By Anthony Dunkley
Guitar Pete and Frodon, the past two winners of Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase, feature among 15 declarations for Saturday’s renewal.
The Grade Three contest, over an extended 2m4f, has an open look to it after the five-day declaration stage, although Rather Be was popular in the betting on Tuesday and is no bigger than 3-1 favourite.
The seven-year-old, brought down when market leader for the BetVictor Gold Cup last month, heads most ante-post markets and will seek to provide Nicky Henderson with his first win in the race since Quantatitiveeasing in 2011.
Here’s a guide to all the potential runners:
FRODON (General odds: 9-1)
His win in the Old Roan on his reappearance showed him in excellent heart, especially taking into account the weight he had to give to all bar Cloudy Dream, and he ran a stormer when chasing home Baron Alco in the BetVictor Gold Cup last time.
He seeks to repeat his win of two years ago and confirmed his effectiveness on the New course in January when shouldering 11st7lb to victory. Versatile regards the ground and riding tactics.
BARON ALCO (6-1)
Game as you like when jumping them ragged in the BetVictor Gold Cup last time, he’s another who has good form on the New course as well as Old.
This was best displayed when finishing runner-up in handicap company at the Festival in 2017.
His head second to Charbel on seasonal debut now reads even better than it did at the time. He’s 6lb higher and is likely to face competition for the lead, but he’s a fair enough price to pull off a big double.
RATHER BE (3-1 favourite)
Nicky Henderson’s charge ended last season with a narrow second to Mister Whitaker in the Close Brothers’ Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and looked like he was going to have a big say when being brought down in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
He will race off the same mark and provided there are no mental scars from last time, he should pick up where he left off.
There should be more to come from this seven-year-old and he looks the one to beat.
WAR SOUND (9-1)
Showed a useful level of ability last season but took his form to a new level on his return at Aintree, where he routed a field that included Warrior’s Tale (who took the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase last weekend) by six lengths.
I’m not certain Cheltenham is a place where he will thrive but he’s only had one go at the track and he’s lightly raced for a nine-year-old with only 15 starts.
COBRA DE MAI (20-1)
Chase record is respectable (5/13) but has had a mixed vein of form recently.
Slightly disappointing at Uttoxeter on his reappearance and more so at Chepstow, where he made mistakes. He then bounced back at Stratford before running a moody race at Ascot last time.
At the latter track, he was settled off the pace and stayed on far too late, albeit just missing out on third. Has a slight pull with Mister Medic but will do well to get involved.
MR MEDIC (12-1)
Improving type. He made a great return to action under James Best to take a good handicap chase at Ascot last time and that was very much a case of picking up where he left off last season.
Ground seems very important to him, though, as all of his wins have come on a sounder surface, with some sizable defeats coming on heavy going in his younger days.
Any rain will count against him and the weather at Cheltenham between now and Saturday afternoon will be pivotal.
Trainer Venetia Williams won this contest with Niceonefrankie in 2014.
This six-year-old ran well here in April on the New Course when fourth behind Traffic Fluide.
Despite that, I don’t think this is the kind of track that plays to his strengths (unlike at Ascot or Kempton) and while the last run was good, his mark still leaves him vulnerable
In addition, he lacks a recent run and his best form has been achieved on good ground.
CASABLANCA MIX (14-1)
It’s hard to know exactly where we are with her. She’s been beaten in three of her last four starts , three of those when a short-priced favourite, and she threw away a golden opportunity at Market Rasen – going down down by 1/2l when left clear by 5l two out.
However, she would have won at Exeter were it not for her last fence fall and I wonder if riding her with a little more patience will benefit her. It wouldn’t surprise to see her hit the frame if her jumping holds up.
The ground is a bit of an unknown but she went fine on soft until falling at Exeter and won a hurdle and a chase at Auteuil on heavy.
FULL GLASS (12-1)
It’s still very early days in the British career of Full Glass, having had two runs her after 14 in France.
His runs on these shores have been promising. There was certainly no shame in finishing third at Ayr in a Listed contest two starts back, even looking in with a chance in the straight.
His seasonal bow was an anti-climax, unseating Daryl Jacob four out before the race had properly developed. Likable enough but will not be able to afford a similar mistake.
CATAMARAN DU SEUIL (12-1)
Early on in the Grand Sefton at Aintree last Saturday. He was co-favourite for the race and if none the worse for that looks promising.
His previous form, over further and on softer ground, would make him very interesting, given the forecast rain. Tie that in with the fact that he won easily over 2m3½f on reappearance and he looks like he’s well suited and versatile enough to be a force.
He’s 9lb higher than for his Wetherby rout and while his previous visit to Cheltenham have not yielded any success, I’m interested in him for place purposes.
SPLASH OF GINGE (33-1)
An old favourite, yet still only 10. His best days have come at Cheltenham and over this kind of trip.
He won the BetVictor Gold Cup last season and finished a valiant second to The Storyteller in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
The concern would be the going. All of his career highlights have been with juice in the ground and he couldn’t handle it in this year’s BetVictor Gold Cup, pulling up before two out.
CASSE TETE (18-1)
French for “headache”. That was certainly the case for those who backed him on his return at Ascot, where he crashed out at the seventh fence.
His wins have been authoritative in this sphere and while he’s run some shockers as well, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see him do well here. His 5l win over Kylemore Lough, a race where Josh Moore controlled the fractions, still lingers in the memory as does the Sandown romp.
Baron Alco represents a better chance for connections but he cannot be totally discounted.
ROMAIN DE SENAM (25-1)
He didn’t make it past the first fence in the BetVictor Gold Cup and, despite looking promising at one stage, he’s hasn’t won for over a year and has barely made it into the frame.
More positively, he ran well in this last year. He travelled well through the race before feeling the pinch and drifting back into a well beaten fifth.
He’s now 8lb lower than what he raced off last year but his runs this term don’t inspire much confidence.
FOXTAIL HILL (16-1)
There’s only one way Foxtail Hill knows how to go - very fast from flag fall and try to hold on.
And why not? That philosophy has served him well at Prestbury Park with some memorable victories.
The plan will likely not be changed at all, which is a little concerning in a field which contains Baron Alco, a superb front running jumper.
Probably at his happiest when able to dominate.
GUITAR PETE (10-1)
Scooped the spoils last year and some recent efforts show him to be in excellent heart ahead of his defence.
A spin on the Flat was followed by a good second on his jumps reappearance before finishing 10l behind Baron Alco and Frodon here last month. This was the same route he took into this contest last year when winning off 134.
He’s only 3lb higher than when winning 12 months ago and Nicky Richards’ horses are in great nick. A lot to like about a gelding who is versatile regards the ground.
Anthony Dunkley’s big-race verdict:
1 Rather Be. 2. Catamaran Du Seuil. 3. Frodon