The most prestigious race of the entire Cheltenham Festival is run over 3 mile 2½ furlongs and 22 fences and, should all the leading protagonists turn-up fit and well, the 2016 renewal could be the most fiercely contested Gold Cup for many a year.
Trainer Paul Nicholls has won 3 of the last 10 renewals courtesy of Kauto Star (2) and Denman, Nicky Henderson has won it twice in that time, whilst this is one of the few big races that is yet to appear on the CV of Willie Mullins. Jockeys Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty have both ridden the winner twice in the last decade.
So let’s take a look at this year’s leading protagonists:
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh can’t hide their enthusiasm for this horse and have said they think he’s a better horse than Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen. He’s bolted-up at the last two Cheltenham Festivals with plenty of decent horses behind him on both occasions, but does have to prove his stamina.
Put up a scintillating front-running performance when winning last year’s Gold Cup on only his 4th chase start, but would become only the second horse in over 30 years to defend his crown. However he looked as good as ever on his comeback on Sunday, but has never been allowed to run on ground faster than good-to-soft.
Don Cossack 7/1
His Punchestown Gold Cup Win from Djakadam and Road To Riches is probably the best form on offer, and has looked a superstar on each of his last 4 starts. Big chance if he can produce the same level at Cheltenham, but fell in the 2014 RSA Chase, and made a big mistake when failing to win the 2015 Ryan Air.
Don Poli 8/1
Won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals for Willie Mullins, but his form doesn’t look as good as many of his similarly priced rivals. Looks sure to stay the extra distance though, and could stay on powerfully if able to keep up in the early part of the race.
Showed his best form in the spring so far in his short career and, after routing his rivals in a big handicap off a mark of 145, he went on to finish runner-up in both the Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup. Could improve further, but may need soft ground to be seen at his best.
Saphir Du Rheu 14/1
The big hope from the Paul Nicholls stable, but fell and unseated in his two starts against Coneygree last season (went off favourite both times). Improved since, but not totally confident he’ll jump well enough in a big-field in a quickly run race.
Road To Riches 20/1
Performed admirably in finishing 3rd in both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup last season, and would definitely have preferred faster ground in the Gold Cup. Further improvement possible, but the big negative is trainer Noel Meade’s overall Festival strike-rate.
Won at both the 2013 and 2014 Cheltenham Festivals, and tends to come alive in the spring. Finished 4th in last year’s Gold Cup, but both trainer and jockey thought he might have won on good ground.
Valseur Lido 28/1
Put up his best performance of last season when stepped-up to 3-miles for the first time, but only looks the Willie Mullins 4th string at the moment.
We can only hope that all the leading protagonists line-up, as it’s really impossible to completely rule any of them out. The ground will definitely be a factor with soft ground suiting the likes of Coneygree and Djakadam, however the ground is often good on Gold Cup day. If that’s the case, it looks to wise elsewhere, and with Vautour yet to prove his stamina, Don Cossack yet to win at Cheltenham, and Don Poli’s form not looking that strong – I’m going to take a value punt on Holywell whose place odds is the same or bigger than the win odds for that trio.
Holywell 1 point each-way @ 28/1 (Betway) ¼ odds 3 places
“Jump To It” is a horse race tipping service that provides selections for all the best National Hunt/Jump races throughout the season – and is currently trialling its service with Betting Gods.