The December Gold Cup, as it is traditionally known, is a race that Paul Nicholls has had much success in down the years, taking four of the last eight renewals. Poquelin claimed back-to-back victories in 2009 and 2010, Unioniste romped to an 11-length win in 2012 and Frodon became his latest victor 12 months ago.
This year Nicholls’ hopes will be pinned on Clan Des Obeaux, who surely has a great chance of making it a famous five for the ten-time champion trainer. Beaten only a half length by Whisper on his seasonal return, that form now looks particularly good, with the Nicky Henderson horse now rated 169 following his gallant second in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup. The five-year-old then followed up with an impressive seven-length win at Haydock in testing conditions on Betfair Chase day and despite a seven-pound rise still looks fairly treated off 155.
The news that Waiting Patiently won’t run means that the Nicholls runner is likely to shoulder top weight but with Bryony Frost’s claim presumedly being called into service, the son the Kapgarde is still very competitively weighted, especially when you consider that he could end up being Gold Cup class if taking his run against Whisper on face value. The beneficiary of an off season wind op, he is part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and could give the former Manchester United manager a return to the winner’s enclosure. He’s 8/1 to do exactly that and will surely be shorter on the day if lining up.
The forecast is for a pretty dry week in the lead up to Saturday, news that will be music to the ears of Ian Williams and the supporters of Ballyalton. Unfortunately there is no 33/1 about the ten-year-old this time around, as there was when tipped up here in the lead-up to the BetVictor Gold Cup, but the 12/1 available is still worth an interest with underfoot conditions likely to be far more suitable than when he was fourth in last month’s big handicap. He has remained on the same mark and is a major contender at a venue where he has only finished outside the first four once in six visits, and on that occasion he had More of That and Might Bite in front of him.
At a bigger price I also think Guitar Pete is worth a small dabble. Nicky Richards’ grey saw his chances gone before they had even got started in the BetVictor after being badly hampered by the first-fence fall of Thienval, an incident that left him trailing the rest of the field by five lengths or more and always struggling to get back in touch in the testing conditions. This time running off bottom weight and getting over one and a half stone off those at the top of the handicap, with better luck he could well be good value for a place at 33/1. Revitalised this season, not finishing outside the first two in five runs prior to last month, it’s been great to see him back in form, bringing back memories of his Triumph third and subsequent Grade 1 juvenile hurdle win at Aintree back in 2014.
Clan Des Obeaux 8/1ew
Guitar Pete 33/1ew