The Gold Cup is of course the feature race of the entire Cheltenham Festival and that is both from a sporting point of view and a betting point of view. This the race where legends are made and we can once again look forward to a thrilling renewal with the betting for this one highly competitive as is always the case.
The Gold Cup roll of honour includes names like Golden Miller, Arkle, Desert Orchid, Kauto Star and Denman to name just a few and with the festival now just five weeks away, we thought it was high time we made our selection for the 2015 renewal.
Main Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Contenders
The only place to start is with the Paul Nicholls trained Silviniaco Conti who goes into this Gold Cup with unquestionably the best form in the book this season and as the very warm favourite. The 9-year-old has been one of the very best chasers in training for the past couple of years now and a Gold Cup win is perhaps the missing piece from his already glittering CV.
Rated 174, Silviniaco Conti (3/1) produced a stunning display over Christmas as he galloped to King George VI Chase glory for the second year in-a-row and it is hard to argue with piece of form. He set a searing pace in front and jumped like a stag with good horses like Dynaste, Al Ferof and Champagne Fever unable to land a blow. That success was enough to see his price slashed in the Cheltenam Gold Cup Betting and he has been aimed at the Gold Cup ever since.
Critics of Silviniaco Conti have always pointed towards his record at Chletenham and it is hard to argue with those nay sayers. He has never won a race at Prestbury Park while he has also failed to win a Gold Cup on two separate occasions when well fancied both times. He fell when going really well back in 2013 before he looked like the winner all over 12 months ago only to wander around on the run in and fade back into a disappointing fourth place up the hill.
A flat three miles at Kempton clearly suits Silviniaco Conti better than the extended Gold Cup trip at an undulating Cheltenham and that has to be in the mind of punters willing to back such a short price. He has been the best chaser in the UK or Ireland this season though which is not up for debate and on class he is the one to beat at the Festival.
Punters looking to oppose the favourite do have a number of options to consider including Road To Riches (8/1) who is the leading contender from Ireland. The Gigginstown Stud owned horse won the JNWine Champion Chase at Down Royal back in November ahead of Rocky Creek and Boston Bob while he followed that up with a career best in the Lexus Chase, which he won at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The best of the Irish Chasers were swept aside by Road To Riches in the Lexus Chase with the Noel Meade trained horse staying on in very eye taking fashion. That run indicated that the Gold Cup trip would suit the horse nicely with strong stayers like On His Own, Sam Winner, Boston Bob and Carlingford Lough all left trailing in his wake. There should be more to come from a horse who has only just turned eight and at a decent looking price, he certainly does make some appeal as the best of the Irish contenders, as long as he improves again.
Another horse in behind Road To Riches in the Lexus Chase was Lord Windermere (14/1) who is being prepared for the defence of his God Cup crown. He was the surprise winner of the race last year and his form this season has been nothing to write home about but the Jim Culloty horse is a known quantity who will surely run his race next month.
The 9-year-old is clearly being aimed at one day in March which ensures his two average runs this term can be forgiven somewhat but he did fall away too tamely for this eye in the Lexus Chase and has plenty to find with Road To Riches on that form. He is a guaranteed stayer though and Cheltenham form is always important when it comes to the big Festival races which ensures that he does offer each-way value at the moment.
The Oliver Sherwood trained Many Clouds has emerged as a live Gold Cup contender this season with two hugely impressive wins and he has to come into consideration. The second season chaser was a decent novice but he has been sensational this winter with his win in the Hennessy Gold Cup back in November hugely impressive. It was very testing conditions that day at Newbury which confirmed the stamina of Many Clouds while he further confirmed that at Cheltenham on Trials Day when he won the Betbright Cup.
Many Clouds galloped Dynaste and Smad Place into the ground on Trials Day with his jumping clearly rock solid with two very good horses unable to land a blow on an improving horse. Bobs Worth did the Hennessy/Cheltenham Gold Cup double a few years back and Many Clouds is a best price 10/1 to replicate that in March.
