Cheltenham Festival

Star novice The Real Whacker kept in Gold Cup contention as big guns stand their ground

Paddy Neville with The Real Whacker and his business partner Bex Dennis
The Real Whacker: could bid for the Gold Cup

Dreams of a Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup upset for a small yard are still alive after The Real Whacker was left in jump racing's most prestigious race on Saturday.

Patrick Neville could take on Willie Mullins' hot favourite Galopin Des Champs at Cheltenham next Friday with the unbeaten chaser, one of just 20 horses he trains near Leyburn in North Yorkshire.

The Real Whacker is a leading contender for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase on Wednesday, having impressed with his jumping in winning two novice events at Cheltenham this season.

Neville is not ruling out a crack at the Gold Cup, even though the confirmed field also includes the latest winners of the Grand National (Noble Yeats), King George VI Chase (Bravemansgame) and the Gold Cup itself (A Plus Tard).

After deciding to leave the seven-year-old in Friday's £625,000 showpiece, he said: "We're keeping our options until we have to decide whether or not to declare for the Brown Advisory on Monday morning.

"The ground won't suit everybody in the Gold Cup and it will be fine for our horse. We're heading down to Cheltenham today and I'm going to ride him on the track and see what the ground is like then and wait until Monday."

The Real Whacker is a best-priced 50-1 chance for the Gold Cup, with Galopin Des Champs clear favourite at no bigger than 7-4. 

Galopin Des Champs comes home eight lengths clear in the Irish Gold Cup
Galopin Des Champs: Gold Cup favourite still in the race at the confirmation stageCredit: Patrick McCann

Ryanair Chase favourite Shishkin was taken out, along with Angels Breath, Capodanno, Coole Cody, Envoi Allen, Franco De Port, Fury Road and Galvin.       

Ben Pauling has supplemented new recruit Jipcot for Friday's JCB Triumph Hurdle. He made the decision to fork out the necessary £4,884 after the four-year-old, who won his last two starts in France for Patrice Quinton, came through a crucial workout on Saturday morning.

However, the trainer warned Jipcot is not a certain runner at Cheltenham.

"He worked nicely this morning," Pauling said. "He's only been with us just over a week, the Megsons are very happy to supplement him but we've got to make sure we're 100 per cent happy with him before we go.

"Even though he's been supplemented, he's not a guaranteed runner. He's got to be spot on when declarations are made on Wednesday. He seems in good form, he's a lovely horse and there's no point in supplementing unless we think he's going to be competitive. 

"On official ratings he's got plenty to find but he won nicely last time out at Pau and he's got great movement and a great attitude." 

St Donats, a Grade 1 winner in France for Hugo Merienne, will miss Friday's race.

The trainer said: "He was entered in the Triumph but we mainly did that because the owner is English. We don’t want to give him a hard race at this age."

Bo Zenith was not confirmed by Gary Moore, who will target Aintree instead.

Lossiemouth: leading Triumph Hurdle fancy
Lossiemouth: one of seven for Willie Mullins in the Triumph HurdleCredit: Patrick McCann (

Willie Mullins' seven-strong team includes market leaders Lossiemouth, Blood Destiny and Gala Marceau.

Another small field looks likely for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase, which had only eight runners last year and attracted just nine confirmations on Saturday, but market leaders Allegorie De Vassy and Impervious are both still in contention.

David Christie confirmed hot favourite Vaucelet and last year's runner-up Winged Leader for the St James's Place Festival Hunters' Chase, along with the promising Ferns Lock who won at Gowran on Saturday afternoon.

Corbetts Cross was described as "50-50" to run in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle after he was bought privately by JP McManus, but the ante-post favourite was among 34 horses left in the race. 

Corbetts Cross (left) edges out Found A Fifty in the Johnstown Novice Hurdle at Naas
Corbetts Cross (left): not a guaranteed runner in the Albert Bartlett Novices' HurdleCredit: Patrick McCann

Pauling is also eyeing Tuesday's Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle with Bad, who has not been seen on a racecourse since bolting up for Didier Guillemin at Bordeaux in November.

"I hope he has a decent chance," the trainer said. "We're going only on what we've seen at home but his French form is fine. He did it nicely the last time, having looked a  bit green on his first two runs. 

"It’s a big ask for a horse first time in England to be dropped into a 22-runner handicap but I think his mark, on what I thought he would be given when I bought him, is probably a little more lenient than I expected so we thought we’d save him for the Boodles and see how he gets on. 

"I don’t think the ground will affect him although I think it’s going to be soft anyway, which should play in his favour."

The French handicapper rated Bad's success at Bordeaux as a 138 performance but the BHA handicapper routinely takes a more cautious view of juvenile form across the Channel and the son of Morandi will race off 126 on Tuesday.

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David CarrReporter
Published on 11 March 2023Last updated 20:08, 11 March 2023