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2019 Gold Cup tips - Star rating guide for Cheltenham Festival’s showpiece

Jonathan Vine in Tips 13 Mar 2019

Our expert has put together this star rating guide for the Champion Chase, looking at each of the top contenders in detail before rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

Day four of the Cheltenham Festival is headlined by the Gold Cup, the most sought-after prize in all of National Hunt Racing. Any horse strong enough to outstay a top quality field over three-and-a-quarter-miles will hand their trainers the famous trophy, their connections a mammoth prize pot and etch their own names into the annals of sporting history.

This season’s renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup promises to be a battle for the ages and our expert has published this star rating guide – looking at each of the challengers and rating their chances out of five stars.

*Note – Chances of winning and value for money at current odds are combined to decide star rating*

2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup Star Rating Guide

Al Boum Photo



Al Boum Photo is a very difficult horse to suss out. Enigmatic at the best of times, Willie Mullins charge is capable of winning any race on his day, or falling at the first after struggling to settle in the race. As a novice, Al Boum Photo failed to finish half of his appearances. When he did manage to complete the course, Mullins’ seven-year-old finished a fine second to Monalee in the Flogas and beat Shattered Love at Fairyhouse in April.

Like many top jumpers in Ireland, ground conditions have restricted Al Boum Photo to just one appearance this term, beating stablemates Total Recall and Invitation Only in a Listed race at Tramore. While I’m prepared for this statement to come back to haunt me, I simply don’t think Al Boum Photo is good, or reliable enough, to win a Gold Cup and Willie could end up targeting the Ryanair instead.

Al Boum Photo Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Anibale Fly



AJ Martin can be very proud of his chaser’s exploits last spring. Anibale Fly stayed on up the Cheltenham hill to claim third in the Gold Cup, before producing another fantastic display in the Grand National, where he carried 11-8 into the places. Martin has managed to get two runs into his stable star this term, with Anibale Fly running gamely behind Monalee in the Red Mills Chase earlier this month.

Martin often starts his nine-year-old over shorter trips, but I’m sure he would have liked to give his gelding a run or two over three miles to prepare for Festival season. However, Anibale Fly’s staying ability is surely not in questions after his performances last season - I just worry he may lack that touch of star quality to win a prestigious Grade One and the prospect of good-to-soft ground will not aid his Gold Cup bid.

Anibale Fly Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Bellshill



Bellshill has been somewhat of a bogey horse for me. I always seem to back him at the wrong time. I was on his side during losing efforts in the RSA a couple of years ago and in last season’s Irish Grand National. Yet, he manages to pull out winning performances when I side against him at Punchestown back in the spring and at the recent Dublin Racing Festival, where Willie Mullins’ chaser scored a narrow victory in the Irish Gold Cup.

A two-time Gold Cup winner with undoubted ability, that Leopardstown triumph puts Bellshill right in the frame. Cheltenham, however, is clearly not Bellshill’s favourite course. Mullins has watched his charge get heavily beaten in the Champion Bumper, the Supreme and the RSA, where Bellshill struggled to cope with the undulating track before staying on up the hill to claim third. There are more Grade One wins left in Bellshill, but I highly doubt they will come at Prestbury Park.

Bellshill Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Bristol De Mai



For the second year on the spin, Bristol De Mai proved he was the king of Haydock Park, jumping superbly around his favourite venue to see off Native River and reclaim his Betfair Chase crown. Optimism grew ahead of his second tilt at the King George at Kempton, but hopes were dashed at the half-way stage, where Bristol De Mai crashed to the canvas after an errant leap.

