Trainer Willie Mullins has admitted that Sir Des Champs’ main advantage over his Cheltenham Gold Cup rivals is his love the surroundings at Prestbury Park.
The gutsy staying chaser, who is best-priced 9/2 with William Hill for the Cheltenham showpiece, is unbeaten in two starts at the Cheltenham Festival, courtesy of wins in the Martin Pipe Conditional Handicap Hurdle in 2011 and a top-class win in the Jewson Novices Chase last season.
He is bidding for the hat-trick in the race that his legendary trainer has failed to win yet. There is a certain air of confidence in Mullins’ voice when he discusses Sir Des Champs Cheltenham pedigree and he has revealed that all is well with the horse with just over two weeks until the big day.
“He worked on Saturday and worked well. Emmet Mullins rode him. He normally rides him in all his fast work,” Mullins told At The Races.
“The one good thing about Sir Des Champs is that he’s going back to a track that he loves – horses and courses and all that sort of thing.”
The season so far has been far from perfect for the Giggingstown Stud-owned star. He was beaten on his first two starts of the season, in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase and the Lexus Chase, before finding that winning feeling again in the Irish Hennessy. Mullins pointed towards the more suitable drier ground for his improvement last time out and he will be hoping the rain stays away between now and the Festival.
The leading Irish chaser is by no means a shoo-in at Cheltenham, as this is a Gold Cup with plenty of strength in depth. This is identified by 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander being as big as 20/1 with William Hill for the main event.
The former champion has been plagued by injuries since his sensational Gold Cup triumph but returned with the look of a serious horse when just being pipped at the line by Cape Tribulation in the Argento Chase. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies deserves a lot of credit for getting the horse back fit again and has admitted that Imperial Commander, in his eyes, his returning to the form that saw him beat Denman by seven lengths in the 2010 showpiece.
Reflecting on the Argento run, he said: “It was astonishingly good.
“If you’d offered me that second, I’d have been delighted as he’d had such a bad run up to it. He’d fractured the splint bone, he’d been swimming a lot but only had four weeks cantering and maybe that’s not really enough. He doesn’t seem an awful lot worse than he was three years ago.”
Twiston-Davies was speaking at his organised press day, where he was guiding the hacks through his string for the festival. Imperial Commander has nearly completed his prep for the Gold Cup but Twiston-Davies is keen to get a blow into him courtesy of a racecourse gallop, which is something the horse regularly engages in.
Twiston-Davies said: “I was hoping to take him to Newbury on Saturday but they won’t let us. They want us to go on Sunday, and if I can’t find anywhere on Saturday or this week then we may go on the Sunday.”
With just over two weeks until the main event, bookmakers still have Bobs Worth at the head of the market at a general 3/1 but there has been opposition the favourite in recent weeks.
Silviniaco Conti seems to be the talking horse at this stage, as Paul Nicholls’ main hope is as short as 9/2 with Bet365 after recent big wagers being struck.