Gold Cup Day is finally here and with it comes Nicky Henderson’s shot at writing yet another famous chapter in Cheltenham Festival folklore.
The Seven Barrows maestro is already the most successful trainer in the festival’s history and this week he burst through the 60-winner barrier.
Now he bids to become the first trainer ever to make off with the crown jewels – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup – all in one season.
Buveur D’air and Altior have hit their targets and Might Bite has his date with destiny on Friday afternoon.
What is most absorbing about Henderson is his ability to get things right on the biggest days. He is a brilliant trainer, that much is clear, but he seems to possess an innate ability to get talented horses spot on for their primary targets in high-class races.
Might Bite at 9/2 is the choice for Gold Cup glory. His detractors will point to the RSA Chase last season, when he almost conspired to grab defeat from the jaws of victory, but the bare fact is he won – in spite of himself.
To do what he did and still win suggests there’s an enormously deep pool of talent under the bonnet. Since then he has been faultless. We last saw him winning the King George at Kempton and since then he’s been counting down the minutes in the hands of the master-trainer for this moment.
With Henderson’s guiding hand, he’s not likely to fluff his lines but there will be an intake of breath in the Cotswolds when he meets that hill again!
The dangers are led by last year’s third, Native River, a dour stayer for Colin Tizzard deliberately kept fresh for this race. He will relish the testing ground and is a tough cookie.
The improving Road To Respect could be the leading Irish contender in the absence of reigning champion Sizing John, as the latter’s stablemate Our Duke has been prone to jumping mistakes this season and they will surely be unforgiveable in this company.
The day is expected to get off to a flyer for Henderson in the Triumph Hurdle where Apple’s Shakira has outstanding claims as the 2/1 favourite.
She’s won three times at the course this season and appears ready to battle when needed. That she gets 7lb from the boys is a massive advantage now, and one she might even win without.
Willie Mullins will bid to win the County Hurdle for the fifth time in nine years in race two. The Closutton handler is typically mob-handed so deciphering between them to find the best isn’t easy in itself, but 20/1 chance Whiskey Sour has plenty talent and should run a big race under David Mullins.
The Albert Bartlett is attritional at the best of times and could be even more so now with the rain that has battered Prestbury Park. Henderson’s Santini is a leading candidate and will be popular after Black Op franked his form in chasing home the mighty Samcro on Wednesday.
The market has found him, however, and this race has trended towards big-price winners recently. As such, December C&D winner Kilbricken Storm looks to be underestimated for trainer Colin Tizzard at 40/1. He wasn’t at his best last time out but, returned to this track, he’s got previous coming up the hill and that is a tick in the box for him.
Paul Nicholls had a one-two in the Foxhunters’ Chase last season, with Wonderful Charm a fast-finishing and unlucky second. The Ditcheat handler has another strong team for this years’ amateur riders’ Gold Cup and Sam Waley-Cohen might be able to get 11/2 chance Wonderful Charm home over a course where he famously won the biggest prize on Long Run.
Foxrock, under the excellent Katie Walsh, is also well respected at odds of 7/1 in this race. Figuring out the final two puzzles of the Cheltenham Festival jigsaw routinely proves to be a nigh-on impossible task.
David Pipe would dearly love to win the race named in his father’s honour and unbeaten hurdler Mr Big Shot on his seasonal/handicap bow looks to have a fair crack at 14/1 for the Pond House team.
In the lucky last, the Grand Annual, Dan Skelton’s decision to swerve the Arkle with the promising chaser North Hill Harvey could pay dividends at 7/1.
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