There are a few annual jewels in the crown of British sport. The FA Cup, the Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Open get a huge amount of attention and the Cheltenham Gold Cup is right up there with each of them.
Run over three miles, two-and-a-half furlongs, the Gold Cup pits the very best steeplechasers against one another around Cheltenham’s New Course.
Over the years, some of the most loved horses have triumphed in horse racing’s Blue Riband event including Arkle, Kauto Star and L’Escargot. But whose name will be added to that list come Friday afternoon?
Trainers know that there will be ups and downs along the way to Cheltenham but Colin Tizzard has had it particularly tough, losing, as he did, the ante post favourite for the Gold Cup, Thistlecrack.
Thistlecrack is a marvel of a horse but even he couldn’t overcome a tendon injury in time. But, as one door closes another opens. Or is it two?
Both Native River and Cue Card’s chances of Gold Cup glory have increased now that their stablemate has been ruled out.
Native River is the narrow favourite with the bookies having impressed this season in staying handicaps. The seven-year-old’s most impressive performance this season came in winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and the step up in trip should prove no problem so he’s sure to have a chance.
At 11, Cue Card is either past his best or a high quality stayer with the experience to land the big one. It’s all a matter of opinion about Tizzard’s other big hope.
Cue Card would surely be the most popular winner of the Gold Cup having won fans all over the world as one a stayer with a huge heart. Another plus for Cue Card is his versatility in terms of the going, at 4/1 with 888Sport, there’s an opportunity for a very popular winner.
Of all the favourites, however, the one to back is Djakadam.
It would have been nice to have seen the Willie Mullins trained horse at the Irish Gold Cup last month but he still ticks plenty of boxes.
He’s got an impressively consistent record when you consider he races primarily in Grade 1s, he can win on different conditions underfoot and Mullins believes he’s a better horse than at this time last year.
Djakadam was pretty unlucky to find one too good in each of the last two Gold Cup renewals but the combination of his improvement and the high-quality horses who have been forced to withdraw makes him the one to beat at odds of 4/1 with Betfair.
It’s rare for the markets to completely miss a horse for the Gold Cup. The winner is usually in the top two or three of the betting but there is always the chance of a tidy bigger odds each-way winner.
This year, that could be Champagne West at 16/1 with Sky Bet.
When he was taken on by trainer Henry de Bromhead in 2016, some thought that he would never reach this sort of level again. A big fall at Sandown robbed the horse of any confidence and he only finished one of his next four races.
However, Champagne West’s new trainer has done a remarkable job. If this improvement continues he may just challenge the more fancied horses so take a punt on him each-way.