Class can count at Business end

There are many perilous fences for the good horses to cross in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this afternoon, but by far the most daunting obstacle is the huge mound of statistics which both Gloria Victis and See More Business have to negotiate.

There are many perilous fences for the good horses to cross in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this afternoon, but by far the most daunting obstacle is the huge mound of statistics which both Gloria Victis and See More Business have to negotiate.

If you sift through the paperwork of history it is almost preposterous to nominate either of the two horses which will dominate the market in steeplechasing's Blue Riband. Gloria Victis fails on account of his relative infancy. No six-year-old has collected this, the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain, since Mill House in 1963, and no novice has won it since Captain Christy in 1974.

A less rigid assessment of the gelding would, however, give him a serious chance. Gloria Victis won the Racing Post Chase at Kempton quite compellingly from the front last month, 10 lengths in advance of his nearest pursuer. As that was Marlborough, who won the National Hunt Handicap Chase here on the opening day of the meeting, the form is immovable. More open to question, though, is Gloria Victis's capacity to now reproduce his qualities from the right-handed, flat course at Sunbury to this anti-clockwise undulating, extremely demanding circuit.

See More Business's suitability for this terrain is not debatable. He is the champion. Yet that mere fact seems to put him in danger. In its near 80-year history only five horses have won the Gold Cup more than once. The most recent animal to win consecutive runnings was L'Escargot in 1970-71. In addition, the short price which suggests See More Business is the one to beat carries with it a dark omen. The last 12 horses to start at 7-4 or less in the Gold Cup have been beaten and only six favourites have won since Arkle in 1966.

See More Business has, however, already shredded one set of statistics. When he won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October it was the first time a Gold Cup winner had won first time out the following season since Desert Orchid 10 years previously.

"The public have finally got a Gold Cup winner who has proved he was no fluke," Mick Fitzgerald, the favourite's jockey, says. "He broke that hoodoo and I now hope he is going to break that other one about a horse winning back-to-back Gold Cups. The Gold Cup in itself is a very taxing race and some horses never recover from it. But this fellow is made from very stern stuff.

"The horse has endeared himself to the public now with the displays he's put up this season. He broke the track record at Wetherby and did that demolition job in the King George and again at Newbury."

It seems that Fitzgerald's raceplan will be mapped out by others, particularly the pathfinding Gloria Victis. But he does have options.

"The great thing about this horse is that there is no set tactic," the jockey says. "I don't have to make the running, I don't have to drop him in and I can choose whether I go down the inside or the outer. I will just sit where the horse is happy. He will dictate where we are in the race.

"It's very self-satisfying to be riding a horse as good as he is and I sincerely hope to remain unbeaten after the Gold Cup. But I'm not confident going in there. I'm just hopeful. There is no certainty at Cheltenham apart from the fact that there'll be plenty of people there."

It is, of course, no two-horse race, though we can rule out Lake Kariba, who has no place here. Looks Like Trouble won the Royal & SunAlliance Chase over the course 12 months ago and was impressive at this venue last time in an admittedly uncompetitive field.

The going may assist Florida Pearl, last year's beaten favourite, to get home, although the memory of his sprawl up the Festival hill remains difficult to erase. The hope of Ireland is scheduled to be ridden by Paul Carberry, who has not competed at the meeting since winning the opening race. He punctured a haematoma on his back that day but rode out on the course for Willie Mullins yesterday and is expected to take part.

Strong Promise has a sniff of a chance on this fast going and there are similar grounds for selecting Tullymurry Toff as the best outsider.

This, however, must be a day to burn paper, a day to make history bunk. Gloria Victis has too many contemporary arguments against him to earn preference, so we must go for the favourite. The blinkers have drastically transformed See More Business since Paul Nicholls, his trainer, hoisted them over the gelding's head before the final Gold Cup of the last millennium. The champion is now ready to change several old tenets of racing lore.

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