Talking of Bobs Worth (16/1), it would be foolish to completely write off the 2013 Gold Cup hero with connections still hoping he can re-find his best form. It does look tough for him though with Kauto Star is the only horse ever to have re-gained the Gold Cup, while his recent form has been way below the level needed to compete. He trailed home last in the Lexus Chase as he raced with little enthusiasm and needs to find loads to compete again although he is still only ten and as a three time Cheltenham Festival winner, Bobs Worth cannot be completely ruled out of contention.
The final one of the main contenders we have to mention is the Jonjo O'Neill trained Holywell who is a fascinating contender. He is a two time Cheltenham Festival winner over three miles which is interesting in itself but it was his performance at Aintree last April that saw him emerge as a potential superstar. Under AP McCoy, Holywell (14/1) simply brushed aside Don Cossack and Many Clouds to win the Mildmay Novices Chase over 3m1f and that form could hardly have worked out any better since.
His bubble has been somewhat burst this season though with Holywell only third on seasonal debut, behind Many Clouds, over an inadequate trip at Carlisle before he unseated his rider last time out at Aintree before Christmas. Those performances were not of the level we expected and that he needs but trainer Jonjo O'Neill was in terrible form during that period and with that factored into his current Gold Cup price, Holywell remains of interest.
Outside of the main contenders in the Gold Cup betting there are some bigger priced horses who are worthy of a mention and they certainly include Djakadam (16/1). The Willie Mullins trained horse won the Thyestes Chase last time out off of top weight to prove his stamina while connections have long thought this was a very nice horse. Djakadam is clearly an improver who could have more to come which does make him interesting but he did struggle in the Hennessy while Long Run is the only six-year-old winner of the race since Mill House in 1963.
Willie Mullins also has On His Own as a likely runner and he is no mug as he showed when finishing a close up second in the race 12 months ago. The 11-year-old is a strong stayer and could offer each-way value at around 20/1 although it is hard to imagine him having enough class in this company at his age.
Carlingford Lough (20/1) is another Irish contender who could run well for John Kiely and JP McManus in the Gold Cup as a former Grade 1 winning novice chaser. The 9-year-old could be the mount of AP McCoy and has been tipped by Pricewise which does make him interesting but he has plenty to find to win a decent Gold cup, like this one, which means he is likely to find at least a couple too good. on the day.
Taquin Du Seuil (40/1) looked like a Gold Cup horse last year when he won the JLT Novices Chase at the Festival and would have a chance if he has improved from that but he has disappointed this season and is not a definite runner. He could be good value if he does run while the same can be said of Sam Winner (33/1) who is a rock solid stayer and could be a player for Paul Nicholls if it turns into a real slog.
There is no doubt that Silviniaco Conti is the worthy favourite given his recent form but he is by no means bomb proof at such a short price. The Paul Nicholls horse has travelled well in both of the last two Gold Cups before finding a way not to win and that has to be a worry when backing at 3/1 a month before the race. Silviniaco Conti anywhere near his best is likely to be too good for this field but that is far from assured which means we must look elsewhere for our selection.
Road To Riches has done nothing wrong and looks the best of the Irish contenders while Many Clouds looks a galloper in the Denman mould who may just be suited to the Gold Cup. The Oliver Sherwood trained horse got valuable Cheltenham experience when winning the Betbright Cup on trials day although he will need to improve again to win a Gold Cup with a narrow defeat of Smad Place surely not good enough on bare form.
At the prices I feel that it is worth taking a punt on Holywell regaining his best form at a track he clearly loves. He has won at the Festival for the past two years, albeit in handicap company, while his Mildmay Novice chase win from Aintree is still fresh in the mind. He simply destroyed Many Clouds that day and we all know what he has achieved this season, while Don Cossack was also swept aside that day and he has gone unbeaten this term and is fighting for Ryanair Chase favouritism at the time of writing.
It's true to say that Holywell has performed well below his best this season but we can find excuses for both of those. Jonjo O'Neill was in terrible form before Christmas which can account for his average run over an inadequate tip at Carlisle on seasonal debut, while the trainer was still in a slump when he unseated at Aintree in December.
Jackdaws Castle has bounced back since that baron period and we can expect Holywell to run much better if he gets a prep race in before the Gold Cup. Any sort of decent run from Holywell in something like the Denman Chase and his current price of 14/1 is sure to be trimmed and with that in mind we are more than happy to back him for Gold Cup glory.