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By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2011 Preview
18/03/11

For the first time since 1958 this season’s Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup features three previous winners of jump racing’s Blue Riband – last year’s hero Imperial Commander, Kauto Star, successful in 2007 and ’09, and Denman, the 2008 winner. With most bookmakers going 4-1 the field, this is one of the most open-looking renewals in modern times.

Imperial Commander
© racing-images.co.uk

Imperial Commander

Statistics & trends:

In 2009 Kauto Star became the first horse in history to regain the Gold Cup, and if he prevails again on Friday he will join en elite club of multiple Gold Cup winners: Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate. Moreover, if Paul Nicholls’ charge wins he will become the first horse aged over 10 to win this highly prestigious event since What A Myth landed the 1969 running as a 12-year-old.

His stable companion Denman will be bidding to emulate Kauto Star by regaining the Gold Cup. However, he is also an 11-year-old, while it’s worth noting that no horse in recent years has managed to win the race on the back of just one previous run in the season in which they lifted the prize – Denman’s sole previous appearance this term was in the Hennessy at Newbury in November.

That statistic is one which Imperial Commander will have to overcome, too. He was set to contest the King George at Kempton after winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, but suffered a setback, causing him to miss the race. Meanwhile, no six-year-old has tasted glory in the Gold Cup since Mill House in 1963, so young pretender Long Run will not appeal to sympathisers of statistics.

 

Horse by horse guide:

ALBERTAS RUN
Recorded his third Cheltenham Festival victory in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday, having also prevailed in that race last year, and succeeded in the 2008 RSA Chase. However, it’s unlikely that connections will allow him to take his chance just a day after his Ryanair Chase exertions.

CARRUTHERS
Genuine front-runner who came home a creditable fourth to Imperial Commander in this race last year, albeit beaten 30 lengths. Should give it a good shot from the front, but he hasn’t done enough this season to suggest he can play a leading role, particularly on ground this fast.

CHINA ROCK
Classy chaser in his own right, successful in a Grade 2 on his reappearance at Gowran Park before beating Wednesday’s Champion Chase hero Sizing Europe at Punchestown. However, he was beaten 16 lengths behind Kempes at Leopardstown and this trip is likely to stretch his stamina.

DENMAN
Produced a devastating display when eclipsing Kauto Star in this race in 2008, but, despite finishing runner-up in both subsequent renewals, he has had his fair share of training problems in the intervening years. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that the drying conditions will aid his cause.

IMPERIAL COMMANDER
Winner of five of his six starts over fences at this track, the pinnacle of which was his seven-length victory over Denman in this race last year. Not overly impressive in the Betfair Chase on return at Haydock in November, but goes well fresh and handles a sound surface, so plenty going for him.

KAUTO STAR
Brilliant and versatile chaser at his best, winner of no less than 14 Grade 1 races, including this contest in 2007 and 2009. Reportedly suffering from a low-grade infection when failing to land the King George for an historic fifth time in January, but he’s now 11, so are his best days behind him?

KEMPES
Landed three of his six starts as a novice last term, including a Grade 1 at Punchestown. Travelled and jumped well when victorious in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown last time, despite the testing conditions not being ideal. Quicker ground here in his favour and a bold bid is on the cards.

LONG RUN
Successful in three of his five starts since coming over from France, and looked pretty special when routing the opposition in the King George at Kempton in January. Beaten in both previous starts at Cheltenham, though, including in the RSA Chase last year, and best form has come on softer ground.

MIDNIGHT CHASE
Bold jumping front-runner who relishes the unique undulations of this track, winning four of his five races over fences at Cheltenham. This is by far his stiffest assignment to date, graduating from handicaps to Grade 1 company, but it would be churlish to underestimate such a progressive chaser.

NEPTUNE COLLONGES
One of four representing champion trainer Paul Nicholls, and bounced back to something akin to his very best when seeing off Tidal Bay and three other rivals in the Argento Chase at this track in January. Placed in this race in 2008, but softer ground probably ideal and, in any case, he looks vulnerable.

PANDORAMA
Successful in his four completed starts over fences, and was impressive when winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown when last seen out in December. Missed the Irish Hennessy due to a setback, but has gone well fresh in the past, so could make his presence felt if handling the drying conditions.

TIDAL BAY
High class over hurdles and fences, and solid efforts in both starts in this sphere during present campaign, finishing second to Imperial Commander at Haydock and Neptune Collonges at this track respectively. However, needs to produce a career-best by some way if he’s to come out on top here.

WEIRD AL
Came home in front in all three of his starts as a novice last season, but frustratingly forced to miss the 2010 RSA Chase after incurring an injury. Disappointed when only eighth in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, and has had a breathing operation since. Has a fair bit to prove now.

WHAT A FRIEND
Looked a chaser going places last season, a campaign during which he bagged two Grade 1 prizes, including the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. However, he didn’t look at all straightforward when turned over at odds-on in the Aon Chase at Newbury last month and is now tried in blinkers.

CONCLUSION:

Imperial Commander is, on the face of it, a worthy favourite. It would have been ideal had connections been able to get another run into him between his Betfair Chase victory and this race, but that concern is offset by the fact that he has an excellent record when fresh. In essence, he has fewer question marks lingering over him than most of these rivals. However, KEMPES still appears to be on an upward curve judged on his victory in the Irish Hennessy and, with the ground in his favour and Tony McCoy doing the steering, he earns the vote. Both Denman and Kauto Star look vulnerable now, while Long Run still has to prove that he stays this sort of trip on such a testing track.

Recommendation: KEMPES

 

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