Day Four Overview - 2019 Cheltenham Festival

Boxing Day

Day Four Overview - 2019 Cheltenham Festival

TWO WEEKS TO GO!!

We are counting down the days until the dawn of the fast-approaching Cheltenham Festival, which is just over ten days now from commencing.

Cheltenham - the pinnacle of jumps racing, the highlight of the season for many - the most highly anticipated week in sport.

It's what we are all looking forward to, as we see our favourite stars from the racetrack clashing and competing in the highest quality races on the globe.

The build-up towards it continues here on The Winners Enclosure, as we look ahead to the final day of the Festival; arguably the biggest one of them all - GOLD CUP DAY.

Gold Cup
Gold Cup

The feature race on Day Four; the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain is the only place to start - the Magners Gold Cup.

With a purse of £650,000, it is run on the New Course at Prestbury Park over a distance of three-miles and two-and-a-half furlongs, where there are twenty-two fences to be jumped in total.

It is sometimes referred to as the Blue Riband of jump-racing, with a significantly high-profile roll of honour, featuring the likes of some of the best ever around.

They include Arkle, Best Mate, Golden Miller, Kauto Star, Mill House and so many more.

Last year did not see one of the greatest renewals, but it was nothing short of drama. All the way round, the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River led Nicky Henderson's Might Bite and the rest of the field a merry dance.

It was a game of cat and mouse between the front two, and as the two turned for home on the final bend, Nico de Boinville was certainly looking more confident that Richard Johnson was on the leader.

However, Native River saw out the distance the better on conditions he edged over the King George winner and went onto seal his trainer's first ever win in the contest.

Native River Might Bite
Native River v Might Bite up the hill at Cheltenham

We said not a great renewal - only two were ever really in contention of fighting out the finish, and the two individuals already named have gone through disparate campaigns this time around.

Might Bite's season has fallen apart, having been 'scared' by the fences at Haydock in the Betfair Chase, he finished last of the finishers when looking to preserve his Christmas crown at Kempton in the King George.

Native River meanwhile has failed to transition his performances to sharper tracks - and has since stretched an unwanted winless record at right-handed tracks since his second start over fences back in 2015.

The 9yo will arrive back in the Cotswold's as the reigning Champion, and will be looking to become the first horse in ten years to regain or successfully defend the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Might Bite's chances meanwhile have been boosted after he came through a wind operation to amend a few chords, but the two will face several 'new boys' on the block, looking to add their name to the history books.

Proving how open the race is this year, we currently have a favourite heading the market who is yet to jump a fence this season - try and work out the last time that was accomplished if you can.

Presenting Percy
Presenting Percy after winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham

Presenting Percy - trained by Pat Kelly, has only made one appearance this season, which came in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.

The 8yo is fancied off the back of his emphatic display twelve months ago over the course and slightly shorter distance in the RSA Novices Chase, when beating Ryanair-bound Monalee.

Willie Mullins is assisting the Irish flag-bearers with a quartet of runners - including Kemboy, who was victorious in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period, and Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill.

The latter led home Henry De Bromhead's Road To Respect, who is another expected to head to Cheltenham.

Leading the fight for the British challengers is Paul Nicholls' Clan Des Obeaux - who has had a season to saviour, after providing his trainer with his tenth King George at Kempton a couple of months ago, before completing a successful prep for the Festival feature in the rearranged Denman Chase.

Clan is certainly the freshest of the current recruits - only aged seven; in fact the same age as when Kauto won his first Gold Cup back in 2007.

Nicholls also has Frodon, who has been in as equal top form for the Ditcheat man this term - with victories at the Festival venue in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and Cotswold Chase latest.

Others to note - the Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape could head to Prestbury Park, as is the case for last year's third Anibale Fly.

Thistlecrack; another for Tizzard will actually contest his first Gold Cup, but due to age restrictions, it could be his last.

Thistlecrack
Thistlecrack

Before all of that though, there are a couple of graded affairs from two very different categories.

The day begins with the JCB Triumph Hurdle - won last year by Farclas, trained at the time by Gordon Elliott.

It is a two-mile contest exclusive for juvenile novice hurdlers, with winners of this often going on to compete in subsequent editions of the Champion Hurdle.

