THREE and a quarter miles over twenty two fences at the home of National Hunt Racing.
It can only be the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Blue Riband of the jumping game that will have another chapter written in this natural amphitheatre on Friday afternoon.
Before the 2014 renewal, the Irish had claimed Gold just three times since Davy Lad’s success in 1977 but have now won the prize four times in the last six years.
Heading the market will be last year’s hero Al Boum Photo who is the subject of trainer Willie Mullins ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach as he follows the same path to glory as twelve months ago.
That path is a short one, just the single appearance at Tramore on New Years Day where he ran out a cosy six length winner, exactly the same as the 1st January 2019, and is the one the rest of the field will take aim at.
However, history is against him. Only Best Mate has won consecutive Gold Cups since L’Escargot in 1970/71, and they are two of only six to have achieved the feat.
So, if the stats continue to hold sway, who will be striking gold come 3.45pm Friday?
Santini has been placed at the last two festivals, both in staying contests as a novice in both disciplines and lowered the colours of Bristol De Mai in The Cotswold Chase over the Gold Cup course and distance on Trials day, taking time to warm to the task before staying on strongly up the hill.
The key to his chances is the ground, as the softer the better, he may get caught out in the jumping stakes if they go that half a stride quicker on better ground.
Just behind Santini in last season’s RSA Chase was Delta Work, who has taken his form to the next level this season, scoring twice at Leopardstown. After a low-key return at Down Royal, he stayed on strongly to beat Monalee over Christmas before confirming the form with Kemboy and Presenting Percy in February.
He has already won at the festival and, despite some questioning his stamina for this test, he wasn’t stopping last time out and devoured the hill for his Marin Pipe victory in 2018. A major player.
Kemboy was a first fence faller in his race last year but returns hoping for better luck, as does Presenting Percy who was sent off 100/30f last year after back-to-back festival wins, including impressing in the 208 RSA Chase and he may be an each way play at double figure odds after a better preparation this time round.
And what about easy King George winner Clan Des Obeaux? He won the Christmas highlight on route to a creditable fifth in the Gold Cup last season, just running out of gas on the climb to the line. Connections are adamant he will see the trip out better and is much stronger a year on, in which case he must enter calculations, even allowing for the fact all the cards fell his way at Kempton.
It looks a fascinating renewal once again and I see the final stages being played out between AL Boum Photo and Delta Work with the former becoming just the seventh horse to retain his Gold Cup crown.
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