Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day Four

The showpiece of the four-day Cheltenham Festival is of course saved for the final act – the Gold Cup is Friday’s feature race and the 2019 renewal looks potentially as good as anything we’ve seen for some time.

It’s a battle of those with experience and those up and coming, but which class will come out on top?

Native River in full flow

Colin Tizzard’s Native River delivered a masterclass to win this race 12 months ago. A dour stayer, he put his endless stamina into effect by setting a furious pace throughout alongside main market rival Might Bite – so much so that no other horse was able to get a blow of any description on them.

Might Bite’s win at Aintree (with Native River absent) is the only one they’ve managed between them since and there is a question as to whether that end-to-end gallop last year made an indelible mark on them.

Might Bite has lost his way entirely in both runs this season, the Betfair Chase and the King George. Trainer Nicky Henderson suggests he’s started to flourish once more in his homework and he has in the past been a ‘spring horse’ so his supporters might be tempted at 13.00.

Given conditions, however, it is surely last year’s winner that is best placed of those coming back for more.

His two runs have also been at Haydock and Kempton, though his placed efforts are far superior to his old rival. The fact is that neither race would have been ideal for Native River and Tizzard has pointed that the Gold Cup, especially on soft going, is ‘his race’. The reigning champ is now the clear favourite at 4.50 to remain on his throne and things appear to be trending nicely for him.

Nicholls’ Clan gathering pace

The young pretenders are led by Clan Des Obeaux, the hero of Kempton at Christmas when he reeled in the gallant Thistlecrack for a worthy success. He’ll attempt to give Paul Nicholls a first win in this race since the great Kauto Star scored a decade ago.

The Ditcheat handler knows just what it takes to have a Gold Cup winner in his midst and he has been very bullish on the chances of Clan Des Obeaux since he won the Denman Chase last month. The manner in which he picked up for Harry Cobden that day suggested there is a touch of class under the bonnet. Despite this being his toughest exam so far, Clan Des Obeaux has come right in to be 5.00 second-favourite.

That’s a position he shares with Presenting Percy, this year’s Gold Cup enigma. He hasn’t run over fences since demolishing the field in the RSA Chase here last March and, in fact, has had just a single run. He won a decent hurdles race at Gowran Park but this has been a highly unusual preparation by trainer Pat Kelly.

Presenting Percy is already a dual winner at this meeting and his partnership with Davy Russell is formidable. However, this will surely take a performance of herculean status to win after his unorthodox road back to Cheltenham.

Perhaps of more interest might be the Willie Mullins pair of Al Boum Photo and Bellshill. The latter is really coming into his own and won the Irish Gold Cup last time but Al Boum Photo put up a terrific performance on New Year’s Day when last spotted and might be an each-way player at 17.00 in an intriguing Gold Cup as the Closutton maestro bids for his maiden success in the Festival showpiece.

Erec to lead Triumph charge

‘Cheltenham Bankers’ are a divisive subject for punters, with them or against them. When they are Irish-trained there tends to be a sea of momentum behind them and when you throw JP McManus into the mix, things always seem to take off.

Sir Erec has been all the rage for the Triumph Hurdle since before he even jumped in public. A high-class Flat performer, he was third to Stradivarius no less on British Champions Day at Ascot in the autumn. He’s a made a seamless transition to hurdling and is 2-2 over timber after winning last month’s Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, traditionally a very strong trial for this event.

He’s 2.00 now and may get even shorter by post-time, though as punters found out on Tuesday with Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ contest, there are no Cheltenham certainties.

Take Command in Albert Bartlett scrap

Another impressive winner last month at the Dublin Racing Festival was Commander Of Fleet for Gordon Elliott and he’s a likely sort in the Albert Bartlett at 7.00.

The Gigginstown runner won a strong bumper last season at Punchestown, the form of which proved strong. His only setback over timber came in the Grade 1 Royal Bond before Christmas when he was caught for speed in a tactically run two-mile race. The step up in trip next time really suited and he beat Rhinestone in a sustained duel up the Leopardstown home straight.

Given how far out they raced from, it bodes well coming here for a three-mile test that can become attritional. Joseph O’Brien’s aforementioned Rhinestone, currently 12.00, should give another good account while Lisnagar Oscar and Birchdale, 7.00 for Nicky Henderson, are also capable of getting in the mix.

Stand Up And Fight…for the Foxhunters

It might well be a motto for beleaguered punters come late on Friday afternoon as they attempt to make a Festival profit after the Gold Cup is done and dusted and there might be some salvation in Enda Bolger’s charge.

The six-year-old has been touted for this event since he won at Down Royal on Boxing Day and will be one of the more popular bets in the amateur riders Gold Cup, as he trades at 4.33 to win this contest in the McManus silks.