Who will win the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2011? That is the question on everyone’s lips as the highlight of the National Hunt calendar is upon us. The Cheltenham Festival gets under way on Tuesday, with the big race, the Cheltenham Gold cup, hitting the start tape on Friday. The big race of the meeting is the Gold Cup, and the build up for that has been going on pretty much since the finishing of the last race twelve months ago, which was won by Imperial Commander. The Gold Cup is a Grade 1 National Hunt chase, and horses five years and older are eligible for entry. The distance goes over 3 miles and two and a half furlong, with twenty two obstacles in the way. This is the most valuable, non handicap chase in Britain. Now it is time for Punter and Bookmaker to square off again, at the prestigious meeting as tensions rise again for the big meeting. The line up in the race is just incredible, with all winners from the last four runnings of the race taking the tape. Imperial Commander sets out to defend the crown, while two time winner Kauto Star looks to secure a hat trick of wins, while 2008 winner Denman is also in the mix. But while the established guard will all draw the majority of the betting, punters are not being too shy in not looking beyond some outsiders. So who will win the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2011?
Long Run (11/2 at Victor Chandler), one of the most highly touted youngsters in the National Hunt, is ready to take stage as well, and is drawing a lot of interest. He is the young pretender in the pack, and after winning the King George in astonishing fashion, taking the crown ahead of Kauto Star (who came in third), and it was something which firmly put his name amongst the potential winners here. However, the one hesitation of the rookie, is that in two previous runnings at Cheltenham, he has looked less than confident, and maybe the course does not suit him. Long Run finished third in both of those previous race meetings, and the biggest questions was over the jumping technique on the famous course. There was just not the same conviction over the jumps which he had shown in previous times. Long Run wasn’t out of things completely, but it just showed exactly what a raw talent he is, and are things that time and experience will probably iron out. Long Run has the edge over Kauto Star in the betting at the moment, and that will be on the strength of his King George triumph.
Defending champion Imperial Commander (7/2 at SportingBet) has just such a good track record at Cheltenham, winning five out of six runnings over the jumps there. He hasn’t ran since November, and while that will be a concern for punters, trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is carrying good form at the moment, and Imperial Commander looks to be full of running. While a lot of the headlines will gravitate towards Kauto Star and Denman, it is Imperial Commander who looks the most assured of the three main challengers to be honest. The last ten winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup have been in the top three of the betting, so the likelihood is that gives a strong leaning towards Imperial Commander, who is favourite at the bookmakers at the moment. The front runners in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting at the moment, is Imperial Commander, Long Run and Kauto Star. So the youngster has the potential to make a big impact, but must get over his Cheltenham jitters.
Kauto Star (13/2 at Extrabet), two times winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, took a tumble last year, and hasn’t has a season which has seen him on top of his game. Couldn’t match what Long Run had to offer at the King George. Does that mean he should be counted out of your betting? Of course not. His record at Kempton (where the King George is ran) simply wasn’t great to start with, and there were concerns over his health there. But Trainer Paul Nicholls insists that Kauto Star is as good as ever, even though age may now be working against the 11 year old. Sixteen of the last seventeen Gold Winners have been aged between seven and nine, perhaps casting doubt on Kauto Star’s chances. But then, along with Imperial Commander and Denman, all three will be over nine, something to be considered as you ask yourself who will win the Cheltenham Gold Cup? Kauto Star is still coming in shorter and shorter all the time in the odds, and will always stay at good value none the less. Cheltenham is more of a stamina test than the King George, so we could yet still see Kauto Star land his third Gold Cup crown, and there probably could not be more of a popular winner. There could be a major deciding factor for Kauto Star, and that could be the presence of Ruby Walsh in the saddle, something which trainer Nicholls insists will make a big difference. AP McCoy was in the seat for the third place finish behind Long Run at the King George, and the feeling is that Walsh and Kauto Star are a better, more familiar team.
What of Denman (7/1 at Paddy Power), Kauto Star’s stable mate? Ran brilliantly in the Hennessey, giving away two stones in weight to Diamond Harry, but Denman is also looking fitter after being treated for health issues as well. If he is fully fit, then he has to be near the front of the pack, and just like Kauto Star, should be worth taking at a good price. We could genuinely see a resurgent Denman at Cheltenham this week. Probably more of a sound each way bet in terms of value than Kauto Star realistically, but you never know with him. So who will win the Cheltenham Gold Cup? Well, the bookies are predicting something unexpected. The stats weigh heavily against any of the three established brigade, Imperial Commander, Denman and Kauto Star picking up a victory (such as the stat that no runner over the age of 10 years old has won since 1969), and while those three will take the bulk of the betting, it could be a good day for the bookies on Friday. Long Run, who may be considered as an upset if he were to win by some, also doesn’t have a convincing record at Cheltenham to firmly put him at the front of the betting. The course could also be a bit quicker than normal because of the dry weather, and the Course usually runs at good to soft, so the pace may be picked up, working against the older runners.
So where to look for an outsider? Maybe Pandorama (14/1at Bet365), but he could be hampered if the track is running a big faster than normal, but does have the class to compete. Tidal Bay (20/1 at SkyBet) has a good running record at Cheltenham, and is good value in the betting at the moment, for a very strong finishers. If the course is running a bit faster than normal, than it could bring What a Friend (50/1 at Stan James) into play, who, like Pandorama has the class and with the going in his favour, could also make an impact. So will we see an established name hit the line first, or will we see, as bookies are predicting, a winner come from nowhere? It is time to decide who will win the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2011 for your horse racing betting, and while the field looks narrow, there is plenty of great value around at the moment to get your wagers down early.