The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup will be the first one since the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy. The greatest jockey ever may well be at the track to see Don Cossack confirm his status as the highest rated chaser in training. The Blue Riband of the discipline could be of the best quality for years and connections of Cue Card will be chasing the £1 million bonus for winning the three classic chases in one season.
McCoy would probably swap ten knighthoods for another ride in the Gold Cup but he will be have to be content with a trip to Buckingham Palace rather than a mount in the most prestigious chase of the season. AP won two Gold Cups which contributed to his tally of 4,348 wins over jumps. The winner of the Gold Cup is not always the best horse and certainly Mr Mulligan in 1997 and Synchronised in 2012, McCoy’s two winners, beat much classier opposition.
Synchronised was a thorough stayer who was galvanised by McCoy to win the Gold Cup. Don Cossack just keeps producing when others have had enough and it would be fitting if an Irish trained horse won this season’s race in the year that Ireland’s favourite son became a Sir. Gordon Elliott is unlikely to be honoured by the Queen for services to racing but he is preventing a Willie Mullins monopoly which is a fine achievement. Tony McCoy is a perfect role model not only in racing but in focusing on a profession and making the most of his ability and the honour is deserved.
Elliott trains Don Cossack for Gigginstown and the O’Leary brothers who are behind Ryanair Airlines and are National Hunt racing royalty in Ireland. They are spoilt for choice in the staying chaser’s division and in Don Poli they have a horse that could win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National. Djakadam is the favourite for the Gold Cup and he is owned by the Riccis who are one of Mullins key owners. The dominant Irish trainer has never won the Gold Cup but now has a leading contender.
The second most important steeplechase of the season is the King George VI at Kempton on Boxing Day. It usually brings together the best chasers in Britain and Ireland and is a key trial for Cheltenham. However, the track is right handed and flat so in theory a horse suited to conditions in the King George is not an ideal fit for Cheltenham. Silviniaco Conti has won the mid-season classic twice but underperformed in three Gold Cups and now looks unlikely to win one.
Since the start of the millennium four horses have won both major races, including Kauto Star who won five Boxing Day highlights and two Cheltenham Gold Cups. Best Mate, Kicking King and Long Run are the other dual champions but Cue Card may struggle to join that select group and win the bonus. He has won two different races at the Cheltenham Festival but the extra distance and the uphill finish may spoil his chances of picking up £1 million in enhanced prize money.
The King George was a brilliant race in that it produced a pulsating finish and the Gold Cup dream is still alive for three of the key players from Boxing Day. Cue Card won the race at the fourth time of asking but will be ten years old on Gold Cup day. No horse of that age has won the race since Cool Dawn in 1998 and that renewal lacked star performers. Cue Card will go to post barring injuries but completing the treble looks beyond him. The novices from last season look an exceptional crop and too talented to be beaten by Cue Card.
Some judges felt Vautour put up the best performance ever by a novice chaser at the festival last season. His run in the King George was eye-catching and the horse looked all over the winner entering the straight and with three obstacles to navigate. Vautour did everything but win the King George and observations that he is a non-stayer because he was ultimately caught by Cue Card look wide of the mark. In a strongly run race he was only collared late on and ran right up to the line.
Vautour is owned and trained by connections of Djakadam who in theory has produced the best piece of form of all the leading Gold Cup contenders. He was only one and a half lengths behind Coneygree in the race last season and is a worthy favourite. There is a good chance the two Rich Ricci horses will be kept apart at Cheltenham in March with Vautour targeted at the Ryanair Chase, sponsored by the Giggingstown syndicate who own Don Cossack and Don Poli.
Don Cossack fell two out in the King George when appearing to be going as well as Cue Card. For most of the race he ran the perfect trial for Cheltenham but horses usually fall because they are tired and have used their reserves of stamina. However, he was overhauling Cue Card approaching the second last fence and was right in the mix despite the race not panning out in his favour. Don Cossack would not be a surprise winner of this season’s Gold Cup. He is a dour galloper who should relish the finish at Cheltenham.
Don Poli could prove to be a better option than Djakadam for Mullins in the Gold Cup. The horse has all the attributes to be the first ever to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season. Don Poli is not flashy and does just enough so could have something to spare with stamina as other horses have had enough. The waters are muddied because he is also owned by Giggingstown who may target Don Cossack at the Gold Cup and save Don Poli for Aintree. The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup is becoming a soap opera involving some big shots in Irish racing and Don Cossack can be the star of the show.
Have a Super Sunday and enjoy today’s sport!