Four days of festivities and elite jumps racing culminates on day 4 at The Festival with the running of the £575,000 Grade 1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. Run over a distance of 3 miles, 2½ furlongs (5331m), the field faces 22 obstacles on the way to joining one of the most prestigious clubs in global racing. The most valuable non-handicap chase in Great Britain, the Gold Cup has been won by the likes of Arkle (1964-66), his great rival Mill House (1963), Best Mate (2002-04), Golden Miller (a five-time winner from 1932-36) and Kauto Star (2007 & 2009) since it was first run over the jumps in 1924 (although the history of a Gold Cup race on this site dates back to 1819).
After the victory of novice Coneygree in 2015 at just his fourth start over the obstacles, the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup was won stylishly by the Gordon Elliott-trained 9/4 favourite Don Cossack, ridden by Bryan Cooper. Pushed into the lead as they approached the last, he powered up the hill to win by 4 ½ lengths ahead of the gallant Djakadam. That would be Don Cossack’s final career run as he was retired from racing in January 2017 following a recurrence of a tendon injury after his Gold Cup win.
Bookies can’t split leading trio
There’s an intriguing market for this year’s Gold Cup, with Djakadam, Native River and Cue Card equal favourites at 7-2 across most the major books, while the next seven among the 14-horse field are rated at 20-1 or better to upset the leading trio. History shows that the winner will most probably come from the three runners at the head of the market with 14 of the past 15 winners in the top three of the betting, only Lord Windermere bucking that trend in 2014. All of the past 16 champions of the race had previously won a Grade 1 contest, while 11 of the past 15 winners had all won or finished second on a previous trip to The Festival.
Lizzie Kelly becomes the first woman to ride in the race for 33 years when she partners outsider Tea For Two. Kelly became the only woman to win a Grade 1 race over jumps when she rode the horse to success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase in December 2015. But there’s a trend we’re prepared to take on this year with just one of the past 21 winners aged ten or older (Cool Dawn in 1998), with 20 of the past 22 Gold Cup victors were aged seven, eight or nine.
Winning script for Cue Card
The 11-year-old Cue Card (pictured) is a familiar presence at The Festival. He won the Weatherbys Champion Bumper (a first Festival victory for his trainer Colin Tizzard) in 2010 and has run at the meeting four times since. He finished fourth in the 2011 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, won the Ryanair Chase in 2013 and finished second to Sprinter Sacre in the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase in 2012. In 2016, he fell three fences from home in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup when disputing the lead, losing out on the chance of a £1 million bonus.
This season, Cue Card has won both the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock and the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase. He will once again be ridden by Paddy Brennan. Perhaps it’s fate that Thistlecrack was ruled out of the Gold Cup on February 21 due to a tendon injury as Cue Card’s stablemate would almost certainly have started favourite. Shortest-priced of the five Irish-trained runners is Willie Mullins’ Djakadam at 4/1, runner-up for the past two years. He looms as the main danger to our top pick. Bizarrely, Mullins has never won the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup but has saddled the runner-up six times.