IT'S THE BIG ONE! It's the reason that Day Four of the Cheltenham Festival was sold out month ago - The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It doesn't need a flashy introduction, does it? To put it quite simply this is the race where the best staying chasers battle it out. It is the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain. The one that everyone wants to win.
Coneygree won it last year with a remarkable round of jumping for a first season chaser. It is a race that I will never forget. He set off in front and winged every single fence. I remember thinking to myself that he's going to smash it one soon but he never, it was a breathtaking round of jumping.
Sadly Conygree is unable to defend his crown due to an injury but the race is still hot with superstars.
I am absolutely buzzing for it...
Don Cossack began this year as the highest rated chaser in Britan and Ireland after a remarkable 2014/2015 season in which he won six of his seven starts. The only defeat that season came here at Cheltenham in the Ryanair Chase. Now many experts and punters claim that he was well beaten that day but I'm not sure at all. Don Cossack was in sixth place swinging off the final bend and was under pressure, if I'm honest he looked well beaten. But he was closing rapidly on the approach to the second last and came up maybe only a length or two behind the eventual winner Uxizandre. Whilst in mid-air he was hampered quite badly by Johns Spirit and the fading Hidden Cylone. Don Cossack still ran on really well to finish in third.
This season he has three wins out of four and the only race he lost when was when falling in the King George at Kempton. I still maintain that he wins that race without the fall. In my opinion I think it's clear as day that he jumps the second last ahead of Cue Card and you just know that Don Cossack stays all day. People will disagree with me but Don Cossack would've beat Cue Card in the King George had he jumped the second last more efficiently.
Vautour is a two times winner at the Cheltenham Festival but both wins have come over a significantly shorter trip. His first was in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle over 2m and then he won the JLT Novices' Chase over 2m 4f. He made a bold effort from the front in the King George at Kempton. He just didn't see out the trip as well as Cue Card. Kempton is a flat track and the King George is over 3m. The extra two furlongs on a stiffer track gives Vautour a mountain to climb. If you try and make a case that Cheltenham will bring out the best in Vautour then you've got to say the same about Cue Card who has also won twice here before. I just think Vautour will put up another bold jumping display but stamina will let him down especially if he pulls hard early on in the race. There is no guarantee that he will get an easy lead like he did in the King George and I think he playing for a place at best.
Cue Card has came back to somewhere near his best after a pretty poor season in 2014/2015. He's won three out of three this season including collaring Vautour on the line in the King George. He's appeared seven times at Cheltenham and has won three of them. He clearly loves it around here but does he want the 3m 2f trip? That's the doubt I have about Cue Card.
Cue Card hasn't won a race beyond 3m 1f and that was a victory at Haydock which a flat course. The stiff 3m 2f here is going to be a trip that catches him out unless his rivals run below their best. I know he won last time out against Vautour over 3m but I think that was a case of Cue Card nailing a tired rival on the line rather than catching a horse who saw out the 3m right to the line. I don't doubt that Cue Card is a seriously good horse, I just think he has it all to do to beat Don Cossack if both horses stay on their feet.
This is many peoples idea of the winner this year after Djakadam finished runner up in 2015. Djakadam stayed on right to the line in last years race and with Coneygree's absence he's been touted to go one better now. It's not been a straight forward preparation though as Djakadam was a beaten 5/6 favourite in the BetBright trial at Cheltenham in January. He was still going well when he hit the deck at the tenth. If that wasn't bad enough news then Djakadam required stitches to his chest after that fall and that scuppered any chance of a quick return to the racecourse for another prep race. It's not idea because Willie Mullins has been trying to get this free going sort to settle better in his races so maybe another appearance would've helped. He's clearly a fantastic horse but it is worth mentioning that he finished 7l's behind Don Cossack in the Irish Gold Cup at Puncestown last season. That was only 6 weeks after he Djakadam finished runner up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Don Poli is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner with a near perfect record over fences. He has won five of his six races over the larger obstacles and put in a stunning performance in last years RSA Chase. He was one of my main bets at the Cheltenham Festival last year and he didn't disappoint. He won the RSA Chase by 6l's and although he got in close to the second last he jumped the last fence very impressively. For me the way he stayed on up the hill after that fence was even more impressive. Don Poli isn't flashy, if anything he's ultra professional. He's versatile ground wise and he clearly stays the trip. Willie Mullins is absolutely certain that the extra couple of furlongs is exactly what this horse needs and in my opinion we'll see the two Don's battling it out inside the final furlong at this years Cheltenham Gold Cup.