To win any race at the Cheltenham Festival is a wonderful achievement, however, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is undoubtedly the one that all trainers, jockeys and owners alike dream of winning.
It went the way of the Irish last year when Sizing John rounded off a wonderful week for the trainer/ jockey combination of Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power by staying on well up the hill. He fended off the advances of Native River, Minella Rocco and Djackadam on that occasion – a trio that will go to post again this year.
Connections may have sent Cue Card down the Ryanair route this year rather than going for a third tilt at The Gold Cup, yet, in his absence Colin Tizzard still has a strong hand in the race. The aforementioned Native River is currently second favourite and has been lightly raced since. Friday’s outing will be just his second appearance of the season. He won on soft ground at Newbury in Februaury, seeing off the challenge of the Ruth Jefferson trained Cloudy Dream, who finished third in yesterday’s Ryanair Chase. The soft ground over the trip will not pose an issue for the impressive jumper and collections will be hopeful of a similarly impressive run to the one he produced 12 months ago.
Of the Mullin’s runners in the race, Djackadam obviously possesses the most experienced in this race, yet, question marks will be raised as to whether he has done enough over the past 12 months to suggest he can get his head in front this time – having failed to do so in two previous attempts.
Killultagh Vic looked destined for victory last time out only to fall at the last in the UniBet Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month and had been the selection of Ruby Walsh prior to his ill-fated Wednesday in the Cotswolds. It was Edwulf who reigned supreme on that occasions – a remarkable training achievement by Joseph O’Brien just 11 months after the 33/1 winner collapsed during the National Hunt Challenge Cup. With that in mind, the fact that he is even running in a Cheltenham Gold Cup represents a victory of sorts for connections. Killultagh Vic won at Punchestown at the end of December on the back of a 714 day layoff to make it four from six in the chasing sphere. Having festival form is an obvious plus and he has that, having been ridden to victory by Luke Dempsey at the festival in 2015.
Might Bite provided one of the most memorable moments of last year’s festival when the Nicky Henderson raider hung violently right in the closing stages in the RSA Chase. He was headed for a few strides by stable mate Whisper, but battled back gamely to claim victory in dramatic fashion. Since then, he has added another two victories to enhance his growing reputation, fending off Ryanair Chase entrant Frodon by eight lengths in the King George In November. That race did not look the strongest renewal however and he is yet to face up to Native Rive.
Total recall is an unexposed sort for Willie Mullins in the race and won all of his three starts since making the move to Closutton and was an impressive winner Munster National on soft ground. The arrival of favourable underfoot conditions could see him come in for good each way support at a big price.
Definitely Red has been improving consistently this season for Brian Ellison and should enjoy the conditions – he showed that in winning the Cotswold Chase at this venue in January.
Our Duke will race outside of Ireland for the first time in The Gold Cup. He managed to get his first victory of the season on his third attempt, when beating RSA winner Presenting Percy in the Red Mills in February. It was a victory that was need to restore confidence after a disappointing display on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal in Down Royal in November.
Road to Respect and Outlander will represent the all-conquering Gigginstown in the race for trainers, Noel Meade and Gordon Elliott respectively. Outlander has won a number of Grade ones under Jack Kennedy who is on board again – an obvious plus. Road to Respect has been touted by a few as one that may well be involved at the business end of the race. Balko des Flos finished 1¼ lengths back that day and obviously franked the form of that race by winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham on Thursday.