A vociferous Cheltenham crowd, 26 runners, 10 hurdles and £100,000 in prize money make the Coral Cup an immense event.
An ultra-competitive handicap hurdle, the Coral Cup attracts some very well-handicapped types and as such is often labelled as being on the impossible side of difficult to solve.
We’ve used some old-fashioned form lines, ratings, time and plenty of other variables to narrow the field down to the below six, our ultimate selection being one that has been laid out for the event.
We reckon that in the context of this race, Camprond represents the best form of the lot and has been given plenty of time to recover and improve further.
Camprond represents owner JP McManus and trainer Philip Hobbs and that remains an enviable partnership within the game.
Back in November, the six-year-old Lope De Vega gelding was thrown into to the Greatwood Hurdle and he ran a stormer to finish a six-length fourth in that, with runners of the quality of West Cork, Adagio, Tritonic and yesterday’s brilliant winner Marie’s Rock around him.
He has an unchanged handicap mark of 140 despite that run and will have no doubt improved since. It’s also worth remembering that before the Greatwood, Camprond was an easy winner on good ground around the Old Course over two-and-a-half miles meaning this should hold no worries for him.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Gowel Road has hit the frame in six of his 9 hurdle runs to date and can be considered well enough handicapped to have major potential in this race.
In his last three runs he has beaten Unexpected Party (see below), run third to Onemorefortheroad and finished an excellent second on heavy ground behind Metier at Lingfield in a very valuable race.
If all of that hasn’t taken too much out of him then he remains a major contender for this race, as well as plenty of others in the future.
We’ll get this out of the way now; on balance we know McFabulous isn’t the best handicapped horse here and it’s hard to see him being the type that streaks away up the hill and wins easily.
That said, he deserves a place on the list based on his best form and Paul Nicholls is being very selective these days with the horses he prepares for the Cheltenham Festival.
McFabulous was well beaten in the Cleeve Hurdle last time out, but he was a good second before that in the Relkeel, is a top-level winner, now gets his ideal trip and has first-time headgear to help him out.
Gordon Elliott expects plenty at this meeting and this Saint Felicien is a very interesting contender of his. Although beaten last time, he has done nothing but improve in his three career runs so far.
A winner in France, he scored easily on his stable debut in November before running second to Darasso in a Grade 3 at Naas in late January.
Another step forward is expected, but when they have been beaten we can’t say that the progression is endless and so his mark of 149 may or may not be a gimme.
Another for JP McManus, The Shunter was a very well-backed winner of the Plate at last year’s meeting and he is still treated well enough at the weights to be considered for this event too.
Although he unseated last time out, which isn’t ideal, he has generally held his form very well since winning here twelve months ago.
A close third and fourth at the Punchestown and Galway Festivals, he isn’t unexposed but remains a horse to fear.
Dan Skelton is another trainer who would perhaps have expected more thus far, but he has a fine chance with his Unexpected Party.
After winning easily at Wetherby, Unexpected Party was second in a competitive race to Gowel Road before filling the same spot back at Wetherby and then winning easily around Ascot.
He is generally going the right way and has to be considered seriously as an each-way contender.
Dan Skelton’s Unexpected Party is still of interest in handicaps, while Saint Felicien definitely has the ability to go close and it would be no surprise to see him well backed.
The suggestion however is CAMPROND. That Greatwood form cannot be ignored while we reckon that in his case, the 17-week break is ideal and during that time off he will have improved further yet remains on the same mark.