eight-year-old ran well to finish second over 2m here prior to that victory over further, before filling the same spot twice more on the New Course behind the re-opposing Il Ridoto in January’s premier handicap and then Seddon in the Plate.
Another tame effort at Aintree (the fourth of his career) in the Grade One Marsh (Melling) Chase can easily be forgiven, and it is certainly worth noting that connections opt for first-time cheekpieces here. Given the likely strong pace on offer, it would not be at all surprising to see the Richard Hobson runner staying on late in the day.
4. AUTHORIZED ART
Danny Mullins, Willie Mullins
One of two Irish raiders and an interesting one at that, although their recent record in the race has been poor (0-18 since 2010). Willie Mullins’ useful novice ran a huge race to finish second in the Galway Plate (2m 6.5f) and then fourth in the Kerry National (3m) over the summer, with the eight-year-old now sitting on the same career-high mark he reached this time a year ago following a hat-trick of wins in novice company.
Danny Mullins was on board for two of those three wins, as well as at Galway in August, and could be another keen to make use of his mount’s stamina over this trip; however, this is undoubtedly tougher opposition, against which the eight-year-old has struggled in the past.
Adam Wedge, Laura Morgan
Progressive chaser who showed immediate improvement over fences for Laura Morgan last season. A winner first time up at Wetherby (1m 7f) off a mark of 120, the seven-year-old improved with every run to score twice more in novice handicaps at Musselburgh (both over 2m 4.5f) and set up a tilt at the Turners Novices’ Chase at the festival.
Sent off a rather unheralded 40/1, Notlongtillmay ran an excellent race to finish three-and-a-quarter-length second to Stage Star, with 3lb now separating the pair in favour of the runner-up following an encouraging return over 2m here last month. A return to this intermediate trip will certainly see the Malinas gelding to better effect, and he looks a serious player.
6. FINAL ORDERS
Danny Gilligan (5lb), Gavin Cromwell
Rapid improver last season following switch to Gavin Cromwell, the seven-year-old went from a mark of 95 over hurdles to a 150-rated chaser after six wins and two seconds in his first eight National Hunt starts for his new yard. A solid fifth in last season’s Grand Annual was followed by a fall in the Topham, but he bounced back to win his seasonal reappearance on the level at Bellewstown (1m 4f).
The Galway Plate proved too big an ask after a bad mistake early on, but he again responded well to record another success at Bellewstown, this time in a 2m 4.5f handicap hurdle. Chepstow last time out was likely just a sighter towards this, and a first-time tongue tie makes him difficult to rule out.
7. UNEXPECTED PARTY
Harry Skelton, Dan Skelton
Proved consistent without winning last season, running well behind some of the top British novice chasers. The eight-year-old kept McFabulous honest on his first start over fences at Exeter (2m 3f) before failing to land a blow behind Jonbon in the Henry VIII the following month.
A disappointing effort at Leicester (2m 4f) next may have come too soon, but his subsequent two efforts here behind Stage Star were far more encouraging, as was his third at Ayr (2m 4.5f) to finish the campaign. Returned for a Listed 2m 3.5f novice at Chepstow last month, Dan Skelton’s inmate saw off Knappers Hill (an impressive winner of the ‘Rising Stars’ at Wincanton last Saturday) off level weights, and he looks primed for another big run.
8. IL RIDOTO
Freddie Gingell (5lb), Paul Nicholls
Ran well in several top handicap chases last season, including a promising fourth in this first time up. The six-year-old filled the same spot back here on New Year’s Day before finally taking advantage of his lenient-looking mark on the New Course on Trials Day, staying on well to see off the re-opposing Fugitif by a length.
An 8lb rise proved too much in the Plate (sixth) come March, with similar comments applying to his run in the Topham where he was eventually pulled up before Valentine’s. That lacklustre effort can easily be forgiven now returning to Prestbury Park, while Freddie Gingell’s 5lb claim puts him on a mark just 1lb higher than when winning here in January, so he is respected.
Kevin Brogan, Laura Morgan
Another big improver last season for Laura Morgan, unbeaten in all four starts over fences and climbing 31lb in the handicap as a result. A 13-length win in a Class Four at Market Rasen (2m 5.5f) followed by an unchallenged score in a match race at Wetherby (2m 5.5f) proved little in terms of ability, but his Kempton (2m 2f) win next time out in a deep-looking Class Three novice handicap was certainly worthy of note.
Stepped up to Class Two company for his final run at Perth (2m 4f), the eight-year-old made light work of beating three relatively-exposed rivals, for which a final 6lb rise in the weights could look harsh. The trip is ideal, but this is a notable step up in class.
10. ANGELS BREATH
Jonathan Burke, Sam Thomas
Arguably the most intriguing runner in the field, the once 153-rated chaser only managed the two starts for Sam Thomas last season following a three-year absence. The first of those came in a Grade Two at Kempton, where the nine-year-old raced keenly on his return to action before being pulled up two from home.
