Can Royal Pagaille cause an upset at Cheltenham and return the Gold Cup to Herefordshire?
The countdown to the Cheltenham Gold Cup is on, and while the main contenders for the race come from Ireland, the UK has several lively outsiders that are hoping to get involved. One of those is Royale Pagaille, trained by Venetia Williams, and a horse that managed to finish sixth in the race last season, but more is expected this time around, not least after his run at Newbury on Saturday.
In terms of preparation for the race, Royale Pagaille has more than adequately advertised his claims, which has led to him being priced at 20/1 with Paddy Power in the latest horse racing betting markets. That comes on the back of one win this season, plus two second-placed finishes. He owes owner Susan Ricci nothing,┬á regardless of what happens in the Gold Cup.
However, of course, the Gold Cup is the biggest prize in National Hunt racing and the one that the Venetia Williams stable will aim to win with their best contender since the days of Teeton Mill.
Royale Pagaille clings on to win the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase
He defied top weight and the pressure of Sam Brown who would not give up
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) January 22, 2022
The Strengths of Royal Pagaille
If there is one big strength of Royale Pagaille, then it is that he certainly can stay the Gold Cup distance. At three miles and two furlongs, this tests horses to the max, but Royale Pagaille is well capable of running over the distance, and more.
A huge weight carrying performance to win the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock was his only win of the season, with top weight on his back, soft ground, and over three miles to run. This brought out the very best in him.
At other courses, where the undulations are gentler, where the pace will be less hot, or in a race of three miles or less, Royale Pagaille would have no chance of winning the Gold Cup. However, this test will bring out the best in him, and give him a chance of at least running into the places.
The ground may also help if Cheltenham gets hit with rain. Should the going be soft, or worse, heavy, then this will bring stamina and staying power into play again, suiting Royale Pagaille and also disadvantaging others in the field.
Following a trainer in form
They say that form is temporary, whilst class is permanent. But of one thing we can be sure. In this stand out season, Venetia Williams has enjoyed a superb and sustained run of form over several months, which is continuing at the time of writing. Royal Pagaille won’t be the only fancied runner headed east along the M50 toward Cheltenham in a month’s time, and irrespective of success there, the stylish Venetia can look back on a stellar season.
Sometimes though, momentum can instil an extra ounce or two of confidence in horse and rider. That confidence can enable a partnership to steal a length or two that can make all the difference at this level.
Can he upset the Irish?
The big question is whether Royal Pagaille can beat the Irish or not. Many contenders from Ireland head the betting market, including Minella Indo who won the Gold Cup last year, and A Plus Tard, who finished second behind him, and who got the better of Royale Pagaille at Haydock in November.
Galvin, Al Boum Photo, Allaho and Conflated are some of the other Irish names that may be lining up in March for the big one, and they all deserve a ton of respect given what they have done this season, and in the past. Allaho and Conflated have alternative engagements in the shorter Ryanair Chase the previous day.
The race looks to be a tough one for any UK runner to do well in, but racing is full of uncertainty! If one is to step up then it could well be Royale Pagaille. The tougher the test, the more chance he has of running into a place, or perhaps even better.
DonÔÇÖt be surprised if trainer Venetia Williams is doing the rain dance during Cheltenham week.