Cheltenham Festival 2014: Silviniaco Conti has class to show Bobs real worth

George VI winner can deny Nicky Henderson a repeat Gold Cup

cheltenham

Most sports are nothing without their past and this, which has the best-documented history of any, is no exception. Fifty years ago here the perceptions of what a top-class steeplechaser actually was began to change as a bay gelding from Ireland powered almost insouciantly up the famous hill to the finishing line, putting paid to any pretensions to true greatness held by the local hero, Mill House.

That horse was, of course, Arkle, winning the first of his three Gold Cups. He remains the beau ideal, the standard by which jumpers are measured, a competitor who changed the rules of the game (literally; he was so much better than the rest that a new system of handicapping had to be introduced). The phrase "best since" has been invoked along the way, most recently for Kauto Star and Denman, but never "as good as".

On Friday, another plain-coloured bay gelding will be trying to take his place in the pantheon as winner of more than one edition of jump racing's crown, but there the comparison stops. Bobs Worth is entirely worthy and can be valued at slightly more than a shilling – he cost £20,000 and his earnings now amount to more than £650,000 – but he is not a horse to make the neutral's pulse beat much faster. Nor, in truth, are any of his 13 rivals. At least not yet.

With last year's hero and the pair who have taken this season's best domestic trials – Silviniaco Conti and Triolo D'Alene, winners respectively of the King George VI Chase at Kempton and Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury – among the challengers for the £550,000 purse, it would be churlish to rate the field substandard. But the final championship race of the week seems, on the face of it, to be lacking a frisson

 

We cannot expect extraordinary achievement every year and there is a great deal to be said for the admirable quality of honest endeavour. Bobs Worth is an endearing character, unassuming and unflashy at home. As chasers go he is small but his size belies his talent.

And his record is difficult to fault. He has won 10 of his 14 races and has not been beaten in five outings at Cheltenham nor in his three at the Festival, where he has worked his way doggedly up the ranks: novice hurdler, novice chaser, then senior champion.

The unique challenge posed by this undulating arena, with its gruelling home stretch, is not to every horse's taste, but Bobs Worth, from the stable of the meeting's leading trainer Nicky Henderson, seems to relish it. Because of his spare physique he tends to be sparingly campaigned; he has run only twice this season, bouncing back from an uncharacteristically flat effort behind Cue Card, the Ryanair Chase winner Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti at Haydock to beat one of Ireland's most consistent performers, First Lieutenant, at Leopardstown in late December.

Silviniaco Conti came into last year's Gold Cup on a roll and was going ominously easily in third place when he landed too steeply at the third-last fence and fell for the first and only time in his life. This season he proved he belonged at the top table with his exhilarating defeat of Cue Card in the Boxing Day three-miler, and Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to win a Gold Cup, having done so with See More Business, Kauto Star twice, and Denman.

The Irish have not exported the meeting's showpiece for eight years. Their attack will be is four-pronged, headed by Last Instalment and First Lieutenant in the same colours, those of Ryanair principal Michael O'Leary, as the most recent successful raider, War Of Attrition.

Last Instalment arguably has the most persuasive credentials, but his participation is not certain and will not be confirmed until this morning. The nine-year-old is talented and progressive but has a history of tendon problems.

His getting as far as being included in the list of runners was not without controversy. His trainer Philip Fenton has been charged in Ireland with illegal possession of veterinary products, including anabolic steroids, and faces a second court appearance next week. .

If he needs soft underfoot conditions, the opposite is true for First Lieutenant. The gelding is one of this generation's nearly horses, placed 11 times at Grade One level, including at the last two Festivals.

Every race needs a gamble, supplied here by Bobs Worth's stablemate Triolo D'Alene, who was backed from as long as 25-1 two weeks ago even before the booking of Tony McCoy in the saddle. He is one of the youngest in the field and is progressive but, like On His Own and Teaforthree, has had the Grand National as his prime target this season.

Should Silviniaco Conti (3.20), the mount of Noel Fehily, prevail he will take Nicholls level with Tom Dreaper, who scored with Prince Regent before Arkle and Fort Leney afterwards, as the race's most successful trainer. The seven-times champion rates the French-bred chestnut highly. "See More Business won a King George, so did Kauto Star," he said. "This one has that same sort of class." As good as? That'll do.

The final afternoon of jumping's showpiece occasion can bring joy for one of Flat racing's most prominent faces. Newmarket-based John Ferguson's day job is racing and bloodstock adviser to Sheikh Mohammed, but during the winter he makes a fine fist of training well-bred throwouts from the summer game to turn their talent to obstacles. After several near-misses he can notch a first Festival victory in the Triumph Hurdle with the Teofilo four-year-old Broughton (1.30), who looked highly progressive in his warm-up at Musselburgh and will be favoured by the drying ground.

The Grade One novices' contest can go a more traditional route and follow the week's others to Willie Mullins' yard courtesy of Briar Hill (2.40) and the amateurs' hunter chase to Harbour Court (4.00). The puzzles of the handicap hurdles may be solved by Cheltenian (2.05) and Caid Du Berlais (4.40) and the closing chase by Eastlake (5.15).

Tips: Who will win the Gold Cup?

Sue Montgomery (Racing Writer)

1 Silviniaco Conti 2 First Lieutenant 3 Bobs Worth

Kevin Garside (Sports Writer)

1 Bobs Worth 2 Silviniaco Conti 3 Knockara Beau

Jon Freeman (Racing Writer)

1 Bobs Worth 2 Silviniaco Conti 3 Triolo D'Alene

John Cobb (Racing Post Associate Editor)

1 Silviniaco Conti 2 On His Own 3 Cloudy Too

What's in a name?

Cinders And Ashes (2.05)

Exclamation of annoyance or surprise used by Thomas the Tank Engine and friends.

Montbazon (2.05)

Commune in central France, dominated by a first-century fortress.

Captain Cutter (2.40)

Fantasy war-game character, commanding officer of the UNSC ship 'Spirit Of Fire'.

The Giant Bolster (3.20)

A Cornish ogre who, as legend has it, would terrorise the folk of St Agnes.

Ruacana (4.40)

Town in northern Namibia, most notable for its magnificent eponymous falls.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York