Protektorat, a Grade One-winning novice at Aintree in April, is the class act in the field for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday, a contest that is as competitive – and bewildering – as ever.
Dan Skelton’s chaser also has winning form over Saturday’s course and distance but it is still a tall task to give weight to 18 opponents, including the first, second and third from 12 months ago. Several promising second-season chasers also lurk towards the bottom of the weights.
Of the latter group, Farinet and Dostal Phil are interesting at decent double-figure odds but both have been absent since the spring so Midnight Shadow (2.15) could be a stronger option at around 10-1.
Sue Smith’s lightly raced eight-year-old ran well in Grade One company in his novice season two years ago and made a promising return to action in the Old Roan at Aintree last month.
Cheltenham 1.40 A couple of Third Time Lucki’s market rivals were below their best when he made a successful chase debut at the October meeting here, but he put up an impressive display all the same with the promise of better yet to come.
Cheltenham 2.50 Dragon Bones made a solid return from six months off to finish a length behind the useful Bardenstown Ladat the October meeting. An opening mark of 132 could prove very fair on that form.
Lingfield Park 3.05 Good Effort, who struggled to translate his high-class all-weather form to turf over the summer, is unbeaten in three starts at Lingfield. Early interference cost him his chance in a US Grade Two last time but he should be a different proposition back on his favourite track.
Cheltenham 3.25 Unexpected Party made short work of his handicap debut last month, quickening eight lengths clear without being asked for a serious effort. He is up 11lb in the weights but looks more than capable of taking that in his stride.
Lingfield Park 3.40 Pyledriver is unraced since a battling success in the Group One Coronation Cup and it would be no surprise if he needs this outing. He also faces a tough opponent in Felix, who proved himself one of the best middle-distance horses on the all-weather last winter.
Blackmore stays in saddle to claim dramatic win
Rachael Blackmore’s heroics at the Festival meeting here in March played out to an empty house, but there was a big crowd in the grandstands on Friday to gasp and then cheer her home as she played a starring role in an extraordinary moment of drama at Cheltenham’s second-last fence.
The two-runner novice chase, between My Drogo, the odds-on favourite, and Blackmore’s mount Gin On Lime, had been written off by one bookmaker as unfit for ITV coverage.
It proved to be anything but, however, as Blackmore somehow managed to stay aboard Gin On Lime after a terrible mistake two out, a split-second after My Drogo, who jumped it a length to the good and seemingly going clear, had suffered a sliding fall which launched Harry Skelton from his saddle. Gin On Lime also slid on landing, with her legs going in all directions.
Blackmore, though, did not even wobble, maintaining perfect balance in the saddle as her partner sank towards the turf. Gin On Lime came to a halt, then rose back to her feet to a huge cheer from the crowd before jumping the last and cantering home for a memorable victory. A video clip of the moment quickly drew interest on social media.
My Drogo and Skelton, meanwhile, emerged unscathed from their fall and the six-year-old looks certain to be a major player at next year’s Festival. After the race, Blackmore was typically understated about her gravity-defying feat.
“It’s very unfortunate for the Skeltons what happened, but the ball bounced right for me, I suppose,” she said. “She just crumpled under me, it was quite a slow-motion one and those ones are ok. But she’s just an extremely honest mare to go down and then jump the last and canter to the line.”
Henry de Bromhead, Gin On Lime’s trainer, was as astonished as anyone that
he was welcoming his mare back to the winner’s enclosure. “It was mad, wasn’t it?” he said.
“We looked beaten, I don’t think the favourite deserved [the fall], he’d jumped brilliantly throughout. You wouldn’t believe it would you?” Gin And Lime is now likely to get a rest before returning to Cheltenham in March for the Mares’ Chase.