The £160,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup is, as it should be, a very tight affair this time around.
Last year’s winner Coole Cody was considered along with numerous others, but ultimately these six horses form our shortlist for what is a cracking 2½-mile handicap chase.
Now with Sam Thomas having won two chases, been favourite for the Arkle Trial and having run third in this race last year for Nigel Twiston-Davies, it’s hoped Al Dancer can be revived somewhat having gone off the boil a little.
He’s only eight years old though and just nine runs into his chasing career, so he’s far from finished yet and in fact he could improve upon what he’s achieved in the past.
That’s not guaranteed though, so while his profile overall is decent he is just about passed over.
Another young chaser with low mileage, Caribean Boy in theory at least could produce a new career high on the big stage, but his profile doesn’t scream that to us.
Despite winning on his second and third chase starts before going on to run well in 7th behind The Shunter at the Cheltenham Festival, his overall form seems solid but not overly progressive.
As a bit of a leap would be needed here, we reckon he has a fine place chance but isn’t backed to win.
Even as a horse with only five chase starts under his belt, Philip Hobbs’ runner for JP McManus could already be a victim of his own success.
After winning easily on his chase debut, he has shown ability but has arguably struggled with his handicap mark which keeps going north.
He runs well on the big stage; third in the Red Rum at Aintree before unseating at Punchestown, he’s up another few pounds now and may just find things tough.
Once ante-post favourite for the Arkle when trained by Kayley Woollacott, Lalor has put up some mighty performances in the past including a couple of strong place finishes in two-and-a-half-mile Cheltenham handicap chases.
He’s now with Paul Nicholls, with the champ looking to revive nine-year-old after he pulled-up twice in a row to finish off last season.
We reckon that revival will be forthcoming, too. He still has plenty of time on his side, has obvious class, and is of course a few pounds lower in the handicap than he was at his peak so as long as he still wants to do it, he stands a chance.
Brian Ellison’s runner was a Greatwood Hurdle scorer at this meeting a few years ago, and a good winner over Not That Fuisse over this trip on good ground at Ayr in April over fences.
He has plenty in his favour and his handicap mark, in theory at least, looks tempting so he had to make this list. The niggling question is whether or not he is actually regressing, something that if true makes this too tough a task.
The most interesting runner of the lot is Philip Hobbs’ other runner, Zanza.
Only a seven-year-old, there is a lot more to come from him but the point about him is that we only hope he runs to the level he has been denied so many times already, as off this mark that would make him very dangerous.
After finishing fourth on his chasing debut, he improved in lumps. Second to Allmankind next time, he went on to win in great style on his third run over fences at Newbury.
Having been given a mark of 145, only 3lbs lower than his current rating, he was going easily and looking like the winner at Cheltenham last December before falling behind Sky Pirate.
He was then sent to the Grand Annual at the Festival, another race Sky Pirate won, when he was badly hampered by a faller before having to be pulled up.
In the Red Rum at Aintree the very same fate befell him, when another faller badly hampered his run when third and although he kept on to finish, his winning chance had gone.
He was a good staying-on third in the Haldon Gold Cup to kick off this season, and with that run under his belt he can now show us all what he is capable of.
Al Dancer remains of interest, while if Lalor can be encouraged back to his best form, he is dangerous too. ZANZA however could be way better than his mark, something that he can prove with a clear round.