Cheltenham Gold Cup: Clan Des Obeaux can spoil Presenting Percy’s fairytale
Favourite has not raced over fences in a year giving Paul Nicholls a shout of fifth success
Presenting Percy wins the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last year. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ahead of Friday’s Magners Gold Cup it’s worth keeping in mind how after all the permutations and scenarios have been teased out beforehand championship races usually wind up being won by the best horse.
There may not be consensus about Presenting Percy being the most talented performer in this Gold Cup but there is about the scale of his task in steeplechasing’s most coveted prize.
The horse with the cheeky name from a small yard in Co Galway hasn’t raced over fences in a year. It’s 90 years since Easter Hero won the Gold Cup off that kind of preparation and he’d had a few runs over hurdles. Presenting Percy has had a single run over flights.
Of course training methods have generally evolved to a huge extent since 1929. Part of the mystery surrounding Presenting Percy’s media-shy trainer Pat Kelly however is that he is resolutely old-school in his methods.
Rather than all-weather gallops, GPS systems or heart monitors, Kelly apparently relies on only his eye and a stopwatch timing how long it takes his small string of horses to gallop from one end of an old point to point field to another.
Of course that might be a rural myth. No one knows for sure because Kelly ain’t telling. And it’s easier for a media type to get through the eye of a North Korean needle than to find out first hand on those particular fields of Athenry.
The wonderfully reassuring element to all this is the only evidence that counts when it comes to testing Kelly’s methods – racecourse success.
Unorthodox they may be but those methods have got Presenting Percy to win at the last two festivals. In 2016, his stable companion Mall Dini managed the same. Considering the context they have been superb illustrations of how different and wrong don’t mean the same thing.
The public have not surprisingly taken to the Presenting Percy story in a big way.
The extent to which the National Hunt game has become the preserve of an elite few owners and trainers can be gauged from how a horse owned by a hugely successful businessman, and the son of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, is widely viewed as a David versus various Goliaths.
A Gold Cup success would be the perfect ending to a romantic tale that will rank with any in the great race’s history should it happen.
And on the basis that Presenting Percy may well actually be the most talented horse in the race, bookmakers aren’t alone in thinking it can. If it does the Prestbury Park house may very well be brought down.
The niggle is that it feels like very short odds about the story’s romantic lead. What Presenting Percy has actually done this season doesn’t justify his status at the top of the market. It reflects potential rather than accomplishment. This will be his first race over fences out of novice class.
No one’s arguing he can’t do it but it’s a mammoth ask on the game’s greatest stage. The heart might beat for him but the head suggests looking for a bogeyman to beat him. Clan Des Obeaux looks to fit that bill.
Despite being a year younger than his Irish rival, Clan Des Obeaux can boast a King George victory this season as well as a super-smooth prep last month.
If that’s a notable contrast to Presenting Percy’s preparation, Clan Des Obeaux’s trainer Paul Nicholls is the total antithesis to Kelly.
The Englishman is a grandee of the game, a 10-times champion who has had some of the great names though his hands, including the superb Kauto Star. He can boast four Gold Cup victories in all. One more and he will equal the record of Arkle’s trainer Tom Dreaper.
Should another of them, Al Boum Photo, emerge on top it would be a perfect redemptive outcome for his jockey Paul Townend who infamously pulled him up at Punchestown last year when looking set to win.
The best horse in the race though may well be Presenting Percy. The suspicion remains that the most logical winner could be Clan Des Obeaux.