Jon Vine offers tips for this week’s Cheltenham Festival
The horse racing world was plunged into a wave of disappointment when Colin Tizzard confirmed Thistlecrack had suffered a minor tendon tear and would be forced to miss the rest of the season. The Gold Cup favourite had been wowing fans throughout his first season as a chaser, attacking the fences with the great style, panache and bravado. His win in the King George VI Chase was one of the stand-out performances of the season and it’s a real shame we won’t watch the imperious nine-year-old strut his stuff on the Gold Cup stage.
However, Thistlecrack’s absence leaves a golden spotlight at the Cheltenham Festival just waiting to be filled. The Gold Cup field may have lost its favourite, but there will still be a large battalion of potential champions approaching the starting line on Friday 17th March, all capable of landing the most prestigious prize in all of horse racing.
Tizzard, however, remains the trainer of the top two horses in the Gold Cup. Native River has recorded three superb victories this season, including the much sought-after Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh National handicap prizes, when carrying an uncomfortably large weight. Cue Card looked back to his very best when cruising to the Ascot Chase title on his latest appearance. Question marks were raised about the eleven-year-old capability of performing at the highest level – after high-profile defeats in the Charlie Hall and the King George VI Chase at Kempton – but Racingtips.com believes he is still a wily challenger to be feared with his win at Ascot, combined with the successful defence of his Betfair Chase crown earlier in the campaign.
Don Cossack claimed Gold Cup glory for Gordon Elliott last spring before he was sent blissfully into retirement. The Irish will be desperate to keep the Gold Cup on the Emerald Isle for another year and they will be sending a dangerous army of Irish raiders to Cheltenham in search of more Gold Cup glory.
Lexus Chase champion Outlander, along with Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli will fly the Gigginstown flag in the Gold Cup, whilst trying to help Gordon Elliott return to the winners enclosure for the second successive year. Willie Mullins’ Djakadam will be having his third crack at the Gold Cup after finishing second last year and runner-up to Coneygree in 2015.
Sizing John has made a rapid rise from Douvan’s bridesmaid to Irish Gold Cup winner and Cheltenham contender. Champagne West’s stylish win in the lucrative Thyestes Handicap at Gowran Park means he’s a tricky travelling contender who has to be respected.
Bristol De Mai, Tea For Two and Smad Place will garner plenty of support from the crowd, who will be in a frenzied mood as the Gold Cup competitors hit the track on the final day of the Festival – all looking to win their connections a share of mammoth prize and etch their names into horse racing’s history books.
For more news and tips on the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, click here.
The Cheltenham Festival runs from 14th to 17th March 2017 at Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 4SH.
Picture credit: Flickr @Carine06.