Mister Whitaker beat Rather Be in a handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. However, the weights for the BetVictor Gold Cup at the track on Saturday give Rather Be a great chance to reverse the form and the horse has been backed into favouritism. Trainer Nicky Henderson had entered four horses but the current market leader is now his only runner and that could be a tip in itself. The biggest racing occasion at the track other then the festival attracts a big crowd and many of those attending will be backing Rather Be so a win would bring the house down.
The Cheltenham card on Friday features a cross country handicap chase for which Tiger Roll is the favourite. The horse has won at three festivals, including the 2018 cross country race, and then won the Grand National. Tiger Roll is still only eight and has a few goes left at being a dual festival cross country race and Grand National winner. Tiger Roll can begin the season with a win on Friday.
The BetVictor Gold Cup is a handicap chase over two miles and four and a half furlongs for which horses aged four and older are eligible. There are 15 fences in the race and the track is left-handed and undulating. There is an uphill run from the last fence of 237 yards and the complexion of races can change after the jumping. Its an intermediate race distance which means speed and stamina can play a part. The going is projected to be good to soft but a dry few days could take soft out of the description. The extremes of firm and heavy are not anticipated.
The race has had several sponsors but those of a certain age might still call it the Mackeson. The chase is one of few races still known by the name of the original sponsors to some professionals. The Hennessy and Whitbread are still highlights of the jumps season for some stalwarts which no doubt annoys their current bookmaker sponsors. Snobs who don’t like the idea of bookmakers sponsoring races must accept that the UK betting brands put money into the sport through race sponsorship. However, its no coincidence that several major handicaps are backed by bookies.
Five horses have won the November jumps highlight two times, the most recent being Cyfor Malta in 1998 and 2002 which is the biggest range between wins. The horse was trained by Martin Pipe who is the leading trainer with eight wins. Tony McCoy rode four of those horses and he is the leading jockey with four wins. Since 2000 seven winners have carried more than 11 stone. Horses aged nine have won the last two renewals and the average price of the winner over the last 10 years is 11/1. Tranquil Sea in 2009 was the last winning favourite and Ginge Of Splash at 25/1 was the biggest priced winner over the last 15 years.
The key form race for Saturday’s contest is the Close Brother’s Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in March. Mister Whitaker beat Rather Be by a head with a weight advantage of six pounds. The weights for the BetVictor race have shifted by nine pounds in favour of Rather Be so on the handicap the Henderson horse is the one to beat. Weight allocation is not an exact science and Mister Whitaker is a progressive horse but beating Rather Be under the race conditions will be a tough ask. Rather Be will also have suitable ground so the horse ticks many boxes and is the tip.