Where to start with today’s Bet365 Gold Cup (say Whitbread if you are over 35 or so, say Attheraces Gold Cup if you remember the race or the channel – no spaces between the At and the The, or between the The and the Races)? Philip Hobbs.
Hobbs has won the race twice in the last six years with Monkerhostin and Lacdoudal. Not only that, he sent out Triggerman to finish fourth in the race last year, and he sent out Monkerhostin and Lacdoudal (afore-mentioned pair) to finish third and fourth in the race in 2010, while his sole representative in the 2009 renewal, the same Lacdoudal, finished third.
Hobbs has just one horse in today’s race, he had only one horse in the race since the five-day stage, Roalco De Farges, and there is a lot more to like about him than just the fact that he is trained by Hobbs.
The son of Dom Alco had the pace to finish a close-up sixth behind Bless The Wings over two and a half miles at Cheltenham in January, yet he had the stamina to chase Teaforthree home over three miles at Chepstow in February.
The Midlands National in March was a little too much for him, but he did travel well for three and a half miles of that extended four-mile trip, and he proved that he was none the worse for that experience when he ran out a nice winner of another three-mile handicap chase at Chepstow two weeks ago while all the world was focused on Aintree.
Roalco De Farges is only seven, he has raced just six times over fences in his life, he has loads of scope for progression. His handicap rating of 134 sees him get into today’s race on just 10st 6lb, he stays well and he handles soft ground well. Put that with the fact that he is trained by Hobbs, who obviously likes the race and whose horses continue in tremendous form, and that Richard Johnson is hot-footing it back from Punchestown to ride him, and it is easy to conclude that he could run a big race.
The ground may not be as testing as people were expecting. The money came for the soft ground horses during the week, Le Beau Bai and West End Rocker were backed down to head the market, but the same thing happened before the Aintree Grand National before the ground dried to such an extent that Le Beau Bai didn’t even take his chance in the race.
The ground was officially heavy at Sandown on Friday, but it was an all-flat card today, heavy flat ground is different to heavy National Hunt ground, and it may not be that testing for the jumpers today, as long as it hasn’t rained too much overnight. The softer it is, the better Le Beau Bai and West End Rocker will like it, but it is difficult to think that the ground at Sandown in late April will be as soft as the ground is at Aintree in November or at Chepstow at the end of December.
Here’s the rest of my shortlist, for what it’s worth: Tidal Bay, Rare Bob, Major Malarkey, Viking Blond. Major Malarkey ran well for a long way in this race last year off just a 5lb lower mark, and he was only just out-battled by Master Overseer in the Midlands National, when he had Roalco De Farges – with whom he is those 5lb worse off – well behind him. He wouldn’t want the ground to be too soft, but you can see him running a big race.
Sam Twiston-Davies has chosen to ride him in front of Viking Blond, but his younger brother Willie isn’t a bad rider, and he is good value for his 7lb claim. The only faller at the first fence in the Grand National, Viking Blond does have to re-discover his very early-season form – he beat Alfie Spinner on his debut over fences at Chepstow in October – but he might be ignored by the market a little because he looks like the stable’s second choice.
Tidal Bay is a monkey, and he has plenty of weight, but he is classy, and the slow pace that they will go over the marathon trip may just make him fancy it a bit.
As for Rare Bob, I still think there is a big race in him off this mark (he is 1lb lower than he was for the National, which is a bonus). He wouldn’t want the ground to be too soft, and there is a chance that the trip will stretch his stamina a little, but it is easy to see him getting into a nice rhythm up towards the head of the field over those seven fences down Sandown’s back straight.
I’ve backed Roalco De Farges, and I’ll have another look this morning, for what it’s worth, see how much rain they had, what they are saying about the ground. I may get one or two of the other four on side as well.
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