Who will claim the biggest prize of them all at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival? Watch vital galloping clues, analysis and interviews plus read what Harry Allwood has to say about the 16 runners.
Our experts preview the 2019 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
We were treated to an epic finish in last year’s Gold Cup and the first two home – Native River and Might Bite – are set for battle once again.
No horse has recorded back-to-back victories in the Gold Cup since Best Mate in 2004 and this year’s renewal is arguably a stronger contest.
Presenting Percy has been the ante-post favourite for the blue riband event and shone when winning the RSA Chase in 2018. However, we have only seen him once since then which many punters will see as a negative.
Clan Des Obeaux has produced the strongest form this season and is almost vying for favouritism with Presenting Percy at the head of the market.
He has never won at Cheltenham, but his trainer, Paul Nicholls, does not believe the track will pose a problem to his much-improved seven-year-old.
It looks a wide-open renewal and here’s a guide to all the contenders.
AL BOUM PHOTO
Trainer: Willie Mullins. Odds: 16-1.
Our experts analyse Al Boum Photo's success in the Savills Chase
Positives: Still only seven and scored at Grade One level at Punchestown in 2018. Warmed up for this contest in good style on his seasonal debut in the Savills Chase beating a decent field. He has been deserted by Ruby Walsh, but I imagine it would have been a tough choice for him.
Negatives: Looked to be toiling when falling two fences from home in the RSA Chase behind Presenting Percy last year and, although he has improved since, he will need to improve even further to trouble the main protagonists. Will also need the ground to be soft or heavy for him to show his best form and has only had one run this season.
Verdict: Further improvement is likely from Al Boum Photo and he has an each-way chance if he can progress again.
Trainer: Tony Martin. Odds: 16-1
Anibale Fly ran a great race to finish third in last year's Gold Cup
Positives: Stayed on to finish third in this race last year at 33-1 and proved that was no fluke when fourth in the Grand National on his next start. Does not have many lengths to make up on Native River and Might Bite and is sure to be staying on once again at the finish. Encouraging run behind Monalee last time.
Negatives: Will need the ground to be soft for him to produce a similar performance to last year and will need to have improved again to be a contender for win purposes.
Verdict: If the ground is soft or heavy, there is no reason why he won’t run a big race again. Will be a popular each-way selection and has a chance of sneaking a place should conditions be on the slow side.
Trainer: Willie Mullins. Odds: 10-1.
Bellshill landed the Irish Gold Cup by a whisker
Positives: Has now won five times at Grade One level after showing a great attitude to win the Irish Gold Cup last time out. He should have no problem with the Gold Cup test and has shown good form on a range of different ground conditions. Ruby Walsh has also opted to ride him over Willie Mullins' other three runners.
Negatives: Has failed to win at the Cheltenham Festival three times and his best form falls just short of what the leading contenders have achieved.
Verdict: Is capable of running a big race but has place claims at best.
BRISTOL DE MAI:
Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies. Odds: 22-1.
Clan Des Obeaux, Native River, Thistlecrack and Might Bite were all in behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase in November
Positives: High-class performer who has won four times at Grade One level and would be a threat to all on the form of his Betfair Chase win in November. Has beaten many of the leading contenders in the past and handles all types of ground.
Negatives: Has failed to win at Cheltenham three times now and has shown all his best form at Haydock. Could only manage seventh in this race in 2017 and has not run since falling in the King George on Boxing Day.
Verdict: If he could reproduce the form he shows at Haydock, then he would be one of the leading fancies for this race, but he seems to save his best form for the Merseyside venue.
CLAN DES OBEAUX
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Odds: 4-1.
Watch what Paul Nicholls had to say about Clan Des Obeaux's success at Ascot last time out
Positives: Has shown improved form this season and showed his class when winning the King George in good style. His trainer could not be in better form and it is highly likely there is more to come from the seven-year-old. He also has the strongest form next to his name this season.
Negatives: Has failed to get his head in front in four attempts at Cheltenham and needs to prove he stays the Gold Cup trip. He was also suited best by the King George test on Boxing Day and many of his rivals are proven over the Gold Cup trip.
