Cheltenham Festival: Gold Cup Runners 2019

Nick Murphy | 6 March 2019

There’s no greater prize in National Hunt racing than the Cheltenham Gold Cup. This is the one they all want to win.

Native River joined the likes of Golden Miller, Arkle and Kauto Star in the history books by staying the gruelling 3m 2f distance to win the 2018 Gold Cup.

But who will trot away with the prize in 2019?

The Favourites

The Gold Cup attracts the cream of the jump racing crop from the UK and Ireland. So it’s not a great surprise that such hotly contested races don’t always yield a win for the favourite.

Don Cossack in 2016 and Bobs Worth in 2013 are the only two favourites to prevail in the Gold Cup since Long Run triumphed for Nicky Henderson in 2011.

Only eight SP favourites have won the race since 1986.

Presenting Percy

Patrick Kelly will be hoping Presenting Percy doesn’t succumb to the favourite’s curse. His raider has been the long-term fav more-or-less ever since triumphing by 7l in the RSA Chase in 2018.

His absence towards the start of the 2018-19 season had punters worrying for a while. But a sound return over sticks in the Galmoy Hurdle in January calmed the nerves.

The eight-year-old’s lack of runs over fences this term remains a black mark against his name, though. No horse has won the Gold Cup off the back of a single seasonal hurdle run since the 1920s.

Connections will be hoping the raider’s supreme jumping style can see him to a third Festival win. Davy Russell should retain the ride.

Native River

You know what they say: winning a trophy is tough, but retaining it is even harder. The same can be said for the Gold Cup. No horse has managed it since Best Mate reeled off a hat-trick in 2004.

Prior to that, L’Escargot was the last horse to win the Gold Cup back-to-back in 1970 and 1971. That’s the scale of the task facing Native River after his gutsy 4½l win over Might Bite in 2018.

Colin Tizzard’s charge hasn’t returned in great nick this season either. A runner-up berth in the Lancashire Chase was followed by a 13½l third to Clan Des Obeaux in the King George.    

The nine-year-old is tough-as-teak but requires a softer ground to be shown to best effect under champion jockey Richard Johnson.

Native River Gold Cup Runner 2019

Richard Johnson riding Native River on their way to winning The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase at Cheltenham, 2018

Kemboy

Strong winds prevented Kemboy coming over from Ireland and taking up his engagement in the 2018 Bookmaker Trophy. He stayed on the Emerald Isle and won the Grade 1 Savills Chase instead.

That’s a cracking piece of form. Not least because he had fellow Gold Cup rivals Monalee, Road to Respect, Bellshill and Edwulf comfortably behind him at Leopardstown.

There’s no question over whether he’ll stay the distance or handle the trip. Interestingly, trainer Willie Mullins has never won this race, and Kemboy hasn’t been seen since late-December.

Clan Des Obeaux

Clan Des Obeaux was around 40/1 for the Gold Cup at the start of the season. Now you’d be lucky to get a fifth of that price. Paul Nicholls’ progressive charge really is one of the ones to beat.

What’s more, it’s all come as a bit of a shock. No-one expected him to beat up rivals including Thistlecrack, Native River and Might Bite to take the 2018 King George at Kempton.

That was followed by a taking 11l success in the Denman Chase. Now the Gold Cup is on the agenda for one of the few horses this season that has shown consistent ability at the top level.

A victory for Clan would make it a fifth Gold Cup success for Nicholls and a first for jockey Harry Cobden. Sir Alex Ferguson partially owns the seven-year-old.

Clan des Obeaux Gold Cup Runner 2019

Harry Cobden riding Clan des Obeaux (R) clear the last to win The 32Red King George VI Chase from Tom Scudamore and Thistlecrack (L) at Kempton Park, 2018

Road To Respect

Each-way punters were keen on Road To Respect last year, and he obliged with a cracking effort to finish fourth behind Native River. He’s coming to the boil again at just the right time this year too.

Noel Meade’s raider was third in the Savills Chase over Christmas and then runner-up behind Bellshill in the Irish Gold Cup. The fact it was a four-runner race stunts that form somewhat.

Nevertheless, there’s no question over whether the eight-year-old will stay. And in a year with no standout favourite, the ride of Sean Flanagan looks to have every chance.

Al Boum Photo

Al Boum Photo ended Ruby Walsh’s Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago. Now he has a choice to make over whether to return to the raider or stick with Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill.

It’ll be a difficult decision, not least because the seven-year-old has a highly progressive profile for Willie Mullins. His impressive 7l win in a Listed Chase at Tramore in January is a testament to that.

He’ll be expected to improve again in the Gold Cup, although like plenty of others, his lack of course time this season could be worrisome for punters.

Thistlecrack

Imagine what sort of a horse 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack might be had he not had a 307-day enforced lay-off in 2017. His novice chasing form truly was something to behold.

But hope is not lost. The 11-year-old has been steadily improving since his return and posted a post-injury career-best when he was the runner-up in the 2018 King George over Christmas.

He’ll need to improve on that form and jump cleaner to win the King George. But he stayed on well over Christmas, and those battling qualities will hold Tom Scudamore’s ride in good stead.

Thistlecrack Gold Cup Runner 2019

Tom Scudamore riding Thistlecrack (L) on their way to winning The mallardjewellers.com Novices’ Steeple Chase at Cheltenham, 2016

Bellshill

Jodami in 1993, Imperial Call in 1996 and Sizing John in 2017. Those are the only three horses to complete the Irish and Cheltenham Gold Cup double. Bellshill is bidding to become the fourth.

