CHELTENHAM COUNTDOWN: Every day next week don’t miss Daqman’s daily Cheltenham countdown with a day-by-day survey of stats and facts for each race in the England v Ireland bonanza. Today he checks out England’s gold hopes.
DAQMAN SATURDAY TREAT: Tomorrow is a tense day for the top tipster. Even when you’ve done it all, you want to win again and again. He must try to match the last two Saturdays of big-race strikes with 18-1 Quick Wave and 11-2 Our Power.
WHAT’S GALOPIN FROM BEHIND?
It’s a brave-man’s game. Though the Irish have four of the first five in the Gold Cup betting, Dan Skelton and his old boss, Paul Nicholls, are both bullish about their chances for England.
Master and ex-pupil bring to the sport tremendous grit and enthusiasm and they insist that their chances of catching the favourite, Willie Mullins’ Galopin des Champs, are good.
Not so long ago – on Politologue in the 2020 Champion Chase, for example – Dan’s brother Harry was winning the big’uns for Nicholls.
Now the Skelton brothers-in-arms are feared and revered as a team, locking horns with Nicholls and his new stable star rider, Harry Cobden.
Trainer Dan, who raced to the 1,000-winner milestone in record time, is convinced that Protektorat can land the pot of gold, the ultimate striker for owner Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United for 27 years.
Protektorat’s ‘unbelievable’ 25-lengths win in the 2021 Many Clouds Chase at Liverpool when only six seemed to set him apart.
The runner-up, Native River, who had taken the Many Clouds in 2019, won the Gold Cup and was four times in the first four but a shadow of his former self when Protektorat left him trailing.
But Protektorat was beaten more than 17 lengths, third, in the 2022 Gold Cup, after blundering at the last.
He is still only eight and ‘a bigger, stronger horse now,’ says Skelton, aware of a ringing in his ears from Nicholls, who regards Bravemansgame as ‘my best chance at his stage of the game of any Gold Cup contender from my yard.’
That’s saying something from the man who performed the formidable feat of taking three consecutive Gold Cups with Kauto Star (2007 and 2009) and Denman (2008).
To slightly misquote the Dominic Behan song of Arkle v Mill House: ‘Look behind you, Willie Mullins, man what are you about!’ Can they really catch the Galopin Irish?
NEXT WEEK: See How They Won. Day-by-day stats Tuesday-to-Friday for all four days at Cheltenham the following week.
PACE SETS UP TYGER POUNCE
⭕ 3.00 Lingfield Jacks Point, who won this sprint last year from the one stall, has not had the luck with the draw this time; he’s in 9.
No horse has won this race from a gate higher than 5, and in fact the one stall is going for a hat-trick, the luck of the draw riding with Laheg this time.
Laheg takes a keen hold and his pace may help Tyger Bay (out of stall 2), who likes to come with a run; he won here twice in November (from gates 1 and 4). But Laheg has scope, as a four-year-old.
Baldomero’s connections must be frustrated after six starts in a place without winning, since two good runs (a win and then a head defeat in a big field) forced the handicapper to put him up in the weights. He’s class-2 capable so not out of it from stall 3.
Tolstoy (4) and Aberama Gold (5) have poor strike rates; Embour (6) is better at the minimum 5f.
Betdaq Betting Exchange 7 Laheg, 7 Tyger Bay
9.4 MOLINEAUX IN THE MIX
⭕ 3.10 Doncaster Ten-year-olds have a big advantage in these veterans’ races, still quite young compared with the real old-timers.
But last year Venetia Williams got an old boy ready first time to take this. Can Joe Tizzard do the same with Molineaux?
Molineaux, who used to win at Wincanton in his salad days, was last year 21121211 in Points but hasn’t been seen since April.
Among the 10-year-olds, Hitman Fred improved 17lb with four wins in 2021-22, mainly on a sound surface.
Conversely, Domaine de l’Isle has crashed 27lb down the handicap; he landed a hat–trick in 2020 and a good-ground double the following Spring.
Mr Muldoon was in free fall, down 19lb until back to form over hurdles in January even lower in the ratings. I took 6.0 Mr Muldoon and 9.4 Molineaux.
⭕ 3.25 Newbury Poor fields at Newbury but the nap is there, Brief Times, with Neil Mulholland borrowing Harry Cobden.
Progressive and a good jumper, Brief Times should now show the finishing touches – a wind op – for a Spring campaign.
3.00 Lingfield (win 20)
BET 3.25pts win LAHEG
BET 3.25pts win TYGER BAY
3.10 Doncaster (win 20)
BET 4pts win MR MULDOON
BET 2.4pts win MOLINEAUX
3.25 Newbury (win 12 nap)
BET 6pts win BRIEF TIMES
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