Making his second appearance on the blog this week to cover the blue riband classic of the chasing circuit is Paddy Savage, @paddysav.
Timico Gold Cup
Grade 1, £575,000, 3m2f70y, New Course
1530 local, 0230 AEDT
"And this is the race now to the last fence. It's Arkle on the stand side for Ireland and Mill House for England on the far side."
"As they come to the line, she's made it. Dawn Run has won it"
"He's beginning to get up, Desert Orchid is beginning to get up as they race towards the line."
"Denman is destroying them."
"And now the hill for the novice. Coneygree; the jumping's behind him"
The Gold Cup is a race which echoes through the ages. Wherever National Hunt races are run or the magic word "Cheltenham" is uttered, memories will blossom of the glorious Gold Cups of the past. Though the Grand National may be richer and the Champion Hurdle faster, there can be no doubt that it is the Gold Cup which decides which gelding is the greatest.
As always, this year's Friday feature is intriguing to the point of mystifying. While the field may be smaller than normal, it is very much a case of quality over quantity with the presence of steeplechasing's elite discouraging many of those with only outside chances. Though the likes of Turpin Green, Neptune Collonges, Mon Mome and The Giant Bolster have all hit the frame in recent editions at odds of in excess of 25/1, this year's renewal is so hot as it surely excludes the chances of Irish Cavalier, O Faolain's Boy and On His Own, despite the latter pair's impressive record at the venue.
Though Smad Place is likely to cut a distinctive figure blazing a trail out in front, his moderate performance in the same race last year, as well as the seeming disinclination of connections to confirm for this task until the latter part of the season, mean that he cannot be strongly fancied. Carlingford Lough was one place behind Alan King's charge in last year's renewal and that was sufficiently detached from the 2015 principals as to suggest that this year's Irish Gold Cup winner is unlikely to add the British version.
We are now down to four but this quartet undoubtedly deserve special recognition. Don Cossack is the highest rated horse in training. A horse of the highest class, this Gigginstown star was captivatingly brilliant in last year's Melling Chase before following that effort up with Grade One glory at Punchestown. A three time graded winner this term an unfortunate fall when looking a possible victor in the King George is one of few blots on his impressive copybook. Yet the failure to turn infinitive potential into festival success in previous years, as well as a doubt around stamina for this extended test, means that a favourite's price can be readily passed over.
There would be few more popular winners of any major race than the irrepressible Cue Card but history is not on his side. No horse with an age in double digits has captured this blue riband of steeplechasing this century and although the apple of Colin Tizzard's eye had sufficient stamina to catch Vautour on the line at Kempton over Christmas, a nagging doubt remains that he could be caught out by the Prestbury Park hill and an additional two and a half furlongs. Though this week has shown that fairytales sometimes do come true, I can only conclude that this will be one step too far and that those insuring the million pound bonus will breathe a sigh of relief later this afternoon.
Djakadam produced a heroic display in last year's renewal but failed to complete the same course on Festival trials' day. When you also consider that the Gold Cup has never been won by a horse beaten in the race on its first attempt, that suggests that this is one prize which could remain beyond the grasp of Rich Ricci and Ruby Walsh for another year.
This author believes that three key characteristics define a Gold Cup winner; abundant stamina, prowess at Prestbury Park and a liking for a decent surface. And one horse running this afternoon fits that bill impeccably. Don Poli is a dual festival winner, the hero of the 2014 Martin Pipe and the 2015 RSA. He has been beaten only once over fences and that was surely a Punchestown aberration after a long and successful season. Three times he has entered the winners' enclosure after Grade One chases and on both times he tasted Cheltenham glory, it was good ground which prevailed. His trainer actively considered opting for the four mile test of the National Hunt Chase last season and given that the Grand National remains a possibility this year, we can infer that stamina is no object to this son of Poliglote. Though the Gold Cup can prove a stiff examination of jumping, Don Poli is yet to hit the deck in his career and can hopefully be relied upon for a clear round.
I find it difficult to pick holes in the mount of Davy Russell and at odds of around 9/2, he may well represent an each way bet to nothing. Don Poli jumps, he stays, he goes on good ground and he loves Cheltenham. It may well be that he is the horse which finally brings jump racing's most prestigious prize back to the Closutton home of WP Mullins.