Another for Willie Mullins, the nine-year-old shaped well in the Savills Chase in December before beating Road To Respect by a short-head to take the Irish Gold Cup in February.

The King’s Theatre gelding has yet to win in three attempts round Cheltenham. But the trainer is bullish, and with Bellshill staying well on all types of ground, he should have a game chance.

Might Bite

Things haven’t gone quite to plan for Might Bite since his 2017 King George win and 2018 Gold Cup runner-up slot. In fact this season has produced two hugely disappointing runs in two big races.

It began with a plum-last in the Lancashire Chase at Haydock, which was followed by a 37l-seventh in the King George over Christmas.

Trainer Nicky Henderson claims the 2018 Aintree Bowl winner is working better at home now after a change in his ulcer medication. Until the tapes go up in the Gold Cup, it’ll be impossible to tell which Might Bite turns up. Regular jockey Nico De Boinville will retain the ride.

Frodon

God loves a trier. And they don’t come tougher than Frodon. The seven-year-old has picked up some big victories over the last year, including the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and Grade 2 Cotswold Chase.

There are doubts over whether Paul Nicholls’ charge can make the step up to elite level. But with jockey Bryony Frost in the saddle, the pair have every chance of running into the places.

The effervescent young jockey always gets the best out of her rides and has forged an incredible relationship with the Nickname gelding over the last 18 months. Need more encouragement?

Frodon has won four times around Prestbury Park, including on his last two visits. Could the hat-trick be on?

Shattered Love Gold Cup Runner 2019

Jack Kennedy riding Shattered Love celebrates victory in the JLT Novices Chase at Cheltenham, 2018

Bristol De Mai

Bristol De Mai isn’t only entered in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He’s also got an entry into the 2019 Grand National. Luckily for punters, connections have said the Gold Cup is the aim.

Does he have any chance? That’s a matter of opinion. Critics will point out the eight-year-old does his best work around Haydock – exemplified by his 4l Lancashire Chase win in November 2018.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge has only won one other race away from the Merseyside course in three years. He’s had clearer-prep for the Gold Cup this time, though, which could see him run well.

Daryl Jacob is expected to get the ride.

Elegant Escape

Synchronised and Native River have both done the Welsh National and Gold Cup double. Elegant Escape is looking to join them, although the previous pair didn’t manage both in the same year.

We know Colin Tizzard’s charge can stay until the cows come home. He did that in style over 3m 5½f around Chepstow over Christmas. It’s whether he has the jumping ability to win the Gold Cup.

He clipped fences all the way around when second in the Cotswold Chase. That just won’t do in Cheltenham’s blue-ribbon event – not to mention he’s also winless in four around Prestbury Park.

Tom O’Brien will get the ride, although, like punters, he may have to just settle for a watching brief.

Monalee

There’s no guarantee Monalee will go for the Gold Cup. He’s entered in the Ryanair Chase too, with trainer Henry De Bromhead set to make his decision depending on the going at the Festival.

If he does go for the former, he’ll have ground to make up on Presenting Percy and Kemboy, both of whom have beaten him in the last 12 months. That said, he makes for an interesting proposition.

The Milan gelding is an obvious improver, and there’s no doubt he’ll stay the trip after a trio of point-to-point wins over 3m.

The question is whether this will be too hot for him and potential jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Elegant Escape Gold Cup Runners 2019

Tom O’Brien riding Elegant Escape clear the last to win The Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Steeple hase at Chepstow, 2018

Balko Des Flos

If Monalee has some ground to find, then Balko Des Flos has a whole continent. He was 43l behind Road To Respect in the Irish Champion Chase and 27l behind Kemboy in the Grade 1 Savills Chase.

With no prep-runs since, it’s difficult to see the eight-year-old finding the improvement required to get on terms with the leading contenders in the Gold Cup.

Invitation Only

The last of four darts for Willie Mullins, Invitation Only will need to step up significantly to get on terms. It’s not just us that’s said that – that’s from the Irish supremo himself.

The eight-year-old has been twice behind stablemate Al Boum Photo in the last year but did land a big handicap over 3m 1f in January. He needs another big step up to hit the frame in the Gold Cup.

Definitly Red

Brian Ellison’s tough-as-old-boots 10-year-old was touted as a potential Gold Cup outsider earlier in the year. His defeat as the 1/6 fav at Kelso in February has put the dampeners on that somewhat.

There’s no doubting the ride of Danny Cook will give it his all. But for all his guts and determination, the 2018 Charlie Hall Chase winner probably lacks the quality to do it at this level.

Definitly Red Gold Cup Runners 2019

Definitly Red ridden by Richard Johnson (Red and white striped cap) wins the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Race at Haydock Races, 2015

Shattered Love

Gordon Elliott won the Gold Cup with Don Cossack in 2016. Long-odds outsider Shattered Love looks set to be his only bullet at the main prize in 2019.

The mare out of Yeats enjoyed a terrific year as a novice, with the highlight being a hugely impressive 7l success in the JLT at Cheltenham.

Her second season chasing hasn’t quite gone to plan, with her last-but-one finish in the Savills Chase a low-point. If she can repeat her John Durkan form – 1½l behind Min – she could hit the frame.

Anibale Fly

Anibale Fly has never won at Grade 1 level. But he gave a great account of himself this time last year by defying odds of 33/1 to hit the frame and finish third in the Gold Cup.

Could he do so again this time around? Well, he’s versatile when it comes to ground, proven over the trip and was only 2l behind Monalee in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

He may have something to make up on the market principals, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him involved yet again.

 

This post first appeared here

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