Photo Credit: “Cheltenham Races” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by charlesdyer
Ante-post favourite Thistlecrack is out of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup after trainer Colin Tizzard revealed that the 2016 World Hurdle winner suffered a slight tendon tear just three weeks before the Festival. Tizzard, who also trains Gold Cup candidates Cue Card and Native River, claimed that the injury isn’t serious in the long term but it could keep him out for the remainder of the season.
In some ways, the 2017 Gold Cup may turn out to be a bit of a damp squib. 2016 winner Don Cossack was forced to retire shortly after his success in March before the devastating news of Vautour’s fatal fall shook the racing world.
Now, it looks like Cue Card and Native River will head the market but the Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam may threaten the two Tizzard runners. We take a look at the three main contenders ahead of this year’s event.
Cue Card has been there and done it on the big stage but a Gold Cup triumph continues to elude him. He was travelling well before falling three out last year and many believe that the 11-year-old might well have finished ahead of Don Cossack had he cleared that fence.
But that was then, and this is now. Cue Card was well beaten by stablemate Thistlecrack in the King George at Kempton Park on Boxing Day but victory last time out at Ascot suggests that he could be in with a sniff.
He is a true fan favourite and neutrals will be backing Cue Card to defy the odds in his fifth Festival appearance. Should he get around safely, you’d have to feel that he has a decent chance; especially with the experienced Paddy Brennan on board.
The main danger to Cue Card’s chances of an emotional victory is Native River. The Welsh Grand National winner has come on leaps and bounds since that win at Chepstow, following up with a victory in the prestigious Denman Chase at Newbury last time out.
For now, it looks like Native River is the one to beat. His second place in the National Hunt Chase to Minella Rocco at last year’s Festival shows that he has the stamina to get up the famous Cheltenham hill and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him cross the line in front.
Native River has a plethora of experience for a 7-year-old and Tizzard has spoken very highly of him in the past. He appears content with letting his two stars go toe to toe but punters may edge towards Native River come Gold Cup day on March 17th.
Djakadam has finished second in each of the last two editions of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and this year’s race could prove to be third time lucky; especially after the withdrawals of Thistlecrack and former winner Coneygree.
Currently priced at an industry-best 11/2 with 888sport, Djakadam will be well backed by the Irish contingent. Ruby Walsh, chasing a third win in the race, will be on board barring any injury scares throughout the week and his connections will be quietly confident.
If there is one thing you can rely on Djakadam to do, it is to stay the trip. While he may be a little short in the market right now, he is worth tracking and Mullins is always a major threat at the Festival. Write him off at your peril…