Verdict: Although he hasn’t won at Cheltenham yet, he has produced some good runs at the track and is a much-improved horse since his last run at the track in 2017. He will have a great chance if the ground is on the firmer side, but his stamina will certainly be tested if conditions deteriorate.
Trainer: Brian Ellison. Odds: 40-1.
Definitly Red suffered a shock defeat at Kelso on his latest start
Positives: Has won five times at Grade Two level and also twice at Cheltenham. Finished sixth in this race last year when he didn’t jump as well as he could, but he is capable producing a better showing given the form he has shown in the past.
Negatives: Will need to up his game on last year’s performance and was turned over at short odds in his prep run at Kelso in February.
Verdict: A useful performer who has plenty of stamina but will need to up his game and his latest run is off-putting.
Trainer: Tom GeorgeOdds: 100-1.
Double Shuffle's career best - his second in the 2017 King George
Positives: Has some useful efforts next to his name and produced a career best when second behind Might Bite in the 2017 King George.
Negatives: Has failed to record a victory since 2016 and struggled to land a blow in the King George on Boxing Day.
Verdict: Even on his best form, he will need to up his game considerably and is hard to fancy.
Trainer: Colin Tizzard. Odds: 20-1.
Elegant Escape stayed on to finish second in the Cotswold Chase
Positives: Welsh National winner who has an abundance of stamina and would have arguably won the Cotswold Chase (winner Frodon franked the form in the Ryanair Chase) had it been run over the Gold Cup trip. He’s only seven and has improved again this season plus the Gold Cup test promises to suit.
Negatives: His form falls just short of those at the head of the market and he has failed to win in four starts at Cheltenham.
Verdict: Consistent individual whose stamina will be a massive advantage. Will need to improve again to hit the frame but a bold show is not out of the equation should the ground be soft or worse.
Trainer: Willie Mullins. Odds: 25-1.
Invitation Only landed the Thyestes Chase last time out
Positives: Looked as good as ever when winning the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last time out and seemed to improve for the step up to 3m1f. Should be more to come from him over staying trips and was in the process of running a big race in a Grade One at Punchestown last season before unseating his rider.
Negatives: Has only raced on soft and heavy ground since 2016 and will need to find improved form to be a challenger here. Pulled up on his only start at Cheltenham, although that was after a bad mistake, but still needs to prove he handles the track.
Verdict: Looks to be a stayer and the Gold Cup test is likely to suit. He does have a lot to find on the ratings though and will need a few to underperform to be involved in the finish.
Trainer: Willie Mullins. Odds: 10-1.
Kemboy finished fourth in the JLT at the 2018 Festival
Positives: Has won his last four starts and looked a horse with a serious amount of talent when landing the Grade One Savills Chase in December. Is improving rapidly and that piece of form puts him in the picture plus he is only seven so further improvement is likely.
Negatives: The Savills Chase turned into a sprint, so he may be flattered by his performance in that race. Also finished fourth on his only start at Cheltenham.
Verdict: Does not have much to find on the ratings but his performance at Leopardstown may not have been as good as it seemed and he has plenty of pace, so the Gold Cup trip is not certain to suit. It also remains to be seen if he can produce his best form at Cheltenham.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Odds: 12-1.
Watch Racing TV's analysis of the Gold Cup last year
Positives: The dramatic RSA winner of 2017 ran a brilliant race to finish second in this race last year where he travelled like the best horse before he was outbattled in testing conditions. Has won four times at Grade One level and has had his wind tinkered with since last in action.
Negatives: Has failed to sparkle in two starts this season. Two below-par runs are not an ideal preparation for Cheltenham’s blue riband event and will need to bounce back to his best to land a blow.
Verdict: He is now a ten-year-old and has had his issues this season, which is a worry. Would also need the ground to be good to soft or better to reverse form with Native River on last year’s form. Would not be the biggest surprise if he did run a big race and vibes from his yard have been positive in recent weeks, but others look more persuasive.
Trainer: Colin Tizzard. Odds: 7-2.
