After back-to-back wins for the Irish, Might Bite will have something to say about the destination of this year’s Gold Cup, the blue riband event of the Cheltenham Festival.
He’s the highest rated chaser on British soil and has been the favourite for this race since landing the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Some will be worried about his quirky tendencies, though, after he almost threw away last year’s RSA Chase and he isn’t a guaranteed stayer.
A foot-perfect round of jumping at Newbury on his only run since last year’s Festival has catapulted Native River into Gold Cup contention.
Third in the race 12 months ago, Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old looked better than ever on his comeback run and is a leading player, especially if the ground is soft.
He’ll take all the beating if he can reproduce last year’s run, but a below-par performance in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown has got punters looking elsewhere.
Road To Respect won that race and looks to have a fair chance of following up last season’s win in the Plate at the Festival, while previous runners up, Minella Rocco and Djakadam, may still have enough fight to fill the places.
Discover which horses and jockeys have won the most recent renewals of the most prestigious steeplechase in racing since the classic partnership of Kauto Star and Ruby Walsh in 2009.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup dates back to 1924, when Red Splash was ridden home by Dick Rees, one of only 7 Welsh jockeys to have crossed the line first. Of the 89 runnings of the Gold Cup, over 50% of the winning riders have come from Ireland, and more than half the victorious horses were aged either 8 or 9.
While the past doesn’t always predict the future, previous races suggest this year’s Gold Cup will be won by a previous Grade One winner aged 8 or 9, had run in the King George that season and was in the top-three in the betting.
The closest match from the confirmed runners is:Mite Bite (3x Grade One winner including the King George, 9 years old and the current favourite at around 9/2)
Leading horse racing writer and analyst James Willoughby gives his expert opinion on who will be crowned Gold Cup champion at this year’s Cheltenham Festival
THE 2018 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup will be either the proving ground of Might Bite’s talent, or the naughty step of his ultimate meltdown: the most talented horse in the field is also the most wayward.
So often in racing, a brilliant horse comes with its share of quirks. It seems as if winning compliantly is not enough to satisfy the errant mind of the equine virtuoso.
At last year’s Festival, Might Bite shot nearly 15 lengths clear of the Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase field in the manner of a worldly talent. In typical style, however, he started to put on the brakes in front and turned right halfway up the run-in. Having allowed stablemate Whisper to erode, and then claim, his lead, he resumed concentration, and rallied in amazing style to gain victory by a nose.
It was an extraordinary display which could only be achieved by a horse with a lot of excess talent. His chance can be coldly framed by figures: Whisper now has an official form rating of 167, so, using this reference, Might Bite must be a mid-170s horse.
And that’s a key number. A decent par figure for the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner to reach is 170. Might Bite is surely a lot better than that; he can also be rated in excess of the standard from another idling display, his Grade 1 King George win over 166-rated Double Shuffle. In summary, his form is enough to look past his wayward streak – for now.
Third last year, Native River returned with a bloodless Newbury win over two opponents, once again looking a relentless galloper. He needs to find another gear, but cannot be far away – especially if the ground happens to come up deep.
The Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup in February continued the run of underwhelming evidence. The talented Killultagh Vic looked sure to win when he fell at the last. The 33-1 winner Edwulf and neck runner-up Outlander finished strongly as they drew clear, but neither has form required to win at Cheltenham.
Our Duke is a very strong stayer and should stay on for a place. Another with each-way claims is course winner Definitly Red, the hope of the North. But the dark horse is Total Recall, the Grade 3 Ladbrokes Trophy winner at Newbury who also defeated Whisper. The future is bright for the Willie Mullins-trained horse. Could the future be now?
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