Talking Horses: Williams plays down Royale Pagaille as Gold Cup contender

Chris Cook
·4-min read

Talk of a Gold Cup challenge for Royale Pagaille is “premature” according to his trainer, Venetia Williams, who was keen to put the brakes on runaway expectations for her star after his Haydock success on Saturday. The horse, who was essentially unknown outside his Herefordshire stable until the beginning of last month, has rocketed to prominence with three impressive wins in seven weeks and some see him as a legitimate challenger to runners such as Al Boum Photo in Cheltenham’s biggest race.

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If Williams has a real Gold Cup horse once more, it would be no more than justice, 22 years after Teeton Mill was strongly fancied for the race but managed to slip a tendon off a hock at halfway and never ran again. Understandably, the trainer is not keen to linger on that memory.

“A lot of people probably have unfinished business with a race like the Gold Cup,” she said on Sunday. “Anyway, it’s a bit premature to be talking about that race at the moment.

“You’d have to be delighted with what he did at Haydock and the style he did it, but I do think it’s very important to put it into the context of what he beat on the day. The second-favourite was a non-runner, the third-favourite unseated before the business end of the race. The horse that finished second was well beaten in the veterans’ race earlier in the month. So let’s not get carried away.”

A slow-burner through his early seasons, Royale Pagaille is a novice over fences for this season and that showed up in his jumping at Kempton’s Christmas meeting. Saturday’s effort was more fluent but again Williams sought to put that in context. “It’s a very different test, going round Haydock in heavy ground, compared with the speed test of what he encountered at Kempton. He had more time at his obstacles yesterday, which obviously makes it easier.”

A decision about Royale Pagaille’s Cheltenham target will be left until much nearer the time, not least because his owner, Rich Ricci, also has the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish to consider. Monkfish is favourite for the Festival Novice Chase, formerly known as the RSA. Royale Pagaille is also entered in that, as well as the shorter Marsh Novice Chase and the longer National Hunt Chase, which may be considered the most likely option at this stage, for all that Williams would not be drawn on that.

She and Ricci have yet to discuss whether the horse should have another run before Cheltenham. He still holds an entry in this Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster and would be a hot favourite if turning up, though that would seem an uncharacteristically aggressive move for Williams, so soon after Haydock.

Monday’s best bets

All-weather racing will be our friend in the early part of this week, at least in terms of providing action, starting with Chelmsford this afternoon. I think Spark Fury is opposable in a sprint handicap, just three days after she was mullered in the home straight at Lingfield when making a move.

That very obvious bit of bad luck was sure to make her a popular choice next time but I didn’t feel she was deprived of a winning chance and I note she also ran out of room in the closing stages in her previous run. Nurse Florence, also strongly fancied here, was more plausibly unlucky in the Lingfield race but again it could be said that she was to some extent the author of her own misfortune, with her tendencies to over-race early and to hang late.

Available at 5-1, The Good Ting (3.10) appeals as a more straightforward type, for all that she has benefited from cheekpieces. She followed an encouraging run at Lingfield with recent victory at Kempton and seems a better bet than the market-leaders to make the most of her chance.

Decora (4.10) has plenty of stamina in her pedigree and this step up in trip could be the key to breaking her maiden. She showed plenty of promise on her first run for Sheena West a fortnight ago and appeals at 11-2.

Market Rasen Abandoned – frozen track

Chelmsford 1.10 Jumira Bridge 1.40 Mercurist 2.10 Clegane 2.40 Glen Again 3.10 The Good Ting (nap) 3.40 Baby Sham 4.10 Decora

Plumpton 1.50 Natural History 2.20 Sameer 2.50 Hugo ‘N Taz 3.20 Zhiguli (nb) 3.50 En Coeur 4.20 Hymn And A Prayer

Kempton 4.15 Culture 4.45 Blue Cable 5.15 High Class Affair 5.45 Twilight Madness 6.15 Mighty Gurkha 6.45 Going Places 7.15 Love Destiny 7.45 Thunderoad 8.15 Mr Zee

Plumpton’s chance of surviving an 8am inspection does not look high but we hope for the best. Hymn And A Prayer (4.20) is worth a look at 9-1 in the closing handicap hurdle. He’s been a slow burner but was having just his fourth start in a handicap when an encouraging fourth at Exeter in November and Bryony Frost is an eye-catching booking.