Johns Spirit heads weights for Caspian Caviar Gold Cup

This year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up Johns Spirit (Jonjo O’Neill, 11st 12lb) tops the weights for the £100,000 Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup on day two of The International on Saturday, December 13 at Cheltenham.

The start time of the 2m 5f handicap chase has been brought forward to 2.00pm (from 2.35pm) in order to minimise the risk of issues with the low sun over the four fences in the home straight.

Simon Claisse, Head of Racing South West and Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham, explained: “In 2006, we commissioned a report from the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) to identify the risk period for low sun affecting fences and hurdles in the home straight during the months of November, December and January following a number of occasions in the preceding seasons when obstacles were omitted.

“Based on STRI’s research and our previous experience, the risk period was identified as being between 2.50pm and 3.50pm.

“Physical solutions to screen the sun’s track through this hour were not feasible so the running orders since then have ensured chases are not run during this period.

“Following the experience of the novices’ chase at The Open run at 2.25pm, the start time of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup has been brought forward to 2.00pm, to minimise the risk of issues with the low sun over the four fences in the home straight.”

Johns Spirit went down by a head to Caid Du Berlais (Paul Nicholls, 11st) in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, although Johns Spirit would be 1lb better off if the pair re-oppose in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, which has 32 entries. Johns Spirit won the 2013 Paddy Power Gold Cup and then finished fifth in last year’s equivalent of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

All four of Paul Nicholls’ entries feature highly in the weights of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with dual Grade Two victor Wonderful Charm (11st 11lb), Grade One second Rolling Aces (11st 7lb) and Sound Investment (11st 1lb) also among the champion trainer’s contenders.

The Malcom Jefferson-trained Attaglance (10st 9lb) was beaten half a length by Present View in the Listed Rewards4racing Novices’ Handicap Chase at The Festival in March but missed this year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup due to the soft ground, having finished fourth in the race 12 months earlier.

Yorkshire-based Jefferson may also be represented by Firth Of The Clyde (10st 1lb), who scored over fences at Wetherby and Market Rasen last season before coming home 10th at The Festival in the Grade Three Byrne Group Plate. The eight-year-old, who only made his debut in October, 2012, was second under top-weight on his seasonal return in a Kelso handicap chase on November 8.

Jefferson reported: “If the ground is fine, then Attaglance will run at Cheltenham. If it’s soft, he won’t go and it would really need to be good, good to soft in places for him to take his chance. He will also be given an entry at Doncaster on the same day and he could go there instead if the ground was better.

“He ran well behind Johns Spirit in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last year and was just beaten by Present View at The Festival, who was third in this year’s race, so the form of both races has stood up well.
“If the ground came up soft, really soft, then we could run Firth Of The Clyde. He would have a great chance on soft or heavy ground as he is definitely a better horse on softer going. I think that the ground was too quick for him in the Byrne Group Plate.

“He ran over two miles and a furlong at Kelso but he will appreciate the step back up in distance – I wouldn’t mind even giving him a go over three miles on good to soft ground.

“It was a good run at Kelso, considering he was giving a lot of weight away and our horses just haven’t been firing on all cylinders. They are coming back to themselves now and Firth Of The Clyde will definitely improve because he needed a run last year.”

Niceonefrankie (Venetia Williams, 10st 8lb) was an impressive winner of an Ascot handicap chase on November 21, while No Buts (David Bridgwater, 10st 6lb) and Monetaire (David Pipe, 10st 2lb) could also make reappearances after scoring well at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting last week.

A trio of entries from Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins includes Djakadam (10st 8lb), who was eighth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, The Paparrazi Kid (10st 7lb) and Turban (11st 5lb).

Other notable entries include Paddy Power Gold Cup fourth Oscar Whisky (Nicky Henderson, 11st 11lb), who has posted six victories at Cheltenham, the lightly-raced Court In Motion (Emma Lavelle, 10st 6lb) and easy Sedgefield handicap chase victor Darna (Kim Bailey, 10st 10lb).

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