Some reading this may be wondering, “why is a two-time Grade One winner sitting at 40/1?” The simple answer to that question is, Bristol De Mai loves Haydock. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ star loves bullying fields from the front on Merseyside and he hasn’t produced those kinds of performances around any other track. There is scope for an each-way punt backing Bristol De Mai, but I don’t think he’ll catch a place in what could be an extremely strong Gold Cup

Bristol De Mai Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Clan Des Obeaux



I’ve always been a big fan of Clan Des Obeaux, including Paul Nicholls chaser in my list of horses to track at the start of the season. Heading into the King George, Clan Des Obeaux was on my shortlist, but I feared the seven-year-old may still be a little immature and would definitely improve for his third run in Grade One company.

Clan Des Obeaux proceeded to confound his critics, surging clear after the last to claim Kempton’s most prestigious prize. Harry Cobden’s mount then warmed up for the Gold Cup with a simple triumph in the Denman Chase, cruising to an imperious victory over a small, weak field. 

Seasonal efforts have helped establish Clan Des Obeaux as one of the finest staying chasers on the circuit and he would be a worthy Gold Cup winner. Cheltenham, however, poses a completely different test to Kempton and Ascot and Clan Des Obeaux has never tackled a trip further than three miles. He would be a solid each-way punt if going off at a longer price.

Clan Des Obeaux Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Definitly Red



Brian Ellison decided, after Definitly Red retained his Many Clouds Chase crown, that the team would head straight to the Gold Cup. The need to get a run into his ten-year-old’s legs caused Ellison to change plans, sending his charge to the Malcolm Jefferson Memorial Chase at Kelso, where the 1/ 7 favourite was upset by Captain Redbeard. 

Definitly Red was heavily backed for last year’s Gold Cup when conditions came up in his favour and Danny Cook’s mount was heavily beaten back in sixth. I can’t see him improving on last year’s result.

Definitly Red Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Elegant Escape



Elegant Escape showed plenty of promise during his novice campaign last year. Colin Tizzard’s charge came up short in races like the RSA and the Mildmay at Aintree, but victories around Newbury and Exeter proved he was a stayer on the up and looked a Grand National challenger in the making.

This season, Elegant Escape has taken his game to a new level. A staying-on second in the Ladbrokes Trophy was followed by a comfortable win in the Welsh Grand National. Tom O’Brien’s mount then looked beaten turning for home in the Cotswold Chase, but responded to pressure brilliantly and came within a length of catching Frodon. 

Tizzard’s seven-year-old is one of my favourite horses in training and cannot be discounted. The Grand National does seem to be his main objective this spring and I think Elegant Escape may still be a little short of Gold Cup quality, at this stage of his career.

Elegant Escape Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Frodon



Gone are the days of watching Grade One horses win handicaps off top-weight. Or so many people thought, before Frodon rolled back the years with a dominant display in the Caspian Caviar here in December. Bryony Frost’s favourite mount then had a point to prove, stepping up to three miles in the Cotswold Chase, but Nicholls’ chaser displayed class and staying ability in abundance when holding on for a narrow victory.

Frodon’s owners then declared their Gold Cup intentions. Frodon has won three times this season, one of which coming over three miles and he loves the new course here at Prestbury Park. Whether he has the quality to win a Gold Cup, I’m not so sure. The Ryanair would be a much more winnable race, but the Gold Cup seems to be his number one priority and Frodon still has the potential to challenge for a place.

Frodon Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Invitation Only



Invitation Only entered the Gold Cup equation at Gowran Park earlier in the year, with Ruby Walsh guiding the Graham Wylie-owned chaser to an excellent victory in the Thyestes Handicap. Off 11-6, Invitation Only was extremely well-handicapped that day and his future seems to lie in handicap company – I can’t see him producing a performance to trouble the market leaders.

Invitation Only Star Rating ⭐ 2 ⭐

Kemboy



It took Willie Mullins’ charge a little longer than expected to mature as a chaser last term. Mullins’ patience has been rewarded tenfold, as Kemboy secured two big handicap wins during the back-end of the 2017/18 campaign, before stepping up to the highest level during the second half of last year.

