The final day of the Cheltenham Festival plays host to the biggest National Hunt event of them all. The Cheltenham Gold Cup. 68,000 people descend on Prestbury Park on this most prestigious of days, some of which are brave souls attending for the fourth day in a row, others fresh faced and full of anticipation.
The first ever Cheltenham Gold Cup was held in 1819 and was a three-mile flat race won by a horse called Spectre. It was first contested as a jump race in 1924, and thankfully, they haven’t looked back since. Some of the most recognisable names in history have won this race, not least the brilliant Arkle, who won the race three times consecutively form 1964 to 1966 and to this day remains the lowest priced ever winner at odds of 1/10.
This years Gold Cup picture has been slightly marred by the decline of some of its most obvious contenders over the past months. It is still a very competitive market and boasts a field headed by the quirky but extremely talented Might Bite. The King George winner who has been the most talked about Gold Cup horse since his astonishing win of the RSA Chase at the Festival last year. What happened that day was truly remarkable. For any of you who haven’t seen it, I recommend having a look.
The horse effortlessly cantered away from a highly talented field and had a virtually unassailable lead at last, before seeing the Guinness tent and swerving across the track. He was headed by Whisper and Davy Russell, but incredibly found something else and got back up in the shadows of the winning post. In a year when so many challengers have blotted their copy books with below par performances, this fella has done everything right, and while he will need to improve to win the race, he is certainly deserving of his position at the head of the market.
Native River is another English trained horse who has put himself firmly back in the picture after his impressive return to action, and with Colin Tizzard’s string seemingly coming back to a bit of form after a torrid start to the season. This horse was among the favourites for the race last year, stays well, and if there are any chinks in the armour of Might Bite, he has all the tools to expose them. He is a sound jumper and a relentless galloper, and he will make this a test for them all. He is a solid second favourite now and I couldn’t put anyone off having a punt.
Next in, is the battalion of Irish trained horses, and of course, last year’s winner, Sizing John. Not since Imperial Call in 1996 had a horse won the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in one season. Step forward the Robbie Power ridden Sizing John, and the remarkable Jessica Harrington. The 7-year-old son of Midnight Legend was given an impeccable ride and dispelled any previous stamina doubts to give Jessica her first ever win in the race. Now just 8 and with further scope for improvement, he has to again have a leading chance. After a brilliant return in the John Durkan, he ran poorly at Christmas. He has been freshened up now and at likely odds of 6/1, he is a cracking each way proposition.
Other horses of note are the Willie Mullins trained Killultagh Vic, who seemed to have the Irish Gold Cup in safe keeping before a heavy final flight exit. The winner of that race, miracle horse Edwulf, can’t be ignored either, along with Road to Respect, Our Duke, Coney Island and the Brian Ellison trained Definitely Red. Whilst it isn’t the most high-class renewal of the race it most certainly will be competitive and should be an exciting race to watch. While Might Bite could be anything, and looks to be riddled with talent, his quirky nature and relatively short price puts me off
A firm and bullish selection at this point seems foolish, but, gun to my head, Sizing John back to his best would be almost certain to go very, very close. And at 6/1, I’m happy to go with him as each way selection.
Selection: Sizing John (E/W) 6/1 General
Article by @ShaneMcevoy1