In what looked his toughest test so far in his light racing career, Santini took on one of chasing’s big boys in Bristol De Mai and positively passed with flying colours. A ready 3 ½ length win over the Twiston-Davies horse has set him up well for a tilt at the big one in March. Cheltenham is clearly a track that he enjoys and given that he will relish the stiffer test of the Gold Cup, there is a good chance he can improve again. Nicky Henderson is bullish on his chances come the festival, already shedding light on the fact that the horse needs a lot of work in him to keep him straight. Given the work he will doing over the next month, you can expect the jumping department to only improve. Mr Henderson was quoted after the race saying that “When you can’t train him he goes the other way again. You have got to fire work at him. The more you do the better he gets. There is more to come.” Given the work he will doing over the next month, you can expect the jumping department to only improve, and with the latter part of that statement particularly positive, come the Gold Cup in March there is no doubt that Henderson will have him as straight as ever.
In terms of Bristol De Mai, he was far from disgraced. Although Gold Cup triumph seems rather unlikely now, he has still put up two very creditable performances against two high-class novices this season. The aim is still to go for the Blue Riband and why not? He ran a blinder when you consider the factors that conspired against him on Saturday. The penalty he carried meant that Santini received 2lbs, couple that with the mistake he made at the third last, he did remarkably well to be in front at the last, only for his effort to understandably peter out in the last 150 yards. There is a very conceivable case that the lengths he lost from that error at the third last, are roughly the distance he ended up being beaten. When looking at it that way, there is no reason at all why Bristol cannot run yet another gutsy race in the Gold Cup, and although going better than his third placing last year will ultimately be difficult, you would have to be a brave punter to totally dismiss his chances. Nigel Twiston-Davies was certainly of that opinion, stating that “He was the best of the British last year and looks as good as he was then so why is he 33-1 and Santini 6-1 or thereabouts? It doesn’t make any sense to me.” A fair point from a man who knows one or two things about horses. Given that he is currently a 33-1 shot, a couple of pounds each-way may not be the worst bet for the more speculative punters out there.
In conclusion, Santini has to be on punters radars for the Gold Cup. He jumped much better, bar the second last, and as predicted by Nicky Henderson, came on a massive amount for his seasonal return. The extreme trip of the Gold Cup will suit the horse down to the ground and given his run on Saturday was only the eighth chase start of his career, there is the large potential for more improvement to come. The 6-1 currently on offer for Santini can hardly be called out for its mass amount of value, but it certainly does advocate his chances of winning the feature race at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
written by Daniel Harrold