I remember the big race of the day at Cheltenham as the Massey Ferguson, which followed the Mackeson (now the Betvictor Gold Cup) as one of the big pre-Christmas races.
Tricky as it always is, I have great affection for the race and always have a bet in it. Going through the runners, nothing jumped out as a great value bet.
There’s plenty support for Rather Be, but he seems pretty short. Many cite how well he was travelling last time when brought down 4 out behind Baron Alco. But 4 out at Cheltenham leaves almost a third of the race – arguably the most crucial third of it – still to be run. He might well win this, but the price holds no appeal.
War Sound won by a fair margin last time out at Aintree, logging his highest ever Racing Post Rating, but I’m not sure he had that much left at the end. The hill could find him out.
Guitar Pete won this last year (after the almost certain winner broke down badly). He’s been to Cheltenham a few times, and usually runs well. He was too late on the scene last time and I suspect that might be the case again here.
I like Foxtail Hill’s enthusiasm, but he’s not consistent these days.
I think Baron Alco will go very close again and could well follow up his November win here. A fine jumper and front runner, he got a really good ride last time, is wonderfully consistent, and probably still improving.
But so is my main selection, Mr Medic. He finished last season with a victory in December at Ascot where he registered his highest Racing Post Rating to that date. He obviously had a problem because he was off for almost a year before returning at Ascot to increase that previous high rating by 8lbs.
He was most impressive in that victory, settling well after being headstrong going to the first. His jumping was superb throughout and a similar round will give him a major advantage here.
Also, he was not expected by connections to win that day, which was reflected in his SP of 20/1. Trainer Walford (who won the Becher last week) said that the Ascot race was meant to be Mr Medic’s prep for this. You’d imagine that Walford had left a bit to work on and if that’s the case, the horse should be straighter here.
The potential downside of that is that Mr Medic could bounce here. Also, I’m a wee bit concerned that his two best performances have come at Ascot, a right handed course, though he has won left handed.
All in all, I believe he is the value in the race at 10/1 (in from Thursday’s 12/1). He’s one of the neatest and most economical jumpers of a fence I’ve seen and unless I damn him with the commentator’s curse, his jumping could be the deciding factor in this.
I’ll be having a saver on Baron Alco.