1.5pt win Don Cossack @3/1, Cheltenham Gold Cup

The bookie bashing continued through Thursday’s Festival card with Vautour, Limini and Thistlecrack all obliging at short odds, costing them fortunes.

As for my RSA Chase pick Black Hercules easily winning the JLT intead… let’s not go there.

It’s Gold Cup day and we have a proper renewal to get stuck into, even with the farcical withdrawal of Vautour and the unfortunate injury to reigning champion Coneygree.

Vautour really would have had a favourite’s chance and his Ryanair demolition job proved he was in top form, which connections had doubted.

Just Djakadam, Smad Place, On His Own and Carlingford Lough line up again from last year and, not only is it a much smaller field, but it’s a totally different racing surface this year with the official going now ‘good’.

That throws a real spanner in the form book for the staying chasing division as there have been precious few Grade 1 races run on good ground for quite some time.

Good ground form looks essential and, having easily won the RSA in near-identical conditions last season, Don Poli will have no problems there.

He’s a tough one to assess as nothing at all has come out of that race and he followed it up with a really poor performance behind Valseur Lido at the Punchestown Festival, finishing last of five.

This season he was very impressive on début at Aintree, brushing aside the top-class Many Clouds, but he really laboured next time out to win a poor Lexus Chase field at Christmas.

It’s become a gimmick but he really does only ever do just enough in his races and as a result I couldn’t back him with any real confidence against today’s opposition.

Most of those precious few open-company Grade-1 staying chases run on good ground in the last 12 months have been won by DON COSSACK, who I’ve fancied for this race for some time.

A commanding win over Cue Card in last season’s Melling Chase at Aintree was rated the best of performance of last season by the handicapper, and, ironically, only Cue Card’s King George win this season has trumped it since.

Don Cossack also ran in that race and was bang in there when falling, and many believe he’d have got up to win had he stayed on his feet – I think he’d it’d have been very close (watch here).

He ended last season by beating Djakadam, Road To Riches and Cue Card in the Punchestown Gold Cup, and, whilst those two have a very valid excuse in feeling the after effects of a gruelling Gold Cup, Don Cossack was brilliant.

His jumping looks to be his only vice but, like so many good horses, good ground is the remedy – Vautour being the best example.

Conditions tomorrow are absolutely perfect and I don’t read too much into his poor Cheltenham record, as he was given a poor ride in last season’s Ryanair and ran into a brilliant winner in Uxizandre, who broke the track record.

He’s certainly a stayer now anyway, and that was a shorter trip.

He fell the year before in the RSA Chase, which you’re more entitled to do as a novice, and whilst jumping is the big concern, it’s the only concern.

Gigginstown’s retained rider Bryan Cooper had the enviable decision of picking between the two Dons and, after a season of sitting on the fence, he’s gone for Cossack.

I think he’s got it spot on.

Obviously Djakadam could be something special and he’s a massive threat on his best form, with the irrepressible Walsh-Mullins-Ricci in such flying form.

His second in this last year was of the highest class but I do think this is an altogether different race.

His best form is on soft ground and connections have always indicated he wants it to be at his very best – and that’s what’s required to win a Gold Cup.

I accuse anyone who is ruling out Don Cossack on the strength of his jumping of hypocrisy should they back Djakadam instead, as he’s failed twice in his last three visits to Prestbury Park.

I prefer the chances of Cue Card, whose runs in recent seasons have to be ignored given he’s clearly a transformed horse after a recent breathing operation.

He’s chasing a £1m bonus after winning the first two legs of the reinstated chasing triple crown – the Betfair Chase and King George – and arrives the highest rated horse in the field, 1lb ahead of the selection.

He’s beaten Vautour, Smad Place and Irish Cavalier – who all look held – and the selection already this season so boasts exceptional form, but there’s a nagging doubt over his ability to stay the extra two furlongs and it’s very much open to debate whether he had Don Cossack beaten at Kempton before he crashed out.

10-year-olds aren’t supposed to win Gold Cups and, whilst I don’t read too much into stats, they don’t make pleasant reading for Cue Card’s backers.

It’s such a close call and I wouldn’t want to put you off backing him, but my money has sided with Gordon Elliott’s stable star in the expectation that him staying on his feet is all he needs to do to land the biggest prize of them all.

1.5pt win Don Cossack @3/1, Cheltenham Gold Cup

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