THERE is nothing bigger in National Hunt racing than the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is being run this year for £625,000.
A gruelling race run over 3m2f with 22 fences to jump, it is the ultimate test of a National Hunt horse and the reason why any jockey, trainer or owner gets into the sport.
Because of the lack of rain over the winter, this year’s race has a very different complexion as a number of the runners have only had one or two starts.
Punters therefore have to trust the ability of the trainers to get their horses to the track in pitch perfect condition. Pat Kelly only has a few horses at his Galway base but he has shown over the past few years that he knows exactly how to get them ready for Cheltenham.
Mall Dini was the first piece of evidence when landing the Pertemps Final in 2016, but the top dog now is most definitely PRESENTING PERCY.
The son of Derby winner Sir Percy ran away with the 2017 Pertemps off a big weight and then had a very unusual novice chase campaign.
His season started at Galway in October, he then won a 3m5f handicap chase in December, before running over hurdles and then dropping in trip to 2m4f for his Cheltenham prep against Our Duke.
It was argued he couldn’t win the RSA Chase based on such a strange preparation, but he laughed in the face of the doubters, beating Monalee by seven lengths.
Things haven’t gone to plan this season. He was meant to start his campaign much earlier than the 24th January when he won the Galmoy Hurdle for the second year running.
However, the ground was too quick and Kelly decided to play the waiting game.
A start over fences was muted in either the Red Mills Chase or Bobbyjo Chase, but again, the ground wasn’t right and the handler decided to come straight to the Gold Cup.
The last horse to win jump racing’s blue riband event having not raced over fences that season was Easter Hero in 1929, so Kelly certainly has a task on his hands.
But Presenting Percy is just one of those horses who has that air of star quality and I think he will give Kelly a first and Davy Russell a second Gold Cup at 4/1 with Betway.
With all the rain that has fallen this week, NATIVE RIVER has to be his biggest danger as he bids to become the first horse to retain the crown since Best Mate.
Colin Tizzard’s nine-year-old came out on top in an epic battle with Might Bite 12 months ago, revelling in the testing conditions.
He then ran well on his reappearance in the Betfair Chase to finish second to Bristol De Mai, before a respectable third in the King George where he unsurprisingly found Kempton too tight.
A stamina test at Cheltenham on soft ground is his cup of tea and it would be a big surprise if he didn’t finish in the first three or four.
Clan Des Obeaux is the anomaly because he must be the most improved horse in training this season.
Just five starts back, in December 2017, he was beaten in a 2m5f handicap chase at Cheltenham, but he won the King George a couple of months ago and the bolted up in the Denman Chase at Ascot.
The worry I have with him is that his best form has come on a flat track and he is yet to win at Prestbury Park in four starts.
Bellshill is respected with Ruby Walsh on board and Kemboy is another massive improver this season.
However, it could be ANIBALE FLY who sneaks into a place at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
He stayed on into third in this 12 months ago and was then fourth in the Grand National. I’d be surprised if he was able to win it but he is all about stamina and looks good each-way value.
Bill Esdaile's 1-2-3
1 PRESENTING PERCY
2 NATIVE RIVER
3 ANIBALE FLY