Eighteen confirmations and one supplementary entry go for glory in the highlight of The Festival, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, with record prize money of £651,720, on Gold Cup Day, Friday 16th March.
The supplementary entry is American (Harry Fry), who was added to the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup this morning at a cost of £27,500.
Unbeaten in three outings over fences as a novice in 2016/17, the Jago Family Partnership-owned eight-year-old was last seen out when the eight-length runner-up toDefinitly Red (Brian Ellison) in the G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, 27th January.
Trainer Harry Fry reported on his Betway blog: “There’s only one Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and we decided that we’d take our chance.
“There’s also the added bonus that Noel [Fehily] will now take the ride.
“Obviously, we’re not supplementing him because we think we can win, but it’s the Blue Riband event of our sport and it would be a dream come true for all of us to have a runner in the race.
“With the ground how it is, dafter things have happened and we’d all be thrilled to bits if he could run into a place.”
Native River (Colin Tizzard) and Minella Rocco (Jonjo O’Neill), second and third respectively in 2017, both go forward, while last year’s winning trainer, Jessica Harrington, is set to be represented by the 2017 Irish Grand National hero Our Duke.
The ante-post favourite is last season’s dramatic RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase victorMight Bite (Nicky Henderson), who is two from two in the current campaign with his most recent victory coming when defeating Double Shuffle (Tom George) and Tea For Two (Nick Williams) in the G1 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Nicky Henderson said today: “We are very happy with Might Bite. He did a nice piece of work this morning and it is all systems go for Friday.
“The slight worry is going to be the ground. He won’t relish it as much as some of our others, such as Buveur D’Air (in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on the first day), but the Cheltenham going can change very quickly.
“I will do my walk of the course tomorrow as normal. I am hoping the ground does dry up in time for Might Bite on Friday. He is in great form and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
There are 10 Irish-trained entries remaining in total. In addition to Our Duke, G1 Unibet Irish Gold Cup first and second, Edwulf (Joseph O’Brien) and Outlander(Gordon Elliott), both go forward.
Ireland’s champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins has a quartet of horses – Djakadam, fourth last year and the runner-up in 2015 and 2016, the unexposed Bachasson,Total Recall, successful in the very valuable G3 Ladbrokes Gold Cup at Newbury in December, and Killultagh Vic, who fell at the last when still travelling well in the Irish Gold Cup.
Other leading Irish challengers include G1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase winner Road To Respect (Noel Meade) and Anibale Fly (Tony Martin), impressive when winning a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas before falling two out in the Irish Gold Cup.
Rest of the action on Gold Cup Day
Ante-post favourite Apple’s Shakira (Nicky Henderson) and Redicean (Alan King), both unbeaten over hurdles, are among 15 confirmations for the four-year-old highlight of The Festival, the £125,000 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) over two miles and a furlong.
Ireland has a strong hand, with six contenders, including G1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle one-two Mr Adjudicator (Willie Mullins IRE) and Farclas (Gordon Elliott IRE). Willie Mullins’ four-strong team also features Saldier and Stormy Ireland, both impressive first-time out winners for the stable.
Mullins has captured four of the last eight editions of the £100,000 G3 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (2m 1f). The Co Carlow handler accounts for 14 of the 63 confirmations, headlined by ante-post favourite Max Dynamite (10st 13lb) and G3 Betfair Hurdle runner-up Bleu Et Rouge (11st 12lb).
The longest novices’ hurdle of The Festival is the £125,000 G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50pm, 45 acceptors) over three miles. Henderson has a strong hand with the unbeaten Santini and Chef Des Obeaux, both successful in G2 company last time out. G1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle victor Poetic Rhythm (Fergal O’Brien) also goes forward, along with 21 Irish-trained challengers.
Previous winners Pacha Du Polder (Paul Nicholls), successful in 2017 and On The Fringe (Enda Bolger IRE), the winner in 2015 and 2016, are among 28 confirmations for the £45,000 St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase (4.10pm). The market leader isBurning Ambition (Pierce Power IRE), while Paul Nicholls has also left in Untioniste,Virak and Wonderful Charm.
A massive 103 entries remain in the £70,000 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50pm), in which Flawless Escape (Gordon Elliott IRE) is clear favourite to give Ireland a sixth victory in the contest.
The Festival draws to a close with the £110,000 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (5.30pm), in which 47 contenders remain including last year’s victor Rock The World (Jessica Harrington IRE). Theinval is the hope for Henderson as he seeks a third victory in the contest named in honour of his late father.