Throughout the season, a clear narrative has developed. It goes that Don Poli is an animal possessing endless stamina who will relish battling up Cleeve Hill when all others have cried enough and that Vautour, on the other hand, is a flashy horse who does not possess the required stamina for an attritional test such as the Gold Cup. In my opinion, this theory is a victim of recency bias.
In the last few years, the staying chase division has experienced a vacuum since the retirements of Kauto Star and Denman marked the end of a truly golden era. In that time, the Gold Cup winners have included Synchronised (a Midlands and Welsh National winner), Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere. As the pictures show on the right, all of those horses were outpaced coming down the hill
before flying home passing tired rivals on the way to clinching the Gold Cup. Therefore, it is now mainstream thought that any potential Gold Cup runner must be laden with massive reserves of stamina to have any chance of winning.
However, if we look beyond some of the last few substandard renewals of the Gold Cup, it is obvious that the preferred type of horse for the Gold Cup is conversely the flashy, talented animal. For much of this century, almost all Gold Cup winners had proven themselves over intermediate trips.
Imperial Commander was victorious in the Ryanair Chase the season before winning the Gold Cup. He was a strong traveller who had the cruising speed to stalk Denman then breeze past off the fierce gallop. Kauto Star was a horse of a lifetime, he exemplified the importance of speed in his two Gold Cup victories. He was able to keep his position just off a strong pace and quickly put the race to bed coming down the hill with a burst of acceleration.
Looking further back in history, there have been horses with eerily similar profiles to Vautour who have won the Gold Cup. Perhaps the most encouraging example is Best Mate. Now comparing Vautour to a three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner may seem excessive, but before his first victory Best Mate faced a similar challenge. Beaten into second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Best Mate didn’t run beyond 2m 4f in his novice chasing campaign. Comparatively, he was just touched off into second in the King George and had to overcome stamina doubts before his win in the Gold Cup back at his beloved Cheltenham. I’m not saying that Vautour is going to go on and equal Best Mate in winning 3 Cheltenham Gold Cups, what I am saying is that it is not impossible for a horse like Vautour to win the race.
In addition, the 2005 Gold Cup winner Kicking King also ran in the Supreme Novices Hurdle before spending a novice chasing campaign limited to 2m and 2m4f races. He won 2 Graded races over intermediate trips in his Gold Cup winning season, exemplifying the speed needed to compete in such a race. The main difference between Kicking King and Vautour is that the Tom Taaffe trained gelding was victorious in the King George before tackling the Gold Cup, but Vautour came oh so close to doing that and it is clear he resembles the profiles of 2 famous Gold Cup winners.
In high quality renewals, the pace is usually very strong and thus being able to hold a tactical position becomes very important. In most Gold Cups this century, much of the field has faded away by the time they start racing down the hill second time round. This is because they are not quick enough to keep up the gallop. The times that this didn’t hold up were during the last few years, when it is has been a common sight to see a group of horses in with a chance round the final bend and the horse with the most stamina prevailing.
With the prevailing mood around this race being that it could be the best since Kauto Star and Denman duelled on Prestbury Park, I believe the true Gold Cup horse requires a high cruising speed not endless stamina to have the best chance. A high cruising speed is something Don Poli lacks in his talented arsenal, which I believe makes Vautour the horse much more suited to this year’s race.