Melissa Jones says: Conti can take gold in tightest race
12:31pm Friday 15th March 2013 in Sport
THE champagne is on ice, hands are ready to clap and voices primed to cheer home the 2013 winner of the biggest prize in the jumping game.
A stellar cast have assembled for this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, some of the brightest stars of their generation.
If Hennessy winner Bobs Worth, 2012 Jewson hero Sir Des Champs and Long Run’s Betfair Chase conqueror Silviniaco Conti are as close at the finish as in the market this will be some race.
All three are exciting individuals with untapped potential and capable of a golden performance at the highest level.
Bobs Worth impressed the form students at Newbury, coming back on the bridle down the straight and running on well to see off Tidal Bay, who went on to win a decent race across the Irish Sea.
The ante-post favourite won at last year’s festival, a trait exhibited in recent days through the likes of Champagne Fever, Simonsig and Quevega.
His case is strong, but like Sir Des Champs, who has any amount of scope, he is partial to the odd error in the jumping department and lacks a recent run for such a demanding test.
Willie Mullins has been firing in the winners this week, so there is no worry about stable form for his challenger.
The seven-year-old beat the hyped up Flemenstar last time and stays three miles, but I just question whether he will have that extra kick up another two furlongs and a stiff hill.
That leaves Silviniaco Conti and he’s the one I’m raving about. Since being stepped up in trip the seven-year-old has really come into his own, unbeaten since last spring and taking the scalp of some notable rivals in the process- none more so than 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run in November.
There’s no fluke about his wins either, as there he led from the front, before being held up off a strong gallop when outpointing decent stayer The Giant Bolster last time out.
Neat jumping, versatility regards ground and stamina will stand him in good stead around the course and although he has not won there, he ran well behind Menorah in 2010.
Following the circus around Kauto Star’s retirement and Denman’s onward journey to pastures new, there would be no greater tonic for Nicholls if Silviniaco could follow in their footsteps and take the crown.
In the preceding race, the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, a slice of first place prize money is expected to be coming back to Wales courtesy of At Fishers Cross.
The six-year-old has few faults and loves Cheltenham, seeing off Wednesday’s Neptune winner The New One at the finish in January.
On a line through that form, Nigel Twiston-Davies knows the strengths of the Welsh raider and saddles African Gold to turn him over.
On a roll with four wins, the horse he beat last time, Close Touch, romped home last weekend and the son of King’s Theatre looks sure to be suited by the step up in trip.
Tim Vaughan’s Swnymor would be towards the top of the market for the Triumph Hurdle had he not flopped last time and a better show is expected.
Of the favourites, I’d favour Rolling Star, but John Quinn’s Kashmir Peak is put up as the selection.
The trainer knows how to win this race and he’s took to hurdles well, so is worth taking a chance on.