Thistlecrack heads the weights on 11st 12lb for the feature £160,000 BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on day two of The November Meeting, Saturday, November 17th, details of which are revealed today.
Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard) is on the comeback trail, having only raced three times since his memorable victory as a novice in the 2016 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. He was last seen out when fourth in the same race last season.
Mister Whitaker (Mick Channon, 10st 13lb) and Rather Be (Nicky Henderson, 10st 10lb) figure in the entries, who finished first and second in the Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase over course and distance in March.
Mister Whitaker has an official rating of 152 following his two and a half-length victory over Happy Diva (Kerry Lee, 10st 1lb) in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle.
Second-season chasers have a good record in the BetVictor Gold Cup, a handicap chase over two and a half miles, and another who falls in that bracket is Kalondra (10st 9lb).
The seven-year-old won two of his five starts over fences last season, including a decisive course success in the Ryman Novices’ Chase over two miles and five furlongs at The International in December, and ended the campaign back at Cheltenham with a good third in the Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Limited Handicap Chase at The April Meeting.
Kalondra fell on his reappearance this term when travelling well in a conditions chase at the Galway Festival in August, and has not raced since.
Trainer Neil Mulholland, who is based near Bath, said: “Kalondra has been good since Galway and we have had the BetVictor Gold Cup in mind for a while as he has run well at Cheltenham before.
“I would like to think that he will be very competitive off of his current mark . I don’t think we have got to the bottom of him yet and I think he can improve a bit more.
“The ground was soft when he won at Cheltenham last season and I would not be as bothered about the ground for him now, as he is definitely a bit stronger.
“He is the most solid of our entries and you would be happy with how he is going.”
Mulholland’s other BetVictor Gold Cup entry, eight-year-old Shantou Village (10st 4lb), is a two-time winner at Cheltenham and ran at The Showcase on his latest start last month, weakening to finish sixth when one of the market leaders for the ‘Matchbook Betting Exchange’ Handicap Chase over three miles and a furlong.
That performance came on the back of a respectable fifth behind Snow Falcon in the three-mile Kerry National Handicap Chase at Listowel, Ireland, in September.
Mulholland added: “Shantou Village will take his chance in the BetVictor Gold Cup as well. He also has form at the track.
“I think we were maybe too positive on him over the longer trip last time. We will hold onto him a little bit next time.”
West Sussex trainer Gary Moore also has two BetVictor Gold Cup contenders in Benatar (10st 10lb) and Baron Alco (10st 7lb). Benatar finished third behind Shattered Love in this year’s JLT Novices’ Chase, while Baron Alco was just touched off by Charbel in a handicap chase at Chepstow.
Recent Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase victor Frodon, with 11st 8lb, has the most weight of the nine Paul Nicholls-trained entries. Others to note for the Somerset handler include Romain De Senam (9st 13lb) and the J P McManus-owned trio of Le Prezien (11st 3lb), Modus (10st 11lb), successful at The Showcase, and Movewiththetimes (10st 1lb).
Last year’s BetVictor Gold Cup hero Splash Of Ginge (Nigel Twiston-Davies) has been allotted 10st 2lb. He could bid to become the seventh dual winner of the prestigious race and the first since Cyfor Malta (1998 & 2002).
His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who trains not far from Cheltenham, has sent out four winners of the BetVictor Gold Cup, more than any other current handler, and is also responsible for Crievehill (10st 7lb), Ballybolley (10st 1lb) and Ballyandy (9st 12lb).
Other contenders include Aso (Venetia Williams, 10st 11lb), who finished third behind Un De Sceaux in last year’s Ryanair Chase, plus unexposed French imports King’s Socks (David Pipe) and Full Glass (Alan King, 10st 3lb).