The Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham is the first big betting race of the jumps season and it's been one-way traffic for Saturday's renewal (due off at 2.35pm) with punters lumping on Mon Parrain like it's a good thing.
Having been 7/1 last week, the Paul Nicholls-trained chaser is now as short as 3/1 and William Hills' quote of 7/2 is unlikely to last long. Some shrewd judges reckon he could be as short as Long Run, who went off at 2/1 favourite for this race 12 months ago, before finishing third. The trip and some expensive jumping errors were to blame for that defeat but there are no such worries with Mon Parrain, who has been electric over fences in his two runs in Britain and has already shown he can handle a big field like this one when finishing second in the Topham at Aintree. He's making his seasonal debut here but has clearly been trained for the race and the presence of his stablemate Poquelin at the head of the weights mean he will line up with just 10st 8lb on his back, with the assistance of Ruby Walsh in the saddle another massive plus.
Is there anything not to like? Well, Nicholls has never won the race but it would be madness to oppose him on that count as the trainer has saddled the runner-up four times and his Granit Jack would have surely have won had he not fallen fatally at the now repositioned penultimate fence in 2007. His horses have needed a run this season and it's been said that Mon Parrain is not an easy horse to get fit but a racecourse gallop at Exeter last week should have put him spot on and the stable's runners could not be in better form with five winners at Wincanton last weekend. The only real negative is his price and that alone will put some off, but I can't help thinking that the 7/2 will look massive at some stage of the race on Saturday and I'm not going to look elsewhere for the winner.
What I will do is put one up at each-way odds and THE GIANT BOLSTER, a 14/1 shot with Boylesports, is one I've had my eye on for a while now. Backing second season chasers on the upgrade has been a recipe for success in this race and David Bridgwater's six-year-old fits that bill perfectly. Also in common with several recent winners is the fact he's won at the track, having landed a novice handicap chase back in January, and it's also worth noting that he was beaten only seven lengths by Peddlers Cross in the 2010 Neptune Novices', which suggests he has more than enough ability to win a race of this nature off his current handicap mark of 146 (carries 10st 2lb).
That said, you wouldn't want to back him if you'd watched any of his runs last season as his jumping was decidedly novicey and he came down in three of his five starts (won the other two). However, his trainer has enlisted the assistance of eventing coach Yogi Breisner, who is renowned for sorting out horses with jumping problems and did an expert job on Long Run last season, so there is every chance he will jump soundly this time. To help him concentrate, Bridgwater equipped him with cheekpieces on his seasonal debut over hurdles at Chepstow recently and he ran a blinder to finish fourth of 18. Given that he's sure to come on for that run, there is every reason to expect a big run on Saturday.
Of the rest, Great Endeavour (14/1 Stan James) was a disappointing sixth in last year's race and is now on a 5lb higher mark, but his trainer David Pipe is sure to have him primed for a contest that his father Martin won eight times. I can see him running well but whether he can beat Mon Parrain and The Giant Bolster is another matter. It's an ultra-competitive 21-runner race and dangers abound but I do like these three above anything else and a combination forecast (six bets) looks the way to go with an each-way bet on the Bridgwater horse thrown in for good measure.
The Giant Bolster 1pt each-way @ 14/1 Boylesports
Mon Parrain / The Giant Bolster / Great Endeavour 0.5pt combination forecast