Jonjo going for Gold
The view from connections ahead of Saturday's BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Jonjo O'Neill: Double-handed in the BetVictor Gold Cup
Jonjo O'Neill is excited by the return of More Of That in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Dubbed the best horse O'Neill has trained, the eight-year-old heads the market for this eagerly-awaited renewal of this prestigious handicap chase despite his relative experience over fences.
More Of That's talent is undeniable as he showed when defeating Annie Power in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the 2014 Festival.
However, he has had his issues and has been restricted to just four starts since then.
His last three outings have been over fences and at Cheltenham. Successful in the first two, he disappointed when only third to Blaklion in the RSA Chase but was found to have broken a blood vessel.
O'Neill reports the JP McManus-owned gelding to be in tip-top shape for his return.
"Our horses have been running a little bit below par, but he seems in good form and if he performs the same way he is at home, I'd be very happy," said the Jackdaws Castle trainer.
"AP (Tony McCoy) rode him last Monday morning and said he would come back for this fellow. That's the sort of feeling he gives you at home.
"He's a very genuine horse and he's just a pleasure to be around. He's one of those horses we all love in the yard. I think he's the best horse I've ever trained, but unfortunately he's got a few problems, as we all know.
"He's done most of his winning at two-and-a-half and only won the World Hurdle at three (miles), but he got that well that day.
"I definitely think he is a Gold Cup horse, (but) in the back of my mind, I have a little doubt about him getting the trip in the Gold Cup, as he has a lot of pace."
O'Neill is also happy with the state of his other runner, Taquin Du Seuil, following his seasonal debut at Chepstow five weeks ago.
"He ran really well on his return at Chepstow. Softer ground would have helped because he got a bit outpaced but came home well," he said. "He has been in great order since and this race has been the plan."
Paul Nicholls sends a formidable four-strong team headed by four-year-old Frodon, who bids to become the youngest ever winner of this race. Nicholls saddled the five-year-old Caid Du Berlais to strike in 2014.
Frodon makes a swift return after winning at Wincanton last weekend.
"The first two novice chases he only popped round and got the job done and we didn't learn much," said Nicholls' assistant Harry Derham.
"Saturday was a good step up and it was certainly not a surprise to see him win, but it was nice to see him do it all the same. He will be having a quick turnaround, but to be honest, I'm not really worried about that.
"He is really tough horse and does not worry about much. He has eaten up well since Saturday and the thing about him is he pricks his ears when he gets to the front, which means he is always saving a bit so he did not have a hard race.
"I think Frodon has a huge chance – he has the right profile for the race and is an up-and-coming, improving horse."
Nicholls' three other runners – As De Mee, Bouvreuil and Art Mauresque – cannot be discounted either.
"As De Mee won nicely at Fontwell. He ran some very good races last season and was fifth behind Black Hercules at the Festival," said Derham.
"People have called him a few names but even if he improved a stone, he would have struggled to win some of those races. Sean (Bowen) won on him last time. Bouvreuil has been trained for this for a good while. He can be a bit headstrong early on.
"He has got a high head carriage and that makes people think he is ungenuine, but, because he can be keen early, he sometimes doesn't finish as strong as you would like.
"He is very, very fit and I would expect him to run a really good race. The main thing for him is a strong early pace to help him settle. Art Mauresque was sixth in this last year and has been in good form this season.
"He is difficult to gauge as last season there was a point when you thought he had reached his peak, but he has won his last two starts. He is in really good nick and looks like he has improved again."
Annacotty bids to become the sixth dual winner of the this race as he aims to repeat last year's success on his seasonal reappearance.
"He's fine. This has always been the target for him to come here for his first run. He's a better horse fresh," said his trainer Alan King. "If we got any rain on Friday night, it would help his chances."
Last year's runner-up Buywise has had the benefit of a prep run over hurdles at Aintree last month.
"He's grand. He ran a very good race at Aintree," said his trainer Evan Williams. "He got his confidence back after running in the Grand National. He ran some good races last year. It's very difficult to go and win the race, but if he could run well again we'd be delighted."
Village Vic had an excellent first half to the last campaign, winning his first three starts, including twice at Cheltenham, before his form tailed off.
Trainer Philip Hobbs believes the nine-year-old is back in good form but is concerned the handicapper might have his measure.
"He had a very busy season last season and we hope it (disappointed twice) was just because it was the end of the season," the Minehead handler told At The Races.
"Certainly everything at home has been very good, but he started last season off 125 and finished it off 155, which is a massive difference. Whether he is able to manage that sort of handicap mark, I'm not sure, but we'll find out on Saturday.
"I don't know whether he'll be left alone in front or not, but if there's nothing to make the running, he will and it suits him round Cheltenham."
Tom George was delighted with Double Shuffle's first run for six months when he was second to Art Mauresque at Chepstow and is expecting an improved display with that outing under his belt.
"He's been in good form since his last run. He's come on a lot and he's had a good preparation since that comeback run," said the Slad trainer. "Hopefully it will be enough to make him competitive and I'm looking forward to running him."
Johnny Farrelly is praying for rain to aid his hope Stilletto.
"Hopefully they get that little bit of rain to make the ground right for him. Noel Fehily rides him which is good," said the Bridgewater handler. "His work since he came to us has been good and everything is going well and he is ready for his first run. Two and half is fine for him, although he probably will get further. He is nicely weighted but it is a competitive handicap and you never know with novices if they are well handicapped at this stage."
Colin Tizzard is doubly-represented with Sizing Granite and Sizing Platinum, both owned by Ann and Alan Potts.
"I gave Tom O'Brien the choice and he went for Sizing Granite," said Tizzard.
"He has obviously got Grade One form, whereas the other horse has had a run (this season). I wouldn't have thought there's much between them, but we'll see. They both have a chance."
Robin Dickin believes Thomas Crapper could outrun his odds, especially if he responds to wearing a tongue strap for the first time.
"Thomas Crapper's preparation has gone fine. In his last run at Ascot he made noise, which he has never done before, and I think that's what stopped him, so I have decided to try him in a tongue strap on Saturday," said the Alcester trainer.
"He loves Cheltenham and, if he can get back to his best, he is a very well-handicapped horse. Off a light weight, I would be hoping for a big run, but I just hope the tongue strap works because that is the question mark, not his health."
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