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2017 Gold Cup tips - Will the Gold Cup be heading to Dorset on Friday afternoon?

Jonathan Vine in Friday 16 Mar 2017
Richard Johnson riding Native River (nearest) clear the water jump before winning The Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.

Our expert looks through the ante-post field for the Gold Cup and picks out a possible winner of the prestigious title on the final afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival.



The Cheltenham Gold Cup. The jewel in National Hunt racing's crown and the most sought-after title in the entire sport. The best long distance chasers on the planet have been gathering at Prestbury Park since 1924, all battling it out for a share of the huge prize pot and the honour of being crowned the best in the business.

This year’s race had looked like a foregone conclusion for the majority of the season. However, after recent developments, the Gold Cup picture in 2017 has become more of a landscape than a portrait - with a whole host of combatants coming to the Cheltenham Festival with a great chance of adding their name to the trophy, alongside Golden Miller, Arkle, Mandarin, Best Mate, Denman and Kauto Star.

Colin Tizzard has enjoyed a highly successful season, especially in the major televised races. At one point in the season he trained the first three names on the Gold Cup ante-post betting and was an 8/1 shot to fill all three podium places on Friday afternoon. Sadly, former Gold Cup favourite and reigning King George VI Chase champion, Thistlecrack will miss the rest of the season with a tendon injury. Hopefully, he will be fit enough to defend his Kempton title later in the year, but Colin Tizzard will still be hopeful one of his two remaining stable stars will be good enough to land the Gold Cup.

Native River (7/2 BetVictor) recovered from a narrow defeat in the National Hunt Challenge Cup to Minella Rocco (20/1 William Hill), by sealing the Mildmay title at the Aintree Festival last spring. He was beaten by Silsol to the West Yorkshire Hurdle crown on his first outing of the new season, but a stylish victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup and a superb weight-carrying performance to land the Welsh National title thrust him firmly to the head of the Gold Cup market. He comfortably won his final outing before the Festival, in a testing three-horse Grade 2 at Newbury and he will travel to Cheltenham in tip-top shape, with plenty of hope he can out-stay his stablemate.


Paddy Brennan riding Cue Card clear over the last to win the Betfair Ascot Chase in some style.

A fall three from home, when seemingly on course to challenge Don Cossack for the Gold Cup title last year, wasn’t enough to take the gloss off what had been a fantastic season for ten-year-old Cue Card (7/2 Ladbrokes). Despite Tizzard’s adamant claims that his ageing charge is just as good as he was last season, we have seen a few chinks in the teenager's armour during this campaign. He was soundly beaten by Irish Cavalier (66/1 bet365) on decent ground at Wetherby on his first outing of the season and he couldn’t lay a hoof on Thistlecrack when his stablemate sped away from him down the home straight at Kempton. Those fears have been put to one side somewhat, after Cue Card manages to retain his Betfair Chase crown at Haydock and his excellent showing when regaining the Ascot Chase title showed he is still a high-quality costumer and will carry some much-needed momentum into the Festival.

Twice Djakadam (4/1 bet365) has had to settle for second place in the Gold Cup, finishing a narrow second to Don Cossack and Coneygree on his last two visits to Cheltenham. He may have tasted defeat on five of his last six outings, but he still brings some plenty of good form into the Festival with him this year. Willie Mullins’ charge beat Outlander (10/1 William Hill) to the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase title to kick-off his season, before being narrowly edged out it by Gordon Elliott’s charge and Don Poli in the Lexus Chase.

Outlander has been an incredibly consistent performer for a long time now – Gordon Elliott will have been delighted to see him claim a long-awaited major Grade 1 title and turning the tables on Djakadam will have made the victory taste even sweeter. He was looming up on the leaders in the JLT at the Festival last season, but a fall two from home saw his strong challenge come to an end. That was just the first in a six-race sequent of high-profile disappointments, but he put in an excellent showing at Leopardstown over Christmas and thoroughly deserved his Lexus victory.

Sizing John (10/1 Ladbrokes) has made a rapid transformation from Douvan’s bridesmaid to Gold Cup contender. As little as two races ago, Jessica Harrington’s charge had been beaten six times in two mile Grade 1 contests by Douvan and had fallen to a disappointing third at the Aintree Festival on his only outing over an extended trip. The Potts owned seven-year-old then went on to beat Sub Lieutenant in excellent fashion to win the two-and-a-half-mile Kinlock Brae Chase at Thurles, before conquering the Irish Gold Cup field at Leopardstown on his final outing before setting sail to Cheltenham. 

Empire Of Dirt (20/1 Ladbrokes) was closest to Sizing John as they passed the post in the Irish Gold Cup, with beaten favourite, Don Poli struggling home in third. Both look set for a tilt at the Grand National but could be strong each-way contenders for Gordon Elliott. Elliott is currently leading Willie Mullins in the race for the Irish Champion Trainer title for the first time and after Mullins suffered some major setbacks, he will be hoping a strong showing from his Gold Cup challengers will help him hold onto that lead after the Cheltenham festivities have come to a close.


Sizing John (fore) beating Empire Of Dirt (back) to the Irish Gold Cup crown.

Bristol De Mai’s (33/1 Ladbrokes) incredible performance in the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock saw his Gold Cup credentials given a substantial boost. Nigel Twiston-Davies and Daryl Jacob got their tactics horribly wrong when they finished last behind Native River and Le Mercury on their last outing, but he still remains a highly credible each-way candidate. Champagne West (20/1 bet365) has to be given am outside chance too, after romping to a comfortable victory in the highly profitable Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park in January. He too holds an entry into the Grand National, but a good showing here will be the perfect warm-up to that historic race.

Lord Windemere is the only winner of the Gold Cup to go to post at a double-figured price since 1999 and such is the proven quality fighting it out at the head of the field in this year's renewal, it’s only natural to head in that direction to find a possible champion. 

Sizing John travelled smoothly in the Irish Gold Cup and held off a strong field with apparent ease. Outlander is a high-quality, consistent performer and could be a handful if he can jump to the best of his ability. They both deserve their places in this race, but will have to improve once again if they want to lift the trophy.

Cue Card is the people's horses and will feed off the positive energy flowing his way from the stands, but there have been signs to suggest his best days are behind him. Willie Mullins' has spoken openly about how well Djakadam has been working and he should be a strong challenger for the Gold Cup title once again, but NATIVE RIVER will take all the beating.

Some would argue that he is a handicap horse, but some of the greatest names in this sport have achieved exactly what Native River has done this season in the build-up to Gold Cups - winning prestigious handicaps off a very high weight. He's a proven stayer, no matter how quick the pace is at the front, he will stay. They Cheltenham hill shouldn't cause him too many problems, he travelled up it well at the end of the four-mile National Hunt Chase last season. Many will try and throw the gauntlet down to him, but the Gold Cup seems to be Colin Tizzard's destiny this season, despite the injury to Thistlecrack and Native River could be the one who hands his trainer this most prestigious of accolades.


17/3/2017 3:30pm Cheltenham selection – NATIVE RIVER (7/2 BetVictor)

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2017 Gold Cup tips - Will the Gold Cup be heading to Dorset on Friday afternoon?

Our expert looks through the ante-post field for the Gold Cup and picks out a possible winner of the prestigious title on the final afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival.

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