Kemboy produced a composed display to beat Alpha Des Obeaux in a Grade Two on his reappearance. After the field went a snail’s pace for the first circuit of the Savills Chase, Danny Mullins took the race by the scruff of the neck. None of Kemboy’s rivals could match the leader’s jumping or finishing pace, with Mullins’ chaser running out a decisive victor.

That race turned into a mile-and-a-half sprint, which clearly suited Kemboy’s attributes. The Gold Cup, on the other hand, will be run at a frantic pace as soon as the starter drops his flag and I think Kemboy will be found wanting as the leaders pound up the finishing straight.

Kemboy Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Might Bite



Following a runner-up finish here at Cheltenham - on very soft ground he hated - and an impressive victory at Aintree, Might Bite was my ante-post Gold Cup tip at the start of the season. Since then, Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham dreams have fallen apart. Might Bite jumped terribly in the Betfair Chase and couldn’t land a blow on his rivals at Kempton, trailing over the line a distant seventh. Ground conditions should be in his favour next month but, after the season he’s had, there’s no way you can back Might Bite.

Might Bite Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Minella Rocco



Jonjo O’Neill’s top chaser was similarly unfancied when finishing second behind Sizing John in the 2017 renewal of the Gold Cup. Soft ground meant Minella Rocco was withdrawn from both the Gold Cup and the Grand National last season, so he’ll likely take his chance in both with favourable ground in the offing. Aintree will be his number one target and, while Minella Rocco remains capable, I doubt he’ll be fast enough to feature in the finish.

Minella Rocco Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Monalee



Henry De Bromhead’s charge has enjoyed another consistent campaign over fences. The jumping frailties he displays as a novice have been banished, as Monalee finished second in the Savills Chase before winning the Red Mills Chase ahead of Anibale Fly. That victory will surely have convinced De Bromhead to aim for the Ryanair, so it’s unlikely Monalee will make his Gold Cup debut this season.

Monalee Star Rating ⭐ 2 ⭐

Native River


Native River has performed well since outstaying Might Bite to claim this title last year. Tizzard’s star was off the bridle early in the Betfair Chase and stayed on well for second. Native River’s staying ability was evident once again at Kempton, finishing third in the King George around a quick, right-handed track which clearly doesn’t play to his strengths.

A third run in the Denman Chase was pencilled in for the Gold Cup king, but equine flu saw that moved to Ascot and the Native River team didn’t want to run their nine-year-old on another track he wouldn’t have liked. Many in the sport don’t think Native River has what it takes to defend his crown. I, for one, disagree.

Native River’s performances this season have oozed class. Running against the odds on both occasions, Richard Johnson’s mount has given an excellent account of himself to place behind quality opponents who were better suited by the conditions. Only the prospect of good ground, and the fact his prep has been severely interrupted stops the defending champion getting a five-star rating in this year’s Gold Cup.

Native River Star Rating ⭐ 4.5 ⭐

Presenting Percy



AP McCoy identified Presenting Percy as the 2019 Gold Cup winner at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, as Davy Russell’s mount powered to a hugely impressive victory in the RSA. Pat Kelly’s charge clearly loves Cheltenham, winning at the Festival for two seasons in a row and – as several contenders have had their credentials dashed - has sat at the head of the Gold Cup betting for much of the season. 

So, is Presenting Percy the one they all have to beat at Cheltenham? Personally, I think not.

Scheduled reappearances in the John Durkan and the Savills Chase were thrown out on account of the ground. Yes, Presenting Percy won well in the Galmoy Hurdle, but he was hardly in with the best staying hurdlers on the planet and it’s a huge step up from a Grade Two hurdle to a race like the Gold Cup. 

With the going set to come up good-to-soft at this year’s Festival, I think there’s a definite possibility Presenting Percy could be pulled from the race. If he isn’t, I can’t see how even a mercurial genius like Pat Kelly can have him in tip-top shape after just one run over hurdles. At that price, Presenting Percy offers little value.

