Cheltenham Gold Cup Contenders: Santini profile

A profile of leading 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Santini.
A profile of leading 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Santini.

With a month to go until the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Steve Chambers starts our series of profiling the leading candidates for the Cheltenham Festival showpiece, with Santini coming under the microscope first...

Santini

  • Trainer: Nicky Henderson
  • Age: 8
  • Owner: Mr & Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes
  • Races: 9
  • Wins: 6
  • Notable Race Wins: 2018 Classic Novices' Hurdle, 2018 Sefton Novices' Hurdle, 2018 John Francome Novices' Chase, 2019 Cotswold Chase

Career Record

A winning debut at Newbury in December 2017 was followed by another taking success at Cheltenham, as Santini reeled in the Tom George-trained Black Op to win the Grade 2 Classic Novices' Hurdle on Festival Trials Day at Prestbury Park.

Going off the 5/1 favourite for the 2018 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, the Nicky Henderson-trained star was unable to maintain his unbeaten record as he could only finish third behind Kilbricken Storm and OK Corral. However, he recaptured the winning thread at the end of that campaign as he tasted Grade 1 victory at Aintree's Grand National meeting in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle, beating subsequent Mares' Hurdle heroine Roksana.

Always touted as a chasing star of the future, Henderson handed him a tough test on his chase debut, but the son of Milan came through with flying colours as he sauntered to a four-length win in the Grade 2 John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury. A shock defeat in the 2018 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day followed, when sent off the red-hot 11/10 favourite, and Santini then headed straight to the RSA Chase.

But, festival disappointment struck again as the 3/1 second favourite Santini was outfought by the Paul Nicholls-trained Topofthegame, who beat the Seven Barrows runner by half-a-length in a vintage renewal.

Out of the novice chasing division for the 2019/2020 campaign, Santini put in a workmanlike display when beating Now McGinty at Sandown Park, but he showed his real Gold Cup potential when outclassing his rivals in the Cotswold Chase on Trials Day to book his spot in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 13.

Positives

Course Form: Not out of the first four in his four races at Cheltenham, Santini relishes the undulations of GL50 and having excelled at the track in January then he has to be regarded as one of the leading contenders.

Stamina: While his rivals began to flounder in the closing stages of the recent Cotswold Chase, Santini appeared to be able to maintain the gallop to the finish line. The Cheltenham hill combined with a slight step up in trip for the Gold Cup should see the eight-year-old be thereabouts.

Trainer: With over 60 Cheltenham Festival wins as a trainer, Nicky Henderson has also managed to amass a brace of Gold Cup wins (2011 Long Run, 2013 Bobs Worth), so Santini will have one of the elite National Hunt trainers getting him fully revved up for the blue riband event on March 13.

Ground: A winner on good to soft, soft and heavy during his career, Santini would have no worries if there were to be a dry spell before the festival or alternatively a flurry of wet weather, so whatever the ground conditions are on the day he should have no problem acting on it.

Negatives

Speed: There's no denying the fact that Santini isn't blessed with a whole lot of pace. Stamina is certainly his forte, so he will certainly not want a slowly run Gold Cup, where he is tapped for toe coming down the hill. 

Cheltenham Festival Record: Two visits to the Cheltenham Festival have not seen Santini venture into the winner's enclosure yet, so could it be that he just finds one too good on the big occasion. He's produced two thoroughly creditable efforts in the Albert Bartlett and RSA Chase, but on both occasions he's just struggled to see off his rivals.

How will Santini fare in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup?

Having been on the Santini bandwagon for some time, he's a horse I tipped up prior to his Cotswold Chase success, and I am happy to not desert him heading into the Gold Cup. A horse that oozes class, Santini has all the makings of a top notch Gold Cup winner, and having only raced five times over fences then he is still open to some improvement over the larger obstacles.

Nicky Henderson has always spoken fondly about the eight-year-old and has had the 2020 Gold Cup on the agenda for the last few seasons, and personally I think he heads to the festival as one of the leading contenders for the prestigious race, where he can etch his name on to the illustrious roll of honour.

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