The lightly-raced Walkon ticks all the boxes for Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham and punters should avail themselves of the general 8/1 before the odds shrink further.
This race, the first major handicap of the national hunt season, is dominated by second-season chasers. Six and seven-year-olds have won nine of the last 10 renewals and Alan King‘s grey could hardly boast better credentials as he also goes particularly well fresh and seems to have been underestimated by the handicapper. He beat Zaynar, who went on to win a Grade 2 contest at Ascot next time, and Notus De la Tour, second subsequently in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, on his chasing debut at Exeter last season before competing at the highest level. Getting a rear view of Cue Card and For Non Stop at Newbury was no disgrace and he then finished fifth in the RSA Chase at The Festival before finding a marathon trip beyond him in the Scottish National. Alan King’s gelding, a dual Grade 1 winner over hurdles, has been dropped 5lb since his run at Ayr in April but looks the type to improve further over fences this winter and is crying out to be backed on his reappearance.
Grand Crus is a strong favourite, Paddy Power’s 9/4 being the best price on offer, but does have questions to answer. Though the Pipe team have a terrific record in the race their representative this year is probably better over 3m, though did win over the C&D of the Paddy Power Gold Cup last year, and has absolutely nothing in hand over Walkon on their run together in the RSA. He was only a neck ahead of our fancy yet is 14lb worse off now and represents nothing in the way of value at his current odds. Hunt Ball has been well backed ante-post and is now a general 11/2. Hugely progressive over fences last season, Keiran Burke‘s charge improved from winning a Folkestone handicap off a mark of 69 to winning a Listed race at Cheltenham in March off a mark of 142. He was third in the Grade 1 Betfair Bowl at Aintree on his final start and his trainer has ambitious plans for him this term – but can he win this off 157?
Quantativeeasing (a general 20/1) goes well on the course but is 11lb higher than when second to Great Endeavour in this race last year which means he is 17lb worse off with close-up third Divers. The latter also beat Nicky Henderson‘s gelding at the track in March last year and can probably be forgiven his run behind Quantitiveeasing’s stablemate Nadiya De La Vega (16/1 with sportingbet) last month, his first since April. Ferdy Murphy‘s grey is beginning to look very well treated and is definitely worth a second look at the general 16/1 if back to his best but I’ll pass on Al Ferof at Betfair‘s 42/5 as he simply has too much weight and started to look a little quirky at the back-end of last season. Michael Flips may be best of the rest at a general 14/1 but Walkon should soon have his rivals on the run.