Cheltenham Delivers

18 Mar 14

Definitely one of the most exciting but perhaps not one of the most outstanding would be my verdict on this year’s Betfred Gold Cup (writes Phil Smith). The first five finished less than a second apart and I would have been overjoyed with the result if it had been a handicap.

It seemed a very straightforward race to rate. You can set your clock by The Giant Bolster at Cheltenham in March. He is always placed. In both 2012 and 2013 I had him performing to 164 and have assessed him at that level again this year.

As a result Lord Windermere (pictured) improves from 153 to 165. Time was that observers criticised the RSA Chase claiming that its winners didn’t go on but Bobs Worth, Albertas Run, Denman, Trabolgan and now Lord Windermere in the last nine years have shown that winning it is no barrier to success the following year.

For the first time Hollie Watts from Turf Trax provided me with sectional timing at the Festival and they made interesting reading. There were 16 sections in the Gold Cup and Lord Windermere was the fastest in section 14 and 15. Compare that to Silviniaco Conti. He was fastest in sections two, six, 10 and 12. He was clearly travelling sweetly but was he doing too much too soon? It is no surprise that he performed about a stone below his best. In the last three sections he was only sixth, fourth and fourth fastest.

The most amazing sectional was by On His Own who was fastest in section 16 having made most of the running. He would now be 10lb well in for the Crabbie’s Grand National but there is an acceptance stage today and he may not still be in the race by the time you read this blog.

I had two marker horses in the RSA. The first was Sam Winner who went in on a rating of 147 from his last two runs and Morning Assembly. I am cheating a little with the latter as I only had him on 146 but Noel O’Brien my Irish counterpart insisted he was better than that and had him on 149. He was clearly correct as he beat Sam Winner by two lengths.

As a result O’Faolains Boy performed to 156, a 12lb improvement on his Reynoldstown win. How to account for the improvement? A look at the Turf Trax sectionals helped again. The overall time was a fast one and there were 15 sections. O’Faolains Boy was settled in rear and benefitting from a Gerraghty master class produced the fastest sectionals in 13, 14 and 15. He will always be better in a big field top race where they go quickly and he can out stay the rest.

Overall my Handicapping team had a very good week. Pride of place goes to Martin Greenwood who handicapped the Pertemps. Getting the first four to finish within half a length after three miles at Cheltenham takes some doing never mind the first 10 to complete in less than two seconds.

There were some surprising results in the Championship races and at first sight for only six of our BHA top rated horses to win out of the 16 non handicaps was disappointing. However you would still have made a healthy profit if you had kept the faith.