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Cheltenham Gold Cup: the leading contenders
Next week, the 2016 Cheltenham Festival gets underway and over 250,000 spectators are expected to travel down to one of the finest National Hunt meetings of the year. Throughout the week, the top-rated thoroughbreds will compete in some of the most prestigious races in British horse racing – and one of the races that will attract plenty of attention is the lucrative Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup has been an ever-present at Cheltenham since its inauguration in 1924 and is believed to be the most valuable non-handicap chase in Great Britain. In 2014, the total prize fund was £550,000 and undoubtedly, that figure will rise further this year. With so much at stake, it’s hardly a surprise to see the best trainers, owners and jockeys competing in the race and we’ve taken a look at some of the standout candidates for victory this year.
The two-time Cheltenham Festival winner is set to run in the Gold Cup for the first time and he will take some beating – especially if Ruby Walsh opts for the 7-year-old over fellow Willie Mullins mount Djakadam. Vautour is an exceptional horse and has won nine of his 11 starts over fences but did let a lead slip when winning comfortably in December’s King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
Although Cue Card hunted him down in the closing stages on that occasion, Mullins will still fancy Vautour’s chances of holding the Colin Tizzard-trained mount off at Cheltenham. Some horses love the big stage, others don’t and Vautour thrives on the vibe and thrill of the Cheltenham crowd. There have been murmurs of a slight injury but Mullins confirmed he was very happy with Vautour’s progress last month and with a bit of luck, he will romp home for a third Cheltenham victory and a first Gold Cup for Mullins.
Don Cossack… or Don Poli?
Simply put, Don Cossack is a monster. Although he failed to win a bizarre Ryanair Chase last year, he did stay on and finished third – an impressive result considering how well AP McCoy stretched the field throughout the race. He was a faller at Kempton when closing on Vautour and Cue Card with two furlongs to go and on another day, he could have nicked that race. Don Cossack will relish good ground but if it rains, he may have his work cut out.
A word of warning to Don Cossack backers: he might not have regular jockey Bryan Cooper on board. Cooper will have to choose between either Don Cossack or Don Poli and reports are suggesting that the Irishman might go for the latter. Cooper has ridden Don Poli to victory at each of the previous two festivals and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him stick by the Mullins-trained mount – much to the disappointment of Gordon Elliott who trains Don Cossack.
Prior to falling in the Betbright Trial Chase at Cheltenham, Djakadam was the market leader for the Gold Cup and he still deserves plenty of respect. If he jumps well, he’s in with a real chance of romping home for Willie Mullins – especially if the ground is on the soft side. Djakadam doesn’t attract as much attention as say Vautour or Don Cossack but that could play into his hands throughout the race if he can stay out of trouble.
After his fall in the Trial, Djakadam did suffer some minor cuts to his chest and it may be worth keeping an eye on his progress over the coming days. Mullins seems to be confident enough in his ability to compete and owner Rich Ricci has also praised Djakadam’s resilience and ability to bounce back in the aftermath of his latest setback. Without a doubt, Djakadam has the capacity to win this event – he just needs to go out there and do it.