As the final few major fixtures of the flat calendar expire horse racing enthusiasts turn their attention to the longer distances where the brave go over hurdles on testing ground and in freezing conditions. National Hunt competitors are made of stern stuff, but the prizes are well worth the winning.
A fine example of this can be found on Saturday 17th November at Cheltenham, where the Gold Cup is decided over 2m 4f on the Old Course. A history stretching back almost six decades, followers have witnessed some memorable renewals, including Bradbury Star’s doubleheader in 1993/94.
A Grade 3 contest on an important week for racing, the stands will be packed for what the ante-post horse racing betting tells us will be a fascinating instalment. But, who will reign supreme on the day and grab themselves a slice of sporting history? Bookmakers have had their say, and they’re stuck on the fence.
The fact the market has a 12/1 favourite in place tells punters everything they need to know about how this race is shaping up. Traders are at a loss to predict the winner at this stage and that’s music to the ears of value hunters on the lookout for a big price upset. Do your homework, study the form and you could be in line for a sizeable pay-out due to that indecision.
There’s as short as 8/1 in places for Mister Whittaker to win the Gold Cup but backers will be delighted to see Paddy Power offer a full four points more on the same horse. A bold call indeed. The six-year-old gelding brings a record of three wins and five placed efforts from 10 starts and he’ll head to Prestbury Park seeking the hat-trick, following wins at the Gloucestershire track in each of his last two visits.
The Mick Channon trained bay booked a place in the winner’s enclosure when holding off runner-up Theatre Territory in a Novices Handicap Chase over 2m 4f back in January. Connections followed that with another gold medal, bagging another Novices Handicap Chase at the festival in March, coming home an eye-catching 13/2 champion, Rather Be edged ahead at 12/1. Certainly the kind of form and determined finishing punters respect at this level.
Mister Whittaker’s main rival at this stage of preparations is old rival Rather Be and, again, prices vary. Some firms want to keep Nicky Henderson’s pride close, offering 12/1 while others approach it in a more generous frame of mind, chalking up 16/1.
The seven-year-old gelding has won two of the last three races he’s finished, the spare being that tight defeat at Cheltenham. He enjoyed more luck when banking the prize money over two miles at Towcester just before Christmas before leading a decent field home at Fakenham in February over the same trip. He's stepping up in distance, but he’s more than good enough to exact revenge.
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