Johns Spirit may have won impressively last month at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting when beating Rob Conti by three-and-a-half lengths, but the Jonjo O’Neill-trained raider will need to improve significantly on Saturday afternoon if he is to land what is a wide open renewal of the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
The absence of Dynaste maybe a disappointment for many, but it has left an intriguing betting conundrum for punters heading to Prestbury Park and having gained significant support in the ante-post markets over the last few weeks Johns Spirit will look to hand the Jackdaws Castle their first victory in the coveted showpiece since 2006 when Exotic Dancer used the win as a springboard to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Martin Keighley will saddle the Cheltenham regular Champion Court in this Grade Three handicap and the trainer has been ebullient about his stable star’s chances in this event and he has been another who has been trimmed by the various bookmakers in the lead-up to the contest and if he can emulate his fine Grade Two success at Prestbury Park in April then will be a leading contender.
David Pipe’s decision to scratch Dynaste from the final field of 20 runners has hindered his chances of landing the prize for the second time in three years, but the Pond House handler will still saddle an interesting contender in Ballynagour, who could prove popular prior to the race and is another one in the higher echelons of the betting.
Finian’s Rainbow is the class act of the event as just over 18 months ago he was seen storming to victory in the 2012 Queen Mother Champion Chase, but in recent times he has struggled to live up to those sort of dizzy heights and will need to recapture his A game. However, he was a decent second in the Grade Two Celebration Chase at Sandown Park on his last start in April and even with top weight in this contest will be a major player if returning in that sort of shape.
Nicky Henderson, who hasn’t won this race since 2003 when Fondmort landed the spoils, will unleash a strong battalion spearheaded by the aforementioned Finian’s Rainbow, but many Seven Barrows followers could look to Rajdhani Express to sparkle at Cheltenham game as he won at the festival in March and is gradually propelling up the ratings and should be on the vicinity.
Nadiya De La Vega will complete the Henderson-trained triumvirate and she has proven form in competitive handicap chases around the undulations of the Gloucestershire venue and will be a cracking ride for Andrew Tinkler, whilst man of the moment AP McCoy will don the silks of JP McManus on board Tap Night for an in-form Lucinda Russell.
Hidden Cyclone will fly the flag for the travelling Irish brigade and Shark Hanlon’s raider is an intriguing runner, whilst the likes of Colour Squadron and the quirky Battle Group add superb depth to a race that is a devilishly difficult betting conundrum for punters to decipher on a cracking day’s action at the home of national hunt racing.