The headline race of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a Grade One steeplechase run over a distance just shy of three miles and three furlongs.
The most successful horse in Gold Cup history is Golden Miller who won the race five times during the 1930's. In the modern era Arkle won the race three times in a row in the 1960’s and the Henrietta Knight trained Best Mate won the race three consecutive times from 2002.
Thirteen runners go to post in this year’s “Blue Riband” event and here is a runner-by-runner guide to their chances:
Bristol De Mai
Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Suede will be hoping that the apple of their eye can put behind him a rare poor performance behind Native River in the Denman Chase. He is the youngest in the field at six, but has been top-class material since he landed a Grade One on his UK debut in his juvenile hurdle days. He was the convincing winner of the Peter Marsh Chase in January at Haydock Park but the suspicion is that the ground will be riding too fast for him on Friday.
The Henry De Bromhead trained Champagne West put up a massive performance to land the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last time out, getting out in front and jumping with precision to turn the contest into a one horse race from the get go. Champagne West won twice at Cheltenham as a novice chaser when he was with Philip Hobbs so he is a proven horse at the track.
Cue Card has won two Cheltenham Festival races in the past five years but at 11-years-old, the National Hunt veteran's best chance may have been last year when he raced well until falling at the third-last fence. No horse aged older than 10 has won the Gold Cup since What A Myth took the honours as a 12-year-old in 1969. Cue Card has been bucking trends throughout his remarkable career though and after his emphatic Ascot Chase win it may be folly to write him off.
Willie Mullins’ Djakadam has been the subject of consistent market support leading up to the race and could be challenging for favouritism come the off on Friday afternoon. Djakadam has been second in the last two renewals, to Coneygree in 2015 and Don Cossack last term, and with most pundits agreeing that there is nothing of their calibre in the field this time around, the notion that 2017 is his year is a widely-held one.
Irish Cavalier has been poor since a good start to the season when he was the surprise winner of the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. He does however seem to thrive in the spring and won at The Festival in 2015. In April 2016 in won a big race at the Punchestown Festival.
Minella Rocco beat Native River, the ante-post favourite, in last year’s National Hunt Chase at the Festival. However this season, unlike Native River, Minella Rocco has been on the deck in two of his three starts this season. He fell at the last when chasing home Many Clouds at Aintree in December and fell at the fifth in the Irish Gold Cup. He will need to brush up his jumping to take a hand in this.
More Of That
Jonjo O’Neill warned at The Festival weight’s lunch a couple of weeks ago that the chances of More Of That in the Gold Cup should not be overlooked. “We never saw a spark this season until his last run in the Irish Gold Cup. He jumped and carried Mark Walsh the whole way. Arguably, he would have won had he not unseated at the last. I’m looking forward to running him,” he said. “Since he won the Stayers’, he’s had two wind operations. They might just work the oracle?
Native River has been one of the stories of the season thus far, winning the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Welsh National and the Denman Chase. His Chepstow performance was remarkable when you analyse the facts. He was the first horse to carry 11st 12lb to glory since Carvill’s Hill in 1991. Considering subsequent Gold Cup winners Master Oats and Synchronised carried 11st 6lb to win the Welsh National, Native River must be in with a fantastic chance of lifting the trophy this year and topping off an amazing season.
The Gigginstown Stud owned nine-year-old has not raced since winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown at the end of December and has been saved for a tilt at this race. There would be an added twist if Outlander was to win, as the nine-year-old joined Gordon Elliott’s stable last autumn following the split between Michael O’Leary and Willie Mullins, who has saddled six runners-up in the Gold Cup but never the winner. If Djakadam is to be treated as a serious yardstick, then Outlander has an outstanding chance too given that he has beaten him.
Saphir Du Rheu
After falling in the Hennessy Gold Cup in November and finishing second at Cheltenham on his penultimate start, the Paul Nicholls trained gelding got his stop-start career back on track earlier this month when landing a conditions race at Kelso. He had several entries this week but it appears owner Andy Stewart is keen on having a Gold Cup runner so here he is.
Sizing John put himself in the Gold Cup frame with an impressive win in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. That was over three miles, but trainer Jessica Harrington is not concerned about Sizing John seeing out the extra quarter-mile of the Gold Cup. He certainly has the stamina, but must prove he has the class to win a Gold Cup, but at the age of seven there is every reason to believe he will come on again.
A former Hennessy Gold Cup winner who has struggled to keep up with the pace in his most recent runs. He could quite easily plod on for a place when the others have cried enough.
Tea For Two
Lizzie Kelly will be the first woman to ride in the Gold Cup for 33 years but that is where the fairytale is likely to end in terms of the form chances of her mount. He was a close fourth in the King George, only 3½ lengths behind Thistlecrack, but Tizzard’s horse was being heavily eased down.
Given the fantastic week Gordon Elliott is enjoying at Prestbury Park it would come as no surprise to see Outlander win the Gold Cup. Outlander’s form in Ireland is very impressive and it should put him right in the thick of it here.
Sizing John looks to be on an upward curve and could give the selection the most to do.