Sixteen runners will go to post in Friday’s G1 Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup, the high point of the Jump racing season. It will be the largest field since 2015, when the Mark Bradstock-trained Coneygree took the £625,000 race from 15 rivals.
Native River, victorious in a thrilling contest last year, bids to become one of only eight horses ever to win more than one Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup. Trained by Colin Tizzard, he will once again be ridden by the champion jockey, Richard Johnson.
Native River triumphed in an epic duel with Might Bite in 2018, and Nicky Henderson’s charge is set to line up again under Nico de Boinville, who already has one Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup on his mantelpiece, courtesy of Coneygree. Might Bite has failed to shine so far this season and is available at odds of around 12/1, whereas Native River is considered a 4/1 chance.
Favouritism, however, is the preserve of Presenting Percy, who spearheads the Irish challenge at around 7/2. The Pat Kelly-trained eight-year-old, the ride of Davy Russell, won last year’s G1 RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at The Festival by seven lengths and was also successful in 2017 in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle. He has only run once – over hurdles – this season, so it will be fascinating to see whether he is as good as the market thinks he is.
One horse that has clearly proved himself on the track this winter is Clan Des Obeaux, trained by four-time Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning handler Paul Nicholls and available at around 9/2. If the G1 King George VI Chase and G2 Denman Chase hero gives Nicholls a fifth success in the race, he will equal Tom Dreaper’s record as the contest’s winning-most trainer. Twenty-year-old Harry Cobden will be in the saddle, seeking a first Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup success.
Irish maestro Willie Mullins may have 63 Festival winners to his credit, but they do not include a Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup – he has been second six times. This year he has four shots at the goal, withKemboy (David Mullins) and Bellshill (Ruby Walsh) the most fancied of the quartet, which also includesAl Boum Photo (Paul Townend) and Invitation Only, the mount of Mullins’ amateur rider son Patrick. Bellshill has already taken two Gold Cups – at Punchestown and Leopardstown – while Kemboy scored in a G1 at Leopardstown over three miles on his last appearance.
Kemboy was fourth in the 2018 G1 JLT Novices’ Chase at The Festival, and the winner that day, Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love (Jack Kennedy), is back at Cheltenham on Friday. Shattered Love hasn’t won since, but perhaps a return to the scene of her last triumph will do the trick. She is the only mare in the race and, if successful, would become the first of her sex to win the Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup since Dawn Run in 1986 and only the fifth in the history of the race.
The remaining Irish representative is Anibale Fly, trained by Tony Martin for J P McManus and ridden by Barry Geraghty. He was third in this race behind Native River and Might Bite last year, and finished fourth in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree a month later. Geraghty knows what it feels like to ride a Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup winner; he was aboard Kicking King in 2005 and Bobs Worth in 2013.
Closer to home, two Gloucestershire-based runners will attract plenty of support. Nigel Twiston-Davies was successful in the three-mile championship race with Imperial Commander in 2010, and Bristol De Mai represents him and jockey Daryl Jacob this time. The eight-year-old has won the past two renewals of the G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock, but fell last time out in the King George VI Chase at Kempton and his best run at Cheltenham was back in 2016, when he finished second in the G1 JLT Novices’ Chase. And Tom George runs Double Shuffle (Jonathan Burke), who, although he has regularly picked up placings in good races, hasn’t won since taking a handicap chase at Kempton in December 2016.
More fancied are Elegant Escape and Thistlecrack, who complete Native River’s trainer Colin Tizzard’s trio. Tom O’Brien takes the ride on Elegant Escape, this season’s Welsh Grand National winner, who finished third to Presenting Percy in the G1 RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase in 2018. Thistlecrack, victorious in the G1 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle in 2016 and the King George VI Chase at Kempton later that year, as well as many other top races, looked nearly back to form when second to Clan Des Obeaux in the King George VI Chase in December. Tom Scudamore will, as ever, be in the saddle.
The Brian Ellison-trained Definitly Red (Danny Cook) has been in good form this season, with G2 wins at Aintree and Wetherby, although he was beaten when odds-on in a two-horse race at Kelso last time out.
The field is completed by Yala Enki, trained by Venetia Williams and ridden by Charlie Deutsch. The nine-year-old was third in the Welsh Grand National, five and a quarter lengths behind Elegant Escape, in December.
3:30pm Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y £625,000
1 Al Boum Photo (FR) 7 11 10 W. P. Mullins Ireland Mrs J. Donnelly P. Townend
2 Anibale Fly (FR) ts 9 11 10 A. J. Martin Ireland Mr John P. McManus Barry Geraghty
3 Bellshill (IRE) 9 11 10 W. P. Mullins Ireland Andrea & Graham Wylie R. Walsh
4 Bristol de Mai (FR) 8 11 10 Nigel Twiston-Davies Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Daryl Jacob
5 Clan des Obeaux (FR) 7 11 10 Paul Nicholls Mr&Mrs P.K.Barber,G.Mason,Sir A Ferguson Harry Cobden
6 Definitly Red (IRE) 10 11 10 Brian Ellison Phil & Julie Martin Danny Cook
7 Double Shuffle (IRE) h 9 11 10 Tom George Crossed Fingers Partnership Jonathan Burke
8 Elegant Escape (IRE) 7 11 10 Colin Tizzard Mr J. P. Romans Tom O’Brien
9 Invitation Only (IRE) 8 11 10 W. P. Mullins Ireland Andrea & Graham Wylie Mr P. W. Mullins
10 Kemboy (FR) 7 11 10 W. P. Mullins Ireland Supreme Racing/Brett Graham/Ken Sharp David Mullins
11 Might Bite (IRE) 10 11 10 Nicky Henderson The Knot Again Partnership Nico de Boinville
12 Native River (IRE) p 9 11 10 Colin Tizzard Brocade Racing Richard Johnson
13 Presenting Percy ts 8 11 10 Patrick G. Kelly Ireland Philip J. Reynolds Davy Russell
14 Thistlecrack 11 11 10 Colin Tizzard John and Heather Snook Tom Scudamore
15 Yala Enki (FR) 9 11 10 Venetia Williams Hills of Ledbury (Aga) Charlie Deutsch
16 Shattered Love (IRE) ts 8 11 3 Gordon Elliott Ireland Gigginstown House Stud Jack Kennedy