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Unioniste creeps into Gold Cup picture as Sir Des Champs flops

Unioniste caused a minor tremor in the Cheltenham Gold Cup market as he was cut to 33/1 (from 40s) after his win at Aintree on Saturday.

Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old ran out a comfortable winner of a Listed race beating Wishfull Thinking by seven lengths.

However the limited evidence to date suggests that Cheltenham might not be his ideal track over staying trips – despite him being a winner at Prestbury Park.

Three of his four British wins have come on flat tracks and he has looked a very tired horse when contesting races over three miles on testing courses, including at Wetherby on his reappearance.

His half-brother My Will was a Cheltenham winner but the best he could manage in a Gold Cup was a 24-length fifth in 2009.

Bet on Unioniste to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 33/1

The son of Dom Alco is still unexposed and Nicholls knows how to win races with this sire’s progeny; Neptune Collonges, Silviniaco Conti and Al Ferof are all by the French stallion.

Neptune Collonges was placed behind Denman in the 2008 Gold Cup so Unioniste is not one to rule out, however a more realistic challenger looks to be Sir Des Champs.

Willie Mullins’ ace wasn’t particularly well-fancied for his comeback in Sunday’s John Durkan Memorial Chase, as he was sent off at 7/4 in a three-runner race.

However those who did back him didn’t get much of a run for their money as he departed at just the third fence; the first fall of his 18-race career.

Having been second in last-season’s Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, that will be the long-term target once more and he is 5/1 for the big race.

Bet on Sir Des Champs to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 5/1

Assuming he has a clean bill of health after his early tumble, the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas – a race in which he was a close fourth last season – looks the ideal next port of call.

Should he win there then his price won’t be around for long and fans of Mullins’ seven-year-old might be well-advised to back him sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, stablemate Arvika Ligeonniere – who won the John Durkan as the 4/7 favourite – has been a market mover at Cheltenham, but not in the Gold Cup betting.

He is 16/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and connections suggested after his win on Sunday that a drop in trip to two miles will be on the cards.

Winning rider Ruby Walsh said: “I think he has loads of pace so I’d be inclined to go back down in trip with him rather than further.

“He has loads of pace and a great cruising speed but we’ll see what Willie [Mullins] thinks.”

Bet on Arvika Ligeonniere to win the Champion Chase at 16/1

The aforementioned trainer has concurred with Walsh and the exciting chaser heads to the Dial-A-Bet Chase next rather than a trip to Kempton for the King George VI Chase.

The Ryanair over 2m5f is another possibility for owner Rich Ricci’s pride and joy, but the Gold Cup – for which he is not quoted – looks very unlikely, at this stage of his career at least.