With Gold Cup Day at Cheltenham quickly approaching, Racing Post betting editor Paul Kealy assesses the 14 runners and riders seeking to claim victory in the most prestigious race of the annual festival...
Bristol De Mai: Enigmatic six-year-old who has a big shot on his best form, although that has come on very soft ground at Haydock. Disappointed last time, but revealed to have been lame afterwards.
Champagne West: Former clumsy jumper rejuvenated by switch from Philip Hobbs and a revelation when humping top weight to victory in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran last time out. Needs to prove he can do it on faster ground, but an each-way chance on that run.
Cue Card: The most popular horse in training and for good reason. Has been top class since winning the Champion Bumper here in 2010 and also won the Ryanair three years later. Might have added Gold Cup last year but for a fall at third-last.
This season's form is a bit sketchy, but was brilliant last time at Ascot and has to be a player if age doesn't catch up with him. No horse as old as him has won since 1969 (What A Myth).
Djakadam: Eight-year-old who has finished second in the last two Gold Cups, to Coneygree and Don Cossack. Easy enough to argue this year's version is a bit weaker and he has had a better preparation than last year, when he suffered a nasty cut after a fall in the Cotswold Chase. Some have questioned his stamina, but he gets the trip well enough and he'll travel like the winner for a long way, if not all the way.
Empire Of Dirt: Fourth in the Ryanair Chase and hugely unlikely runner.
Irish Cavalier: Winner of the novice handicap chase at the festival a couple of years ago, but arguably just falls short of top class and stamina for Gold Cup trip. Not quite proven either. Outsider.
Minella Rocco: Beat Native River in last season's National Hunt Chase and has a huge amount of ability. Unfortunately he has his own way of getting over the fences – if he gets over them at all – and that has held him back. Took a heavy fall at Aintree in December and then unseated at Leopardstown last month. Has a chance if he gets it right in first-time cheekpieces, but risky.
More Of That: Only horse to beat Annie Power when she has completed over hurdles, in the 2014 World Hurdle (now Stayers' Hurdle), but has had all sorts of problems with his wind since. A disappointing campaign looked like turning around when he came with a challenge in the Irish Gold Cup last time out, but he was promptly unseated at the final. Can run well at a price.
Native River: Runner-up in last year's National Hunt Chase, but has not looked back since, winning Hennessy and Welsh National under big weights and warming up with the minimum of fuss in the Denman Chase. Perfectly entitled to head the market on those runs, but lost his place at the top of the hill over 4m here last season before charging up the run-in and just a worry he'll do the same on this fast ground.
Outlander: Was going well when falling in last season's JLT Novices' Chase and fell again on his second start this season when he had the Clonmel Oil Chase at his mercy. Got it right in the Lexus over Christmas when strong at the end to see off last year's Gold Cup third Don Poli and been kept fresh for this since. Needs to improve, but unexposed at trip.
Saphir Du Rheu: Once compared to Kauto Star and Denman by champion trainer Paul Nicholls, but sadly fell a long way short of them. Has some classy form to his name and had a nice confidence-booster in a soft race at Kelso last month. Will run well and beat a few more fancied than him, but hard to see him winning.
Sizing John: Spent most of his life staring at 2m superstar Douvan's backside, but a steady step up in trip has turned him into a winner. Won a 2m4f Grade 3 at Thurles in January and then saw out 3m surprisingly well when winning the Irish Gold Cup last time. That was more of a test of speed than stamina, so he has a bit to prove, but he's young, improving and has the right profile.
Smad Place: Winner of last season's Hennessy, but not so good nowadays and well below form this season. Making up the numbers.
Tea For Two: Fourth in King George and easy winner last time, but prefers right-handed tracks and outclassed anyway. Will give Lizzie Kelly a thrill, but no more.
This is very open, probably even more so than the betting suggests, but Djakadam has been there and nearly got the T-shirt twice and he will never get a better chance of doing so this time. A win for Cue Card would raise the roof, but he's getting on and might prefer softer ground these days.
Native River is a big threat if handling the track, but Sizing John would be preferred and Bristol De Mai is the best outsider.
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