It's the one that we've all been waiting for. It's the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase. The final day of the Cheltenham Festival, 15:30, you don't want to miss it! It's fitting that it's the final Grade 1 of the Festival and it's arguably the best.
We had last years winner, Don Cossack. Sadly Don won't be back to defend his crown but there's a host of new pretenders who will line up hoping to take one of the greatest steeplechase races on the planet.
Cue Card, Djakadam, Don Poli line up again. Tizzard also runs Native River, but chances of a 1,2,3 in this race were scuppered when Thistlecrack was withdrawn with injury. That burnt a few ante-post backers, including myself. Sizing John has been upped in trip after getting fed up of seeing Douvan's backside and there's a couple of interesting contenders in More Of That and Bristol De Mai. Outlander has a decent chance and it would be dangerous to totally rule out Empire Of Dirt.
Below we preview the 5 horses that we feel have the best chance of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and if you scroll further down you will see our tip for 2017's Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I've started with Native River because I feel that this is the horse most people think is the one to beat after Thistlecrack's withdrawal. Native River is a stunning chaser. He jumps for fun, he stays all day and he's as brave as a lion. The Gold Cup looks perfect for him, even more so now he hasn't got to take on stablemate Thistlecrack or champions of the past - Don Cossack or Coneygree. Yes he still has to beat another stablemate in Cue Card, but should you read on further then hopefully you can understand my reasons behind backing Native River and not Cue Card. Native River has been a revelation since adopting prominent tactics. Cheekpieces have been applied and with Richard Johnson doing the steering, he's impressed me every single time he's raced this season. A little like Don Poli, there's absolutely no doubts surrounding stamina but unlike Don Slowly, this horse has gears. He goes on any ground and he absolutely destroyed Bristol De Mai last time out over a distance that should've suited Twiston-Davies' horse.
My only doubt surrounding Native River is that although he is a Grade 1 winner, it was a much weaker race than a Gold Cup and the form hasn't exactly been franked since. You're taking a chance that he can handle a big step up in class and still jump classier rivals into the ground.
My main point on Cue Card last year was that I'm not convinced he stays the Gold Cup trip on a stiff track. I still maintain that opinion. Cue Card is a terrific horse, I'm not doubting that for one moment. But all his wins over 3m's have came on flat tracks. His three course wins have been over 2m's (twice) and 2m5f's. With Native River and Don Poli (see below) likely to make this a very good test of stamina I just can't bring myself to change my opinion. People were falling over themselves after Cue Card destroyed the field last time out at Ascot, but that was again over a shorter trip (2m5f) and it was against horse who have been comfortably beaten in Grade 1 events. I wouldn't shout home about that form.
Cue Card is definitely one of the classiest horse in this race but there is a question mark hanging over his head regarding the trip.
I think Djakadam gives Native River most to think about in this years Gold Cup. Djakadam was runner up in 2015 when he was staying on all the way to the line behind Coneygree and with similar tactics likely to be applied by Native River, I think Djakadam will enjoy having a strong pace to aim it. He was 2nd again last year behind Don Cossack when he actually hit the front before 4 fences out. His preparation for last years race wasn't great and the fact that he's been handled with care this season might bring out a bit of improvement. Willie Mullins says he's in great form at home and is expecting another massive run, can he make it 3rd time lucky?
Similar to Cue Card, this horse is one of the classier horses in the race but his jumping can sometimes let him down and he is clearly quite fragile, that's why Willie Mullins has desperately tried to look after him this season.
Outlander put himself firmly in the picture for this years Cheltenham Gold Cup after winning the Lexus Chase over Christmas. He finished ahead of Don Poli, Djakadam and More Of That in that race but Gordon Elliott's comments since that victory don't exactly fill me with confidence. In his Cheltenham Stable Tour he questions the Gold Cup trip. Outlander has only ran over 3m+ once and that was when he was 2nd to Zabana last season. Outlander has fell twice in 9 starts over fences, one of those falls was at last years festival in the JLT. As highlighted, there are a few doubts surrounding this horse but those are reflected in the current odds of 10/1. Elliott talks about the stamina doubts but if you replayed his win in the Lexus Chase then you'd argue that he stayed on strongly that day. Elliott has made it clear that Outlander is no Don Cossack but providing he jumps around I think you'll get a decent run for your money if backing Outlander EW. I just don't think we'll see him win, not this year anyway.
Outlander is an unexposed smooth traveling horse who will be delivered late. He main doubt is whether he will see out the Gold Cup trip on his first attempt over this distance.
Don Poli has won at the Cheltenham Festival two times before, so we've no worries about him handling the track. He handles most conditions well but I'd probably say he's likely to come up short in this race unless most of the field run below their best form, or unless it turns into a war of attrition. Don Poli was entered in this years Grand National but after a vocal dispute about the weight he received, he's been taken out. If there's stamina doubts surrounding any runners in this race then you can absolutely guarantee 'Don Slowly' won't be found wanting in this department. He does nothing quick, but he stays all day. I just think he lacks that touch of class to win a Gold Cup, that change of gear to win a race like this. Don Poli will definitely have his fans in this race but I can't help but feel you're hoping for a place at best. It is worth noting that Gordon Elliot has said that Don Poli will race prominently in this years Gold Cup. If that's the case and he's up there challenging Native River for the lead then it will surely make it difficult for horses who have doubts in the stamina department. Interesting.
Don Poli has had chances in the past to win a Gold Cup and hasn't delivered. I doubt if he's good enough.