Racing pundit previews the challengers to watch out for on the final day at Cheltenham
It is Timico Gold Cup day at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday, the day into which the Festival funnels, the race into which the season funnels.
The two Colin Tizzard-trained horses, Cue Card and Native River, have dominated the top of the market since the defection of their stable companion Thistlecrack, erstwhile Gold Cup favourite. And both Tizzard horses are big players.
Cue Card was travelling well in last year’s renewal of the Gold Cup when he came down at the third last fence. It is impossible to know how he would have fared had he stood up, there is a school of thought that says that he wouldn’t have beaten Don Cossack anyway, but he was travelling well and we will never know for certain.
Winner of the Grade 1 Betfair Chase on his second run this season, Colin Tizzard’s horse didn’t sparkle in the King George on St Stephen’s Day when he was well beaten by Thistlecrack, but he bounced back from that to put up a big performance in winning the Ascot Chase by 15 lengths last month.
The worry about Cue Card is that he is 11, and no horse aged older than 10 has won the Gold Cup since 1969. Indeed, no 10-year-old has won it since 1998. The Gold Cup is a race for young horses.
That is not to say that Cue Card cannot win it, he is an extraordinary 11-year-old after all, but he has history to overcome and, with that in mind, his odds are short enough.
By contrast, the seven-year-old Native River is at the right end of the age spectrum. Second in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year, we know that he handles the track and that he can operate under Cheltenham Festival conditions.
Picture by: David Davies/PA Wire/PA Images
Winner of the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ chase at the Aintree Grand National meeting last April, the son of Indian River has progressed well this season, winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National.
There is a lot to like about Native River, but he also short enough in the market, and he does not have the proven class of Djakadam. Willie Mullins’ horse finished second to Coneygree in the 2015 Gold Cup as a whipper-snapper six-year-old, and he finished second again to Don Cossack in last year’s renewal.
Djakadam had an interrupted preparation last year, he had a bad fall in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January in his prep race for the Gold Cup. This year, different story. He has had a clean run from the Lexus Chase at Leoparstown at Christmas, and Willie Mullins reports himself happy with his horse’s preparation. Djakadam is now favourite for the Gold Cup, and that is as it should be.
However, from a betting perspective, Sizing John is more interesting at a bigger price. Jessica Harrington’s horse was a top class novice hurdler and novice chaser over two miles, but he is improving as he is stepping up in distance.
He stayed on well to win the Kinloch Brae Chase over two and a half miles at Thurles on his penultimate run. Then last time, he stepped up on that when he stepped up to three miles to win the Irish Gold Cup under Robbie Power.
The Midnight Legend gelding has another two and a half furlongs to go in the Gold Cup, but he is bred for stamina, and he wasn’t stopping at the end of three miles on soft ground at Leoaprdstown. Still just seven, he has lots of potential to progress now as a staying chaser. There is every chance that he will see out the distance and, if he does, he has the class to go very close in the Gold Cup.