The first barrel of Mackeson stout rolled out of Kent in 1907. The first winner of The Mackeson Gold Cup, Fortria, carried twelve stone up the hill in 1960. The race has been run every year since – never abandoned. It was last run as The Mackeson in 1995, since when it’s had a few different sponsors. It was first run as The Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2003 and when those of my generation have died or forgotten, perhaps that will be the name stamped in the memories of today’s young racing fans.
I always loved The Mackeson; it signified the start of the season proper. This year’s looks a tough one for punters. My original fancy was Rajdhani Express, and I backed him each way at 12/1. A fine big horse who could develop into a high class one, he got a beautiful ride from Sam Waley Cohen to win the Rewards 4 Racing Nov Hcap Chase at the Festival this year, although he’s gone up 15lbs since then. But he looks a weight carrying type and I think he’ll run a fine race.
But for value, I’m looking to one to defy the stats. You need to go back to Clear Cut in 1975 to find a winner of this race who was older than 9. In the past decade it’s been dominated by horses aged 6 and 7. But try as I might (and it should be easy as he is not a horse I’ve ever followed or backed), I cannot get away from the thought that the 10-year-old Woolcombe Folly represents tremendous each way value at 33/1 tomorrow.
He’s thoroughly exposed – rarely a favoured factor in these types of races – but in all we’ve learned about him, we know for sure that he’s admirably reliable and consistent, has oodles of Cheltenham experience (2 wins and a 2nd from 7 runs), a good speed figure, the yard’s in form, one of the best 5lb claimers rides (Harry Derham) and he was running a cracker over this trip last time here, within a length of the lead when a clumsy jump at the last killed his chances. His amateur rider (Mr Biddick) went up his neck as the horse landed awkwardly, and he lost all chance, but I was impressed with the way he kept on up the hill to be beaten about 6 lengths.
Derham’s claim means Woolcombe Folly will carry just 10.8 tomorrow and that might be enough to let him get his head in front after 18 months without a victory. Bar that final fence blunder in his last run, he’d have been placed in all 5 races this season (he raced through the summer), and he must have solid each way claims at 33s with Bet 365. For those who want to take the win-only route, he can currently be backed on Betfair at 44.
I still expect Rajdhani Express to run a huge race, and I’ll be having savers too on Conquisto and Battle Group. I was very taken with the enthusiasm shown by Conquisto when winning at Aintree last time. He loved the job, jumped well and won with a fair bit in hand. He too is most consistent, with form figures of 31122131-21. He’s on the small side and has to carry 11.3, although he almost won under 11.12 at Haydock in May. I have a slight reservation in that this will be his first Cheltenham visit, but there is no reason he shouldn’t take to the track. He can be backed at 25/1 with Coral.
Battle Group is still not trusted by punters. He was branded ‘quirky’ in his time with David Pipe. But he transferred to the yard of Kevin Bishop last year (the assistant trainer there was Johnny Farrelly who is now listed as Battle Group’s trainer). On the Thursday of Aintree’s Grand National meeting, BG hacked up in a handicap hurdle, then came out again on Saturday and did exactly the same in a steeplechase. Back over hurdles 5 weeks later, he carried 11.13 to victory over 19 opponents. He’s dual purpose, mixing hurdling and chasing, and, very unusually, is officially rated the same under both codes at 150. On the downside he’s 0 from 7 at Cheltenham (3 from 5 at Aintree) and there’s no way of knowing if he’ll revert to his old quirky ways. But at the price of 25/1 with Stan James (he’s as low as 14s with others) I’m willing to pay to find out. His best performances have been at 3 miles or so, but a fast run 20f at Cheltenham shouldn’t trouble him if he is in the same form as when we last saw him.
So, there you go…valuewise, from the top…
Woolcombe Folly 33/1
Battle Group 25/1
Rajdhani Express 11/1
Good luck to you and to all horses and jockeys