Last year’s runner-up Colour Squadron ( a general 12-1 chance in the ante-post market ) was a surprise absentee from Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at the final declaration stage with owner JP McManus electing to rely on three lesser fancied contenders for the first major handicap chase of the season at Cheltenham in Irish raider Shanpallas, Cantlow from the Paul Webber stable and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Eastlake.
Despite looking an unlucky loser 12 months ago connections of Colour Squadron have decided to re-route the horse to Friday’s Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase at Prestbury Park leaving a field of 19 for Saturday’s Grade 3 showpiece with Oscar Whisky and last year’s winner Johns Spirit heading the weights on 11st 12lb for the extended 2m 4f contest worth £91,120 to the winner.
Jamie Snowen’s Festival winner Present View heads the betting on 6-1, a price available with several bookmakers including the sponsor, Ladbrokes, Coral and Winner who are enhancing the six year-old’s odds to 10-1 for new customers. The Evan William-trained Buywise has attracted plenty of support over the last few day and is disputing favouritism with Bet365 at 11-2 but can still be backed at a standout 8-1 with Ladbrokes.
John Spirit is a top price 9-1 with Boylesports, Paddy Power ( who are paying 5 places ) and Stan James to become the sixth dual winner of the race and first since Cyfor Malta in 1998 and 2002 while Nicky Henderson, as well as having Oscar Whisky ( a general 10-1 chance ), the trainer of 2003 winner Fondmort will also be represented by the lightly-weighted Ericht, available at 16-1 with most bookmakers.
Groundbreaking trainer Martin Pipe won the race no fewer than eight times and since handing over the reins to son David the stable quickly made their mark with the victory of Great Endeavour three years ago and on this occasion rely on Easter Meteor ( 14-1 Betvictor and William Hill ) who will be having his first run for Pipe after leaving Emma Lavelle at the end of last season. In a wide-open renewal Indian Castle and Attaglance are just two other contenders who will have plenty of supporters in a fascinating contest.