The Blue Riband event of the National Hunt season may be missing Vautour, after owner Rich Ricci changed his mind and re-routed him to Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, but the Cheltenham Gold Cup remains a contest to savour (3.30pm Friday, Cheltenham Festival on CH4).
Last year’s second, third, fifth, eighth and ninth are once again in the 10-strong field and are joined this year by the King George VI Chase winner.
Don Cossack (3/1), trained by Gordon Elliott (pictured), was two lengths down but staying on when falling at the second last in the King George VI Chase won by Cue Card (4/1) at Kempton on Boxing Day. He did beat Colin Tizzard’s charge by 26 lengths in the Betfred Melling Chase at Aintree last April, though Cue Card was very much out of sorts last season.
Don Cossack also beat last year’s Gold Cup second Djakadam (7/2) by 7 lengths in the Punchestown Gold Cup later the same month, so looks a worthy favourite. He did not need to be at his best to win the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs at Thurles in January at odds of 1/8, but at least he demonstrated his well-being and an absence of 64 days shouldn’t hinder his chance.
Road To Riches (12/1) was third in this last year, which was a career-best performance. He is held by both Don Cossack and Djakadam on his subsequent third in the Punchestown Gold Cup and a place looks the most he can hope for.
Don Poli (9/2), owned like Don Cossack by Gigginstown House Stud but trained by Willie Mullins, was all out to beat the 147-rated First Lieutenant at level weights in the Lexus Chase at Leopeardstown over Christmas. The Poliglote gelding won last year’s RSA Chase in convincingly style, but looks Willie Mullins’ second string on jockey bookings and has 9lb or 10lb to find with the principals on official ratings.
Smad Place (10/1) could only finish eighth of 16, beaten 27 lengths, in this race last year and, although he has officially improved 14lb in the interim, he finished 16½ lengths behind Cue Card in the King George VI Chase and may struggle to reverse the form. However, if ridden positively, as he was when making all to beat subsequent winners Many Clouds and Theatre Guide in the Cotswold Chase over 3 miles 1½ furlongs on this course in January, his slick jumping could have a few of these in trouble, especially on the drying ground.
On His Own (66/1) and Carlingford Lough (25/1) finished well beaten in this race last year and are unlikely to fare any better this time around, while O’Faolains Boy (66/1) and Irish Cavalier (100/1) appear exposed as short of the class required to win a Gold Cup. However our fancy would be Don Cossack.