Royale Pagaille’s Cheltenham target should be the Gold Cup itself, according to the racing manager to the horse’s owners. No final decision will be made for some weeks, but the news is a significant boost for anyone who wants to see steeplechasing’s rising star in the biggest race at next month’s Festival.
“Given his prominence in the betting for the Gold Cup, I would like to see him take his chance in it this year,” Joe Chambers told the Guardian on Wednesday. Chambers has long represented the interests of Rich and Susannah Ricci, whose pink and green colours have regularly made it to the winner’s enclosure during recent Festivals, but never yet in the Gold Cup.
Back in the autumn, Royale Pagaille’s name was barely known outside the Herefordshire stable of his trainer, Venetia Williams, who had initially had some trouble finding a buyer after paying €70,000 for him at an auction in France in 2018. But a run of three increasingly impressive successes have put the seven-year-old plenty third in most betting lists for the Gold Cup, with no major bookmaker offering bigger than 10-1.
“He has experience and the trip should not be a problem,” Chambers said. “But his best form to this point has been on flat tracks. The way I look at it is, let’s find out that he handles Cheltenham in the Gold Cup, rather than the National Hunt Chase.”
Royale Pagaille has been such a slow burner that he still qualifies as a novice over fences, despite having his first run in a steeplechase almost three years ago. As a result, he still has entries in what would normally be regarded as easier races at next month’s Festival, though he has now been taken out of the Marsh Novice Chase on the grounds that the distance of two and a half miles would be too short.
He also seems unlikely to contest the Brown Advisory, formerly known as the RSA, because the Riccis already own the hot favourite for that race in Monkfish, based in Ireland with Willie Mullins. That leaves the marathon National Hunt Chase that, Chambers agreed, might become more attractive if the Cheltenham ground looked like drying out, on the basis that it would allow Royale Pagaille to make more use of his stamina.
A final decision appears unlikely before final entries must be made on 14 March, two days before the Festival. “My personal opinion would be to go for Gold this year. The outcome depends on a discussion between Susannah, Rich and Venetia,” said Chambers, who joked: “I’ll have my say and they will promptly ignore it, in all likelihood.”
Williams has seemed inclined to take a cautious approach and used the phrase “Let’s not get carried away” in the days after Royale Pagaille won Haydock’s Peter Marsh by 16 lengths.
The Riccis have had some bad news this weekwith Benie Des Dieux being ruled out of the Festival after failing to please in her home work. Chambers said: “We’ll have very few novices travelling over, for one reason or another. They haven’t hit the standard or they’re injured.
“But we’ll still have quite a strong team in the round, thanks to Chacun Pour Soi, Monkfish, Min, Hook Up in the Mares Novice Hurdle, and Royale Pagaille and hopefully a couple of horses in the handicaps.”
Thursday’s best bets
Last seen in the Mandarin at Newbury, Cuban Pete (4.15) gave himself no chance of getting home that day by racing freely from the outset and jumping out to the right on occasion, including twice at the cross fence. He was well beaten by the winner but stuck on bravely to be third of 14.
A switch back to a right-handed track seemed essential, bearing in mind he is a three-time winner at Hereford, and I can give him another chance at Sandown on Thursday. His rivals are interesting without being compelling. Jepeck’s effort will be worth monitoring as the Anthony Honeyball yard has its first runners since January.
Gastara (4.50) benefits from a major jockey upgrade as Johnny Farrelly’s runner makes his handicap debut. Kevin Brogan takes over in the saddle from a claiming amateur whose last winner over jumps was 15 years ago, which can’t have been ideal for a horse who takes a strong hold. The hood is fitted and the well-related Gastara ought to have a few pounds in hand if he can be persuaded to behave.
At Leicester, someone else likes Hot Smoked (1.30), down to 6-1 from the opening 10s. She showed promise when last seen over fences, just finding Taunton a bit sharp last spring. She should be sharper for her reappearance over hurdles and the handicapper has given her a chance.