Given plenty of time to recover, he was next seen finishing a well-beaten second in a Class Two handicap at Chepstow (2m), over a trip unlikely to see him at his best, before filling the same spot on his seasonal reappearance here in a 2m 4f handicap hurdle. That pipe-opener should have put him spot on for this, and he now sits on a very workable mark for his in-form yard.
11. BLACK GERRY
Jamie Moore, Gary Moore
Won on four separate occasions last season between 2m 1f-2m 3.5f, with the first two victories coming in lesser company at Fontwell (2m 1.5f) and Exeter (2m 3f). The eight-year-old went on to record a smooth success in a Class Two handicap chase at Ascot (2m 1f) in April before following up under a winners’ penalty in a similar event at Plumpton (2m 3.5f) eight days later.
Sandwiched between those four wins, however, were two disappointing efforts over further at Fontwell (2m 5.5f) and Kempton (3m), with Gary Moore’s charge pulled up a fair way from home on both occasions. A first run here over what will likely be a searching 2m 4f could prove a tough ask on his first start of the season.
12. EASY AS THAT
Charlie Deutsch, Venetia Williams
Lightly-raced eight-year-old representing a stable in top form at present (nine winners from last 16 runners). Finished second in a match race at Ffos Las (2m) on his first start over fences, losing little in defeat, before staying on strongly to land a Class Three handicap at Haydock (2m 5.5f) last December.
A step up in class at Newcastle (2m 4f) produced an even better performance, comfortably seeing off six rivals by the best part of 10 lengths, but a two-week turnaround proved too much to handle on his final start of the season at Sandown (2m 4f), where he looked badly outpaced a fair way out. If fit and ready to go on his return to action, he could have a part to play.
13. TORN AND FRAYED
Tom Bellamy, Nigel Twiston-Davies
Returns after a 658-day absence, with his last run being his first success in five attempts over fences. That win came in a 2m 4.5f Grade Three handicap on the New Course here, making the most of a mark of 131 to win by six lengths.
The now nine-year-old’s chase form was fairly good prior to that victory too, notably chasing home My Drogo over the same course and distance and Favoir at Ascot (2m 3f), but he struggled when upped to 2m 6f on heavy ground at Haydock. The stable has a good recent record in this, but he will need to be spot on to have any chance following his lengthy spell on the sidelines.
14. HARPER’S BROOK
Kielan Woods, Ben Pauling
Made a solid start to his chasing career by winning a heavy-ground novice handicap at Bangor-on-Dee (2m 4.5f) after a solid second in a similar event at Carlisle (2m 4f – good to soft). The seven-year-old was then pitched into the deep end in the Dipper here on New Year’s Day, where he failed to land a blow behind the re-opposing The Real Whacker.
A return in March for the Ultima was certainly more encouraging, though he still finished pulled up having led three out, but his last run at Sandown (2m 4f) in April saw Ben Pauling’s runner stop to a near walk after the last with the race at his mercy. With question marks remaining over his attitude, he is overlooked here.
This looks to be an above-average renewal of an early-season favourite, and plausible cases can be made for the majority of the 14-runner field. It usually pays to be handy in staying handicaps around Prestbury Park but again that hardly narrows down this line-up, with several of these likely to want to either make or be up on the pace.
Those with the best chance of executing such tactics are The Real Whacker and Stage Star, having both done so to great effect when landing the Brown Advisory and the Turners Novices’ Chase, respectively, here in March. The former drops in trip and must concede 7lb to his fellow Festival winner, while connections of both will potentially have their eyes on bigger targets down the line.
Easy As That and Whistleinthedark are others likely to be handy early but all four aforementioned runners arrive here without a recent run (with the last seven winners all having had a prep), which could make them vulnerable late on. Irish raiders Authorized Art and Final Orders have run well over the summer, but this looks a tougher assignment than they have faced in recent months, so the three to focus on could prove to be Notlongtillmay, UNEXPECTED PARTY and Angels Breath.
The latter sits on a potentially dangerous mark for his in-form trainer and will be a danger to all if back to anything near his 2019 best, while Notlongtillmay looks to be the stronger of Laura Morgan’s two runners based on his second in the Turners and encouraging fourth here last month.
However, given the timely form boost provided by Knappers Hill last Saturday, the Dan Skelton-trained Unexpected Party looks to be improving at just the right time following a Listed success at Chepstow, while his accurate jumping on suitable ground should put him in a good position to strike in the home straight.
Of the remainder, Fugitif is another likely to be playing his cards late on a track he clearly enjoys, with first-time cheekpieces deployed to offset his career-high mark, while 5lb-claimer Freddie Gingell will look to make the most of his advantage