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Legendary racehorse owner, JP McManus, told ITV Racing that the worst thing about the Cheltenham Festival is the Saturday after it when it’s all over and “you don’t know what to do with yourself”.
McManus isn’t the only one who gets the post-Cheltenham blues. It’s the biggest and most highly anticipated National Hunt meeting of the year with wall-to-wall top class racing. However, one race stands apart from all the others, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Run over three miles, two-and-a-half furlongs, the Gold Cup pits the best steeplechasers in the sport against one another and is regarded as the most prestigious race in National Hunt racing.
Just take a look at the list of previous winners. It includes L’Escargot, Best Mate, Golden Miller, Arkle, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star. All of them were superstars during their time and are fondly remembered by anybody who saw them race.
The thing with horse racing, however, is there’s always another meeting, always another race, always another chance for a horse to grab the limelight. So, who is going to be the star of this year’s Gold Cup?
Native River 10/3
Cue Card 10/3
Sizing John 10/1
Empire Of Dirt 12/1
More Of That 12/1
Champagne West 16/1
20/1 bar (all odds with Bet365)
Any trainer will tell you that the lead up to the Cheltenham Festival is fraught with danger. That’s especially true for trainers with a horse they’re looking to enter into the Gold Cup.
They put in the hard hours to get a horse into tip top shape for a crack at the big one but can be quickly derailed by injury or illness. This year’s Cheltenham has been beset by top quality horses pulling out including the long-term ante post favourite for the Gold Cup, Thistlecrack.
Thistlecrack is a phenomenal horse with a phenomenal trainer in Colin Tizzard. However, a tendon injury will force him to miss the rest of the season. Tizzard was very disappointed to see Thistlecrack ruled out but, as one door closes, two more open up for him.
Tizzard goes to war with the top two in the betting and you’d have to say both Native River and Cue Card have very good chances of landing this huge prize.
Native River has had a solid year up to this point. He showed his staying potential on soft ground at last year’s Cheltenham in the National Hunt Challenge before winning four out of five including the Hennessy Gold Cup in November. There’s no doubt that Native River is a quality chaser but there are enough concerns about the trip and his ability to finish strongly up the Cheltenham hill to look elsewhere.
If Cue Card was to win the Gold Cup it would be one of the most popular results in the race for a long time. The 11-year-old is a real fan favourite having shown his incredible heart and ability to fight right until the winning post time and time again. Cue Card showed that age has not yet caught up with him with a highly impressive victory at the Ascot Chase and his chances have surely improved due to Thistlecrack’s withdrawal.
Tizzard certainly has a very good chance but we think his two at the top of the betting are going to get pipped by fellow trainer Willie Mullins’ best shot, Djakadam.
The eight-year-old has not exactly had the best luck in the Gold Cup before. He’s finished runner-up in each of the last two renewals as he just found Coneygree and then Don Cossack too good on the day. With neither of those two in the field and more big name absentees, this could finally be the year that Djakadam gets up the hill in first.
Mullins believes that Djakadam jumps well even when he gets beaten by a turn of pace from one of his competitors. He also believes that Djakadam is a better horse than he was at this time last year and he impressed at the recent Leopardstown gallops. Pace shouldn’t be too much of an issue in this year’s renewal and Djakadam looks the one to beat at 7/2.
The betting market looks to have called the Gold Cup correctly with the winner almost certain to come from the top three. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no point in having an each-way bet, especially when Champagne West is available at 16/1.
It looked as though a heavy fall at Sandown would spell the end of his career but Champagne West has been rejuvenated since moving to Henry de Bromhead’s yard. He’s won twice on soft ground so the trip won’t be an issue and if he jumps well, he could well grab a place.
Djakadam to win at 7/2 with Bet365
Champagne West each-way at 16/1 with Bet365