Can Santini win the Cheltenham Gold Cup?
At the weekend, Nicky Henderson’s Santini won the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase in his Cheltenham Gold Cup prep race. His performance in winning seemed to split opinion as to whether he was Gold Cup winning material.
“DSC01726” flickr photo by charlesdyer https://flickr.com/photos/charliedees/3347762666 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
What did the Cotswold Chase tell us about Santini’s Gold Cup prospects?
On the face of it, a 3 ½ length defeat of Bristol De Mai in receipt of 2 lbs is not good enough to win an average renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Bristol De Mai is a decent performer. Taking Bristol De Mai’s Cheltenham Gold Cup 3rd last year, 6 ¼ lengths behind the winner Al Boum Photo as a straight line comparison then you’d say the form Santini showed winning the Cotswold Chase puts him right in the mix.
At level weights on Saturday, Santini comes out just ahead of Bristol De Mai. I’d be confident of Santini confirming and extending his superiority come the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Races at the Cheltenham Festival often offer a unique test. By that I mean the pace the races are run at.
Watching replays of the Cotswold Chase Bristol De Mai assumed his customary front running role and set a fair test. If you watch the race from the final turn to the finish line, you’ll see at the turn into the straight approximately 10 lengths cover the entire field. By the time Santini and Bristol De Mai crossed the line the distance back to the 3rd Top Ville Ben had extended to 29 lengths.
Taking hand-held times from the 2nd last fence to the finish line, Santini covered the distance in approx 31.7 seconds, the eventual 3rd Top Ville Ben in 38.4 seconds. That’s a significant difference. Yes Top Ville Ben is not of the class of the front two, more my point is the race wasn’t an as extreme test of pace as you’d often find in a championship race like the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Given a sterner test earlier in the Gold Cup I’d expect the strong galloper Santini to extend his superiority over Bristol De Mai.
The visual impression of the Cotswold Chase finish backs up this impression. Santini ran on very strongly to put distance between himself and Bristol De Mai after the last. A stronger pace looks sure to play to his strengths.
Paddy Power Cotswold Chase
RSA Chase Cheltenham 2019
Any concerns for Santini’s jumping?
For me, he jumped very efficiently in the main. He was slowed by a couple of jumps where he got in too close to the fences, notably the 2nd last.
I’d have no concerns over his jumping. Given that this was just Santini’s 5th race over fences, I think he looks to have a very effective technique and is likely to become more consistent as he gains further experience.
Further Form Clues to Santini’s Gold Cup Chance
The one occasion Santini has been tested under championship pace conditions over fences was in last seasons RSA Chase. He finished a very credible 2nd to Topofthegame in a race run at a strong pace.
In terms of time performance, I have the 2019 RSA Chase marginally ahead of the 2019 Gold Cup won by Al Boum Photo. It’s dangerous to make time comparisons across races and draw conclusive form lines, a slower pace or an overly fast pace at an early stage in the Gold Cup could have lead to a slower overall time. That said, the time performance of the 2019 RSA Chase is well up to standard and indicates Santini has the speed to be competitive in a Gold Cup.
Much was made of Santini’s hard-fought head defeat of the inferior Now McGinty on his seasonal debut at Sandown. Forget that form in relation to his Gold Cup chance. The race was run at a dawdle and as is often the case in slowly run races he did well to win. The proximity of the runner up is all to do with pace rather than ability.
Santini’s form profile
It was interesting to hear his trainer’s post-race comments.
‘He lives and thrives on work and the more you can get into him the better he becomes’ – Nicky Henderson.
In appearance, Santini looks a gross horse, so it’s no surprise to hear his trainer comment that he needs a lot of work to be at his optimum. I think we can take from these comments that Santini, with a clear run, will be primed for Cheltenham Gold Cup day. It’s clear from his campaign this season that he is being brought along to peak for March.
Santini’s Cheltenham Gold Cup price
Looking at the Gold Cup betting, Santini is a current best priced 9/1, though a more general 7/1 chance.
That price doesn’t scream value from what we know. I have it as a fair price and representative of his current chance knowing what we do about his potential rivals. I don’t see any value in taking that price now, I’d rather wait and see how things play out for some of his rivals over the next few weeks.
As Santini seems very unlikely to race again before the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I’d see his price holding up unless several of his rivals fail to deliver in the interim.
With some of the main players still show their hand and their well-being, plenty to consider before March.