Bristol De Mai (Best price: 25-1)
Put himself into the discussion with a most impressive handicap success in January, giving weight and a 22-length hammering to a rival who won next time out. But soft ground at Haydock is very different to the conditions he’ll meet here and his stable, which was going well at the time, has been having few winners in recent weeks. Only fair form when second at the last Festival and suspicion that fast ground here will not suit.
Champagne West 16-1
Has produced career bests for a new trainer this season, winning by wide margins in his last two races, including a valuable 18-runner handicap at Gowran last time. Won twice round here as a novice but has looked short of pace in a couple of Festival Grade Ones, which may be an issue again, now that he is back on a sound surface. Risk that old jumping issues may resurface if he is taken out of his comfort zone.
Cue Card 4-1
Astonishingly durable and successful, he won the Champion Bumper here seven years ago and added the Ryanair four years ago. Established as a top-class staying chaser since breathing issues were sorted a couple of years ago and had yet to be asked for his effort when falling three-out in last year’s Gold Cup. Don Cossack fans insist he would not have won anyway but Don Cossack is now sidelined and Cue Card looks the outstanding talent in a Gold Cup that has lost some star names. At 11, he is older than every Gold Cup winner since 1969 but there is no clear sign yet that his age is an issue. His Betfair Chase win in November could be rated as highly as anything he has achieved. Form of the Tizzard yard could be a concern, though they went close in Wednesday’s Champion Chase with Fox Norton.
Solid but unspectacular chaser who has been runner-up in the last two Gold Cups. Fans suggest he has had a better run this time, as his previous outing took a lot out of him in 2015 while he went into the 2016 race on the back of an injury from a January fall. The horses that beat him in the last two Gold Cups are now absent. Perhaps he could follow Special Tiara in finally winning his championship race after years of failure, thanks in part to all the injuries suffered by other star horses this season. But this is a big field including some unexposed types and there may again be something to beat him. One win from his last six starts makes him unappealing, as does a Cheltenham record of 0/4.
Empire Of Dirt 16-1
Deeply impressive handicap winner at the last Festival and appears to have taken a step forward since joining Gordon Elliott this season. Every chance that he would stay this trip, judged on his running-on second in the Irish Gold Cup. But his main target at this Festival is Thursday’s Ryanair and he will not run in this unless suffering an early mishap in that contest.
Irish Cavalier 66-1
A handicap winner at the 2015 Festival, though he was rated only 137 that day and would need to be much better now to get involved here. His fifth place in last year’s race, beaten 22 lengths, looks a fair measure of his ability. Young enough to have some improvement left and became interesting again when beating Cue Card at Wetherby in October. But the circumstances of that race favoured him and he has since been stuffed three times, while his stable seems badly out of sorts.
Minella Rocco 20-1
Has promised for years to be a Gold Cup type, notably when cuffing Royal Vacation over hurdles in 2015. Initially disappointing over fences, he came good to win a strong renewal of the National Hunt Chase at the last Festival, with Native River second. After a fair weight-carrying effort in a November handicap here, he has fallen at Aintree and then unseated at an early stage in the Irish Gold Cup. His jumping will again be tested here and the ground will be the fastest on which he has ever raced. But Jonjo O’Neill’s runners are peaking now and it would be no surprise to see a big effort from him with Noel Fehily aboard.
More Of That 14-1
O’Neill’s other runner, hailed in the autumn as the best he had trained, has had trouble with his breathing which may explain some of his flops over the past year. But he is remembered for his Stayers Hurdle success in 2014, when he beat Annie Power, and was running a huge race when falling at the last in the Irish Gold Cup, when at least a place seemed on the cards. This fast ground will help him and another big effort seems on the cards.
Native River 4-1
Tough front-running stayer who is putting together a fine season, having ground his way to glory in the Hennessy and the Welsh National. Turned a new trick last time when appearing to quicken at the end of a steadily run trial at Newbury. Has a length and a quarter to make up on Minella Rocco from the four-miler at the last Festival but he has improved while that one has proved fallible. Form of the Tizzard yard could be a concern, though they went close in Wednesday’s Champion Chase with Fox Norton. Unflashy but very likeable and could prove hard to pass.
Career best performance to beat Don Poli in Leopardstown’s Lexus over Christmas, when Djakadam was third and More Of That sixth. That race should be a good trial for this and it is possible this nine-year-old has improved for the move to Gordon Elliott’s yard. Fair question whether this dry surface will suit him and he has come up empty on a couple of previous Festival visits, looking one-paced over hurdles and falling four-out in a novice chase last year, admittedly when going well. Balance of his form is at shorter trips, so a strong finish cannot be relied upon.
Saphir Du Rheu 66-1
Early promise over fences, including when a wide-margin Grade One winner at Aintree two years ago. But that form looks suspect now and repeated failures seem to make it clear that this grey is not good enough to win a Gold Cup. Has nonetheless shown a fine level of form this year, when second under a big weight in a handicap here and when scoring at Kelso. A lot of these will have to be disappointing for him to get into the finish.
Sizing John 10-1
Has been second or third behind Douvan seven times and the extent of the task he faced on those occasions should not now be underestimated, even though Douvan flopped here on Wednesday. Seemed to cope brilliantly with a step up to three miles when landing the Irish Gold Cup last time. Possible that a change of stables in the autumn has helped him to take a step forward and his trainer is already among the winners at this Festival with another horse she acquired at the same time.
Smad Place 50-1
Festival regular who has been placed three times in other Grade One races here, going down by just a neck in the 2014 RSA. But has been beaten an average of 32 lengths in this race for the past two years and it would be a major surprise if he could do much better than that at the age of 10, even allowing for the possibility that this renewal lacks the quality of recent years.
Tea For Two 66-1
Grade One winner as a novice at Kempton last season, when Native River was third. Fine run when fourth in the King George, beaten only three and a half lengths, for all that he never looked like winning. Balance of his form suggests he is not quite good enough, though circumstances of this race might yet elicit a career best from this eight-year-old. The major concern is that he has never yet won at a left-handed track, as this is, and it is 17 months since he was asked to race at such a venue. While Kempton suits him perfectly, this place probably does not.