Four horses have achieved victory in both events – Clair Soleil, Persian War, Kribensis and Katchit.

Having said that, beginning jumps racing as a juvenile could open up several options down the line, and last season, the 2014 winner of the Triumph - Tiger Roll, went onto claim the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham - arguably the most contradictory race at the Festival, before landing Grand National glory at Aintree in April.

One of Ireland's best chances of a winner this year surely looks set to be in this race, with Sir Erec from Joseph O'Brien's yard already a very short price.

Sir Erec was actually with Joseph's father Aidan at the end of last year, and finished third behind Stradivarius in the QIPCO Long Distance Cup at Ascot before moving yards.

The 4yo is a perfect two out of two over hurdles, including success in the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Irish Festival at Leopardstown at the beginning of February.

Fakir D'oudairies looks Supreme bound, whilst O'Brien could also have Gardens Of Babylon - like the two just named, is owned by JP McManus who may look to split his three contenders up.

Quel Destin
Quel Destin

Quel Destin meanwhile will surely look to make a race of it for Paul Nicholls, and poses some equally impressive form himself.

Victorious in his last five successive outings - that run includes two wins in Grade Two's and one in a Grade One at Chepstow before the turn of the year.

Adjali and Pentland Hills - a winner at Plumpton recently, could be other names we see in just under two weeks time.

Then comes the arrival of the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle - registered As The Spa Novices' Hurdle.

One of the toughest races of the week from a punting perspective, this race is a gruelling and punishing test of stamina for novice hurdlers, which will catch many out in the running of it.

Run on the new course at Cheltenham - known to have an even longer run-in than usual, this contest is for those seeking to showcase their ability to stay the distance up the iconic Cheltenham hill, with plans to go chasing over the long-winded stretch next season - possibilities in the RSA (Gold Cup route) or the National Hunt Chase over four miles (National stepping stone).

There is also the potential to remain over hurdles, to play a part in the Stayers Hurdle Championship the following season; the same route the Willie Mullins-trained Penhill took in 2018, when he landed the Stayers Hurdle twelve months after winning the Albert Bartlett.

Kilbricken Storm won this race last year for Gold Cup winning trainer Colin Tizzard - who is Stayers bound this term it would seem after a series of failed attempts over fences.

Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson duo Ok Corral - the second and Santini - the third, have faired much better over the larger obstacles.

ok corral fences mcmanus
Ok Corral

Corral is in fact a leading contender for the four-miler on the opening day, whereas Santini is the current favourite for the RSA Novices Chase on the Tuesday.

This year, the market is still totally undecided with several horses keep their options open with cards to play in the other novice hurdle contests - the Ballymore and in fact in the Supreme over a much reduced distance.

Gigginstown though will be well represented wherever they go, and look to have a good one on their hands with Commander Of Fleet, who produced his best effort to date when upped to 2m6f last time out at Leopardstown.

He beat Rhinestone by just half-a-length who also looks set to stand here for Joseph O'Brien - the two pulling well clear of the rest of the field.

JP McManus is another owner well illustrated across the week, and he may be forced to split up his Nicky Henderson trio: Champ, Champagne Platinum and Birchdale.

Champ and Champagne Platinum look set to fight out the Ballymore over two-and-a-half, resulting in Birchdale being forced to be the one who makes the steep climb to unknown three-mile territory.

birchdale
Birchdale and Brewin'Upastorm

The 5yo was last seen going clear in a Ballymore Trial at Prestbury Park on Trials Day in January, despite the fact Olly Murphy's Brewin'Upastorm parted company with his jockey Richard Johnson at the final hurdle.

Dickie River is another for Henderson sporting the green and gold hoops, who has been the subject of some good money after his success at Chepstow a few days ago.

It appears as though the Champion Trainer will be doubling up in each novice category, and there are certainly worse problems to be had.

Lisnagar Oscar for Rebecca Curtis could be another for the Brits, whilst Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins still could unleash the likes of Dallas Dec Pictons, Allaho and last year's Champion Bumper winner Relegate.

The Grade Three County Hurdle and Grand Annual Handicap Chase - both over two miles are the other star attractions on the final day of the best week in sport.

The Foxhunters Final is contested after the completion of the Gold Cup, before all is rounded off with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle.

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