Presenting Percy Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Rathvinden



Willie Mullins sent Total Recall to the Gold Cup, in preparation for the Grand National, last season and I think Ireland’s Champion Trainer will do the same with Rathvinden. Last year’s National Hunt winner is another who hasn’t managed to get out on the track at all this term, but Mullins could use Cheltenham’s showpiece to fine-tune his eleven-year-olds jumping, just in time for Aintree.

Rathvinden Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Road To Respect



Road To Respect did enough last season to convince me he was the best bet in the Gold Cup. My expectations were dampened with every drop of rain that fell during the build-up, but Noel Meade’s charge gave an excellent account of himself when staying on to claim fourth place.

Meade’s eight-year-old laid down a marker for the upcoming season on his reappearance, trouncing some decent rivals to claim his third Grade One win in the JNWine Champion Chase. Two defeats have followed, but Road To Respect had to call upon all his class to place in the Savills Chase – after slipping up twice on the turn for home – and was only beaten a nostril by Bellshill in the Irish Gold Cup, despite a shoddy round of jumping.

Two unlucky losses have not dissuaded me of the opinion that Road To Respect is the best staying chaser in Ireland. Meade’s stable star has previous at the Festival, having won the 2017 Brown Advisory Plate and the expected going will be right up his street. Native River triumphed on his second crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season. I see no reason why Road To Respect can’t repeat that feat, or catch a place at the very least. 

Road To Respect Star Rating ⭐ 5 ⭐

Shattered Love



At the beginning of the season, Gordon Elliott expected JLT winner, Shattered Love to progress into a live Gold Cup contender. Elliott’s claims have been made to look rather optimistic since, with his mare suffering three straight defeats. Shattered Love trailed over the line as the final finisher in the Savills Chase over Christmas and I’d be surprised if she wasn’t rerouted to the Ryanair.

Shattered Love Star Rating ⭐ 2 ⭐

Terrefort



Terrefort entered the upcoming campaign as many people’s horses to follow, featuring prominently in the betting for the Ladbrokes’ Trophy and the King George. A shocking performance on his reappearance at Sandown forced Nicky Henderson to remove his charge from the firing line. Decent showings in the Cotswold and the Denman Chase will give Britain’s Champion Trainer cause for optimism, but the chances of Terrefort contending in this season’s Gold Cup look slim, at best.

Terrefort Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Thistlecrack



I was one of many experts to have practically written Thistlecrack off at the start of this season. Colin Tizzard’s charge looked a shadow of his former self when returning to action last term and I wasn’t expecting much when he took to the line in the Betfair Chase at Haydock back in November.

An awful jumping display followed, but Thistlecrack caught the eye when staying on valiantly for second. Another strong showing followed in the King George at Kempton, where Tizzard’s ten-year-old found only Clan Des Obeaux too good on the day. I’m not convinced Thistlecrack likes Cheltenham and he could still be past his best. Yet, you could see this swashbuckling chaser produce another strong performance and, at 16/1, he offers plenty of each-way value.

Thistlecrack Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Full Cheltenham Gold Cup Star Ratings

Road To Respect - 5 ⭐
*
Native River – 4.5
*
Clan Des Obeaux - 4
Presenting Percy - 4
Thistlecrack – 4
*
Bellshill – 3.5
Elegant Escape – 3.5
Frodon – 3.5
Kemboy – 3.5
*
Al Boum Photo - 3
Anibale Fly - 3
Bristol De Mai - 3
*
Definitly Red – 2.5
Invitation Only – 2.5
Might Bite – 2.5
Minella Rocco – 2.5
Rathvinden – 2.5
Terrefort – 2.5
*
Monalee - 2
Shattered Love - 2

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2019 Gold Cup tips - Star rating guide for Cheltenham Festival’s showpiece

Our expert has put together this star rating guide for the Champion Chase, looking at each of the top contenders in detail before rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

Read more »

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