Despite being one of the newest races to be established at the Festival, the Coral Cup has readily become one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the season.
The two mile and five furlong race, backed by leading bookmakers Coral, was introduced in 1993 and has been the subject of some real betting coups organised by some hard hitting stables over the years.
In fact, the first winner of the race, the Martin Pipe trained Olympian, was one of the best backed horses of the 1993 Cheltenham Festival. It was a typical Pipe gamble and it seemed like whole of Prestbury Park had got-on judging by the celebrations in the stands. Pipe is the leading trainer in the race, having scored three times with Big Stran (1997) and Ilnamar (2002) as well as his inaugural winner.
Coral Cup Tips
Swincombe Flame looks to have all the credentials to win this one in what should be a very open race.
Olympian also is the only horse to have picked up an additional £50,000 bonus having won the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park the previous weekend. Paddy Power, the Imperial Cup’s current sponsor, is offering a £75,000 bonus to any horse that completes the double this year.
Another well-backed winner of the notoriously competitive handicap was Xenophon for Tony Martin in 2003. The horse won the Pierse Hurdle at Leopardstown before landing the Coral Cup and landed a huge pot for Martin in the process.
Ireland have a brilliant record in the race, providing over a third of the winners, and they were at it again last season when Gordon Elliot celebrated one of his best days as a trainer when Carlo Brigante gave him his second winner of the day following Chicago Grey’s triumph earlier on the card.
The Michael O’Leary-owned gelding was fourth in the previous season’s Triumph Hurdle but was in a league of his own a year later as he sauntered clear of a high-class field in what was probably one of the easiest winners of the entire 2012 Festival.
It is unlikely it will be as one sided again this year.
It’s unusual that a previous winner of a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival could double up the following season in the same race but that could be the case in the Coral Cup this season.
As with most renewals the betting markets are a tad unsure who to make favourite due to the competitive nature of the race, therefore the most likely tactic could be to stick with what you know and put your faith in last year’s victor Carlo Brigante.
The plans regarding Gordon Elliot’s star are far from certain, in terms of what race he’s likely to go for, as there has been talk of a stint at the World Hurdle. But if the thought of chasing the backside of Big Buck’s doesn’t appeal to Elliot then carrying top-weight in the Coral Cup off 13lbs higher than last season could be an option. He was ultra-impressive when scooting clear of a high-class field and if he’s got over the injury problems that have plagued his season thus far, then he might just be competitive off that considerably higher mark.
Swincombe Flame should also be in the mix if Nick Williams decides to run his star mare in the hot handicap. She is very lightly raced and looked a top-hurdler in making when winning a competitive bumper at Sandown last season.
On her recent start she looked likely to come off second best behind Featherbed Lane at Kempton but showed great determination to land the spoils by just a head, which also only increased her handicap mark by just 6lbs. Many punters will be bitterly disappointed if she’s not competitive off a lowly mark of 129.