This year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup is more open than just about any edition in recent years, with six bonafide contenders and a host of others that will fancy their chances.
Here is everything you need to know...
At the top of the market sits Might Bite, Nicky Henderson’s wondrously talented nine-year-old. He is unbeaten in over a year; that is five starts - including three Grade 1s. He won the RSA Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and most recently in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Five of the last 11 King George winners to try have completed the double in the Gold Cup and he won the King George with vastly more ease than the one length margin suggests. But he is law unto himself.
Twice in four visits to Cheltenham he has been in the lead, only to come to a near standstill when passing the parade ring exit and playing up in a similar manner in a Gold Cup would likely cost him the race. That said, more than anything else he has the ability to blow the field apart.
Native River was third in last year’s Gold Cup. Two places behind Sizing John, one behind Minella Rocco and one ahead of Djakadam. But unlike all of those he has not blotted his copybook this season.
Last year’s Hennessy, Welsh National and Denman Chase winner has had a vastly lighter campaign this season due to an injury picked up in last year’s race, reappearing last month in the Denman with an impressive 12-length victory against two rivals. Everything is aligned for a bold showing.
Sizing John’s stablemate is an interesting contender. He was one of last season’s top novices, but deliberately skipped Cheltenham to instead run away with the Irish Grand National by 14 lengths.
He was sent off favourite for his first two starts this season but was beaten a combined 67 lengths and the wheels looked to have come off, with some poor jumping proving costly, but he bounced back to form getting the better of RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy at Gowran Park last time.
He still walked through the fourth last that day, but if he keeps his jumping together he has the speed, class and stamina to beat the very best.
Killultagh Vic is a wonderfully talented horse who has had more than his fair share of bad luck. An injury in January 2016 ruled him out of action for almost two years.
He returned in December over hurdles with a simple win and then he looked like running away with the Irish Gold Cup until falling at the last and leaving Edwulf to pick up the pieces. He had won his previous five starts, dating back to the 2015 festival when he won the Martin Pipe, and he certainly possesses the raw ability to feature.
Road To Respect
The youngest of the main contenders and already a festival winner, he announced himself at last year’s meeting when turning the Plate Handicap Chase into a six-length procession. He then backed it up at Punchestown, beating Yorkhill in a Grade 1.
He has won twice and finished second, beaten half a length, on his three starts this season and took his form to the next level when winning the Leopardstown Christmas Chase by a length and a quarter last time. The bare form of that race was a bit funky, with a number of big guns misfiring, but he did it well on the day and may have been underrated.
Others to note
Definitly Red has emerged as a contender for Brian Ellison after winning the trials at Aintree and Cheltenham by seven and eight lengths, while Hennessy winners have a fine recent record in the race and that makes Total Recall, who is unbeaten in three starts this season, of interest.