Punting pointers as Step Back bids to pull off famous repeat in bet365 Gold Cup
bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) | 3m5f | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV
Former winners bid for repeat victories
Step Back bids to become the first back-to-back winner of this race since Topsham Bay landed his second Whitbread – as it was called back then – in 1993, and Mark Bradstock's horse has been well supported this week, halving in price from 16-1 into the sponsor's co-favourite at 8-1 on the eve of the race.
A 13-length winner last season, Step Back races off a 10lb higher mark here. He has been well beaten on his three starts since his Sandown success and was pulled up in the National last time.
Jockey Nico de Boinville said: "I still think he's good enough to win off his mark, but he's tricky and not very robust. He has trouble with his muscles, which, touch wood, we're on top of, but then he's got these horrible feet and they give him a lot of grief.
"I wouldn't be as confident as I was last year because he's just had a hard race in the National and back then he'd had the perfect prep at Fakenham. But we wouldn't be running if we didn't think he had a chance."
The Young Master won this in 2016 and was third in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival last time.
Trainer Neil Mulholland said: "He's in really good form and ran a very solid race at Cheltenham. We know he likes the course and distance so we're really looking forward to running him."
Just A Sting has perfect profile to hit target
It has already been a memorable campaign for Harry Fry's team but it would even better if Just A Sting can take what has been his long-term target.
Horses on an upward curve have a good recent record in the race and the seven-year-old has thrived over fences this season, winning two from four and running well at the Cheltenham Festival last time.
His profile is perfect considering nine of the last ten winners were rated under 148, and carried 11st or less, as he looks to become the third novice winner in 11 years.
Fry said: "He'll love the conditions and he's got a nice weight. We're really happy with him, it's his first try at the trip but we're confident he'll have no problem seeing it out. We've had this race in the back of our minds for a while so it would be nice if the plan came off."
Three 'solid chances' for Nicholls in search of fifth success
Paul Nicholls has won the race four times with Ad Hoc (2001 and 2003), Tidal Bay (2012) and Just A Par (2015), and has three runners, including last year's third Present Man, the mount of champion conditional Bryony Frost, who returns to action after injury.
Nicholls said: "Present Man ran well in the race last time and will love the ground. He's fresh and well, so there are lots of positives."
Give Me A Copper was a leading fancy for the Ultima Chase at Cheltenham last time but fell when well beaten, while Adrien Du Pont misses the race after not eating up on Saturday morning.
Nicholls added: "The ground was too soft for Give Me A Copper at Cheltenham and he probably didn't run his race. He's come out of it well and done lots of schooling. He's unexposed and capable of going well."
What they say
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Beware The Bear and Vyta Du Roc
We took Beware The Bear out of the Scottish National because it was lightning quick. I'd be amazed if Sandown is as quick, but we'll have to see. He's done nothing wrong all season. We rode him differently at Cheltenham and we'll drop him out like we did in the Ultima. Vyta Du Roc's in good form and Daryl Jacob came and schooled him on Thursday.
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Rock The Kasbah and Rolling Dylan
Rock The Kasbah got brought down in the National but is fine. He was second in the race last year. Rolling Dylan has been in good form all season and the longer trip should suit. The ground isn't a problem for either.
Alan King, trainer of Talkischeap
Whether he should be favourite, or near favourite, I'm not sure, but he's fresh and well and the step up in trip should suit. He's better right-handed and I wouldn't think he'd mind the ground, but I think it will be pretty lively. I thought he ran well at Kempton last time when my horses probably weren't on fire. He's in grand shape and could run well.
Evan Williams, trainer of Prime Venture
Any proper rain would be a big help. He's still a maiden over fences but has run some good races in defeat. It's great prize-money so it's worth giving it a go.
David Pipe, trainer of Rathlin Rose
He's come out of the Scottish National in fine form and likes Sandown. It's very competitive and he has a bit to find, with the ground probably about as fast as he really wants.
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