Racing Post Gold Cup – Who are the Key Runners in Cheltenham’s Feature Handicap?
Seven Runners to Look Our for on Saturday
The Racing Post Gold Cup is Cheltenham’s highlight of its December meeting. Our editor has trawled through the remaining 15 runners, and picked out the intriguing runners from the big race.
Favourite – LALOR
A social media superstar when trained by Kayley Woolacott, Lalor moved to Paul Nicholls’ yard in October and already looks like he may recapture former glories.
Apart from a disappointing run in the 2019 Arkle, Lalor has finished in the top three in every chase start at Cheltenham. That includes his first run for Nicholls in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last month, when seeing out the trip really strongly.
That was a very encouraging run from the nine-year-old and though he is 2lbs higher here, he could well come on for that effort on his second race after wind surgery.
Market Leaders – MIDNIGHT SHADOW & SILVER HALLMARK
Though connections of Midnight Shadow have spoken of a tilt at the King George, the temptation to complete the “Gold Cup” double after winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup last month.
There is a difference between the Old and New courses at Cheltenham, with this race being run on the latter and the Paddy Power the former. However, Midnight Shadow has showed excellent form on both, winning a Grade 2 over course and distance as a novice. He also would have won last month’s big race by further without a shuddering mistake at the last.
His performance can be upgraded having maintained his effort despite keeping up with a strong pace; all of those who finished close up behind him had come from the back. A 7lb rise therefore looks reasonable and the mere mention of the King George as part of the conversation shows how highly he’s rated by Sue Smith.
Silver Hallmark is a not a horse we get to see regularly. This is his fourth season under rules in National Hunt racing and he has only run six times.
His two races last season over fences suggested he was very useful, however. He won a Grade 2 novice chase at Haydock and on return, was a respectable fourth in Carlisle’s Colin Parker Chase behind Fiddlerontheroof, conceding the winner 6lbs. That horse franked the form significantly when second in the Ladbrokes Trophy recently.
Still very lightly raced, a mark of 145 possibly undersells his ability and with the rare benefit of race fitness, he could prove very well treated.
Contenders – FUSIL RAFFLES & ZANZA
A fortuitous winner of the Charlie Hall, FUSIL RAFFLES did take his chase record to four wins from eight starts at Wetherby.
He has also run very well in three of his four starts at Cheltenham over fences, winning two before the turn of last year. Only stablemate Chantry House was too strong for him in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as well.
This will be his first run in a handicap off a mark of 152, but he’s shown that he is not too far from Grade 1 level at his best. If he runs up to the aforementioned Marsh effort, then he’s be close to defying his rating in this company.
Zanza meanwhile is gradually becoming one of the most frustrating horses to follow over fences.
With fewer mistakes and better fortune, he could have won any number of his previous five starts. As it is, that number accounts for his losing run stretching back to an easy success at Newbury in November 2020.
His jumping occasionally lets him down at the worst moments, as was the case in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his return where he travelled smoothly. He is 1lb higher than when a staying on sixth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but should be able to get into the race more this time and is not underestimated.