Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup: Guide to the key contenders

By Tom Peacock@tompeacock
Wed 9 Jan 2019

No race causes any greater excitement at the Festival than the Cheltenham Gold Cup which will be sponsored by Magners for the first time in 2019.

Yet which owners, trainer and jockey will be lifting a glass of the yellow stuff on March 15?

After the showpiece events over Christmas, which saw young pretenders gain top marks and some established stars left with homework to do, it has a very complicated look after 43 entries were revealed on Wednesday.

Here's a guide to the leading contenders.

PRESENTING PERCY:

Trainer: Pat Kelly

General odds: 4-1

Presenting Percy landed the RSA in great style at the Festival last year

Has managed the impressive feat of hardening further as ante-post favourite without making a public appearance.

Last season’s impressive RSA Chase winner looked a star in waiting for the division, but connections have missed a succession of targets due to unsuitable ground.

Now likely to have an outing or two before the Gold Cup, it would be preferable to have seen him in action for experience at least, even if he is a horse who palpably must not be overlooked.

NATIVE RIVER

Trainer: Colin Tizzard

General odds: 5-1

Relive Native River's epic win in the 2018 Gold Cup

Last year’s winner arrived on the back of just one prep-run and although back in full training earlier this winter, it has not all gone to plan.

Looked as taken aback as his rivals over those giant fences when second in the Betfair Chase and was not suited by the King George test on Boxing Day.

Expected to tune up again in the Denman Chase and is sure to throw down a challenge, even if there is a suspicion that this year’s Gold Cup is looking a more competitive renewal.

CLAN DES OBEAUX

Trainer: Paul Nicholls

General odds: 8-1

Clan Des Obeaux produced a brilliant performance to win the King George on Boxing Day

Burst onto the scene with an impressive performance in the King George and remains lightly-raced and open to further improvement.

Some concern that a Gold Cup will be a very different demand to Kempton and yet to register a win at Cheltenham in four starts, as well as potentially pushing his stamina to the limit.

Nonetheless, one who has earned his chance and dangerous to dismiss.

KEMBOY

Trainer: Willie Mullins

General odds: 8-1

Willie Mullins is yet to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Willie Mullins is yet to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Would surely have been a certainty had he been able to travel over for the Ladbrokes Trophy, given that he was a startlingly good winner of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Has made rampant improvement for the Willie Mullins yard and might now be kept fresh for Cheltenham.

Has not set the Festival alight in two previous tries and will have to keep his occasionally erratic jumping at its tidiest. He is one of nine entries for Willie Mullins.

ROAD TO RESPECT

Trainer: Noel Meade

General odds: 12-1

Road To Respect was successful at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival

Ran perfectly well when third in an attempt to defend his Savills Chase title, given that he stumbled after the third-last, and had looked very good on his reappearance at Down Royal.

Although he has a Festival win, he was a well-held fourth in last year’s renewal and questionable whether he is quite good enough to figure, but perhaps better ground would help his cause in 2019.

THISTLECRACK

Trainer: Colin Tizzard

General odds: 12-1

Colin Tizzard discusses Thistlecrack after his run in the King George

Not been able to make a Gold Cup for the past two seasons due to injury but this popular character has embarked on a retrieval mission this term, showing promise in the Betfair Chase and then running a very solid second in the King George.

Although he is now 11, he could yet return to something like his best come the spring, which makes him a major contender.

MIGHT BITE

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

General odds: 16-1

Nicky Henderson has opted to give Might Bite a wind operation ahead of the Gold Cup
Nicky Henderson has opted to give Might Bite a wind operation ahead of the Gold Cup

Worried out of it by Native River in a wonderful renewal of the Gold Cup last March, he looked unscathed by the battle in winning at Aintree, but it has fallen apart this season.

Bitterly disappointing in the Betfair Chase and the King George last time out, he is now set to have a wind operation and go straight for the Gold Cup.

Although it could work a treat, he is a horse about whom there are now many reservations.

BELLSHILL

Trainer: Willie Mullins

General Odds: 16-1

Bellshill finished third behind Might Bite in the 2017 RSA Chase

Taken his time to get there, with a couple of dramatic incidents along the way, but gained his moment in the sun by winning last year’s Punchestown Gold Cup.

Likely to be handled steadily and could be capable of better than his fourth-placed finish on reappearance in the Savills Chase.

The sort of horse who will have his each-way supporters but might be worth seeing how he fares in something like the Irish Gold Cup if he is to merit a solid investment.

SIZING JOHN

Trainer: Jessica Harrington

General odds: 16-1

Watch Sizing John's victory in this race in 2017

Repelled all-comers in his 2016-17 season, including a Gold Cup victory, and all seemed to be going swimmingly when he lifted last season’s John Durkan only to be listless over Christmas at Leopardstown.

Was ruled out of Cheltenham with a pelvis injury and whilst he still has a little time on his side, we need to see something of him soon before having any confidence.

AL BOUM PHOTO

Trainer: Willie Mullins

General odds: 16-1

Watch Al Boum Photo's success at Tranmore in January

Does seem to have been quietly thought of as a horse who might end Mullins’ wait for that elusive Gold Cup and did his claims no harm with a pretty likeable recent win at Tramore.

Has an engine but there have been a few falls along the way, including when appearing beaten in last season’s RSA Chase, and he and Paul Townend caused that dramatic incident at the last at Punchestown.

There are many worse youngsters around, but probably does need to show a bit more to be a serious contender.

BRISTOL DE MAI

Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies

General odds: 20-1

Bristol De Mai was successful in the Betfair Chase before falling in the King George

Seemingly invincible at Haydock, as evidenced by the Betfair Chase again in November, yet still to prove he is quite as effective anywhere else and beaten in this race in 2017.

Said to have recovered from falling in the King George and now likely to have a spin over hurdles before heading for the Festival. As good as he is, he is probably safer overlooked at Prestbury Park.

ELEGANT ESCAPE

Trainer: Colin Tizzard

General odds: 25-1

Elegant Escape finished second in the Ladbrokes Trophy before winning the Welsh National

Colin Tizzard might no longer have Cue Card, but he could still have a powerful triumvirate with this fellow, who has a similar profile to a younger Native River after a good second in the Ladbrokes Trophy and a win in the Welsh National.

Still has a few pounds to find with the principals but another new horse on the upgrade against some who are getting long in the tooth

THE REST:

There are a few quoted further down the market who might well end up going over shorter distances come the Festival, along the lines of BALKO DES FLOS and MONALEE, and worthy inclusions who are probably not going to properly make the grade at the highest table in this particular renewal, such as DEFINITLY RED and ANIBALE FLY. TERREFORT is under a cloud at present but has time to state his case.

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