Virgin Bet December Gold Cup
 
Handicap Chase, Cheltenham 13:50
Grade 3,  £130,000 guaranteed,
4yo plus,
2m 4f 127y, Class 1  
Saturday 16th December 2023

1 Fugitif 13/2
2 Il Ridoto 17/2
3 Frero Banbou 9/1
12 ran Distances: shd, 9½l, nk
Time: 5m 11.19s (slow by 3.19s)

In a riveting edition of the Virgin Bet December Gold Cup at Cheltenham, Fugitif staged a late comeback to secure a dramatic victory.

It appeared to be a two-horse affair for much of the race. Il Ridoto, ridden by Bryony Frost, and Frero Banbou, guided by Charlie Deutsch, engaged in an intense battle at the front, distancing themselves from the rest of the field.

Around the fourth-last fence, it became evident that those trailing were struggling to match the blistering pace set by the frontrunners. The 3-1 favorite, Thunder Rock, was among the early casualties, eventually being pulled up. As Il Ridoto and Frero Banbou continued their duel rounding the home turn, Fugitif, under Gavin Sheehan, had six horses ahead and seemed faced with a formidable task.

Despite overcoming the persistent challenge from Il Ridoto, it appeared that the latter was poised to win between the final two obstacles. However, displaying the same composed mastery seen two weeks prior at Newbury's Coral Gold Cup aboard Datsalrightgino, Sheehan orchestrated a late surge from Fugitif. In the very last stride, the pair edged ahead to claim victory by a narrow margin of a short head at odds of 13-2.

Hobson said: “He was quite far back, but we had a top jockey on and we got there in the end. The plan wasn’t to be that far back, but he has ridden a lovely race on him. The ground was really dead and tiring and he has timed it to perfection. 

“They keep climbing the handicap when they finish second, so to come here and carry a big weight like he has done today, it is just a fabulous performance by the horse.”

On saddling his first ever winner at Cheltenham, the trainer added: “It is incredible. I’ve had 11 seconds and you think is it ever going to happen, albeit we have been running at the top end.

“We haven’t been coming here with a well-handicapped horse, we have been trying to punch above our weight and it has just taken its time, but we have got there in the end.

“I hoped this horse would get his day in the sun. There is a conditions race at Lingfield, the Fleur De Lys, so we might go for that. It is on January 21, which is my birthday, and we might go there.”

December Gold Cup
 £130,000 guaranteed, 4yo plus, 2m 4f 127y, Class 1
12 ran
Going: Soft

POS. DIST HORSE AGE WGT TRAINER JOCKE`Y SP
1    Fugitif 8 11-3 Richard Hobson Gavin Sheehan 13/2
2
shd Il Ridoto 6 10-9 Paul Nicholls Bryony Frost 17/2
3
Frero Banbou 8 10-2 Venetia Williams Charlie Deutsch 9/1
4
nk Grandeur D'Ame 7 10-2 Alan King Tom Bellamy 22/1
5  Fakir D'Oudairies 8 12-0 Joseph O'Brien Jonjo O'Neill Jr 11/1
6
  Torn And Frayed 9 10-2 Nigel Twiston-Davies Sam Twiston-Davies 28/1
7
  Monmiral 6 10-11 Paul Nicholls Harry Cobden 4/1
8
Jay Jay Reilly 7 10-5 Dan Skelton Harry Skelton 33/1
9
6 Do Your Job 9 10-2 Lucinda Russell Derek Fox 22/1
FELL Railway Hurricane 8 10-2 Gavin Cromwell Conor Stone-Walsh 33/1
FELL So Scottish 6 10-7 Emmet Mullins Mark Walsh 5/1
PU Thunder Rock 7 10-12 Olly Murphy Sean Bowen 3/1F