The action turns to Punchestown today with Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs, as Paddy Power release the latest odds as punters can watch the race through the firm’s Cheltenham live streaming service.
There have been several questions regarding the potential winner of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup – hopefully, some of those will be answered on Sunday at Punchestown as two of the leading fancies for Cheltenham’s top prize, Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs, go toe-to-toe with each other in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.
Usually the Gold Cup only produces three or four feasible contenders for the crown but this year it seems that the race could be anyone’s.
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This year is the first year the old guard of National Hunt Racing, such as two-time Gold Cup winner Kauto Star and his illustrious stablemate Denman, will not be lining up for the showpiece as they have been retired.
This means the new generation of three mile chasers from Britain and Ireland are pushed to the forefront, and there is a feeling within the game that this crop of chasers are the best group seen in a very long time.
Among those talented crop are both Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar, who will both bring significant unbeaten records to the table on Sunday, and only one will be able to keep hold of it.
Flemenstar, trained by the charismatic Peter Casey, has been made the favourite for the race by all bookmakers. Most firms, including BetVictor, Coral and Bet365, have priced up Casey’s runner at Evens to score.
Sir Des Champs is a weak 7/4 shot with Coral and Ladbrokes, as bookmakers feel that race-fitness may give Flemenstar the edge over his rival. This will be Sir Des Champs, who is trained by Willie Mullins, first run of the season whilst Flemenstar won the Fortria Chase in November from Big Zeb and seems to up his game after having a run.
The Casey-trained charge, who is a 11/1 shot to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup, has won his last six races since being beaten by Bog Warrior, who has since gone off the boil but reposes here. Those wins have all come in very impressive fashion, including when running away from Rathlin, False Economy and Call The Police to take the Grade One Powers Gold Cup by 11 lengths last season.
But although these wins have all been achieved at the top level, the form of those races will surely make him vulnerable this weekend to Sir Des Champs. Casey decided last season that Cheltenham wasn’t right for his horse; therefore he has yet to be tested against the best from all over the UK and Ireland.
Yes his wins have been visually impressive, and you can only beat what’s in front of you, but the likes of Rathlin and False Economy wouldn’t even be deemed good enough to run in a Grade One at Cheltenham and Big Zeb has showed many times he is on the way out.
The form doesn’t add up in comparison to Sir Des Champs, and it is a bit of a surprise to see the Jewson Novices Chase winner from the Cheltenham Festival trading at 9/4 against the Evens for Flemenstar.
Unbeaten in eight starts, including two Festival wins, Sir Des Champs looks the real deal in terms of Gold Cup hopes. His form compared to Flemenstar looks rock solid.
His Jewson win has been franked subsequently by For Non Stop, who finished third at Cheltenham but then came out and won a valuable handicap at Aintree by 23 lengths. Sir Des Champs also completed the final circuit of his Jewson win in a time two seconds quicker than the Ryanair Chase winner, the 170-rated Riverside Theatre did on the same day.
All the signs are pointing towards Sir Des Champs – and at 9/4 he looks a cracking bet.