Richard Johnson reflects on Native River's success after the Gold Cup 12 months ago
Positives: Showed a tremendous attitude when winning last year and also finished third in 2017. Has an abundance of stamina and has been trained for this race all season. Ran a respectable race in the King George and the Betfair Chase in 2018 and is the one to beat on last year’s form.
Negatives: Has missed an intended prep run which is a concern considering he warmed up for the last two renewals of this race in the month before. Will need to produce a performance at least as good as last year.
Verdict: The King George did not suit him last time out and he is sure to finish a lot close to Clan Des Obeaux this time. Has a huge chance if he reproduces his performance from last year. The lack of a prep run is a slight worry, but he only had one start last season before winning the Gold Cup and he looks set to run a big race once again.
Trainer: Pat Kelly. Odds: 7-2.
Watch what our experts had to say about Presenting Percy's victory in the RSA Chase
Positives: Looked an ideal candidate for the Gold Cup when a comfortable winner of the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival. Has won twice at the Cheltenham Festival – from two starts – and shapes as though the Gold Cup distance will not pose a problem. Warmed up for this race with a victory in January and has never fallen or unseated his rider in 15 starts over obstacles.
Negatives: Has had just one run since winning the RSA Chase and that was over hurdles. Has bypassed two intended prep runs since his victory at Gowran Park in January so lacks recent match practice over the larger obstacles.
Verdict: The lack of a run over fences since his victory at the Festival 12 months ago is off-putting, but he is a high-class individual who beat a useful field in last year’s RSA Chase. He is also unbeaten at the Cheltenham Festival and I would not have any doubts about him seeing out the Gold Cup trip.
Trainer: Willie Mullins. Odds: 33-1.
Relive Shattered Love's success in the 2018 JLT
Positives: Landed the JLT Novices’ Chase in good style at the Festival last year and went close in a Grade One at Punchestown in December. Has been consistent overall during her career and handles all types of ground. She also receives a handy weight allowance.
Negatives: Will need to bounce back to form after disappointing in the Savills Chase on her latest start. Also needs to prove her stamina and does have a bit to find.
Verdict: The Gold Cup has been her target all season but, even on her best form, she will need to find considerable improvement.
Trainer: Colin Tizzard. Odds: 14-1.
Thistlecrack ran a blinder in the 2018 King George
Positives: Brilliant performer on his day with the highlight of his chasing career being his victory in the 2016 King George. Has run two respectable races this season after a lay-off and was not beaten far by Clan Des Obeaux last time out.
Negatives: Has had his share of injuries during the past two seasons and no horse aged 11 or older has won the race since 1969. Looks held by Clan Des Obeaux on his King George run on Boxing Day and he is probably not as good as he once was.
Verdict: Is sure to have his supporters and has proved this season he still retains plenty of ability. However, he is against some improving individuals and looks vulnerable.
Trainer: Venetia Williams. Odds: 100-1.
Yala Enki disappointed at Haydock last time out
Positives: Ran a great race to finish third behind Elegant Escape in the Welsh National and has a huge amount of stamina.
Negatives: Produced a laboured effort at Haydock last time out and looks out of his depth at this level.
Verdict: Will need to find bundles of improvement to be a challenger here.
The result of the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup is likely to depend on the ground conditions.
The going is soft and, looking at the weather forecast, it is likely the ground will be testing on Friday so Native River is going to have a big chance of outstaying his rivals once again.
He did well to finish third in the King George considering that test did not suit him. A lack of a recent run is a slight concern, but the Gold Cup has been the plan since he crossed the line last year and the Tizzard team will have him primed for the big occasion.
I was impressed with Al Boum Photo’s victory in the Listed Savills Chase last time out and, although he was held when falling in the RSA Chase last year, he has shown improved form this season. He is capable of going close with further improvement on the cards.
Had Presenting Percy participated in another prep run then he would have probably been my selection. It does put me off that he has bypassed a couple of intended prep runs this season, but he looked a strong contender for this race when winning the RSA in 2018 and is unbeaten in two starts at the Cheltenham Festival.
1. Native River. 2. Al Boum Photo. 3. Presenting Percy.