Will Don Cossack be able to bounce back from injury and land the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup? Jonathan Vine takes a look.
The roars of the Cheltenham crowd will still have been ringing in Gordon Elliott’s ears, when he was given the news his newly crowned Gold Cup champion would be on resigned to the sidelines with a tendon injury. Cue Card may have been the crowd favourite that Friday at Prestbury Park, but Don Cossack was well supported by plenty of punters and the way he boldly threw down the gauntlet to Djakadam and powered to Gold Cup glory was a fitting end to a very impressive season.
Although the injury was only reported as minor, his rumoured return to training in October didn’t materialise and the ten-year-old spent the remainder of 2016 recuperating in the Elliott yard. The Kinlock Brae Chase at Thurles in a few weeks’ time – a race which “The Don” has won on its last two renewals - was initially pencilled in as the scene of his eagerly awaited return to action, but sadly, a February reappearance seems more probable.
Gowran Park’s Grade 2, Red Mills Chase now looks like the most realistic option for Elliott to target and if Don Cossack does get through that race unscathed, he will head straight to Prestbury Park to defend his title. He currently sits at 10/1 with most bookmakers in the ante-post market and depending on the manner of his pre-Gold Cup return, his odds are likely to remain around the same mark. For a defending champion, that price look very inviting, but can he really return to the Cheltenham winners circle in 2017?
Don Cossack wins the Punchestown Gold Cup
Bobs’s Worth won Cheltenham’s showpiece event in 2013, having only ran once during the regular season. The second and third of Best Mate’s three Gold Cup triumphs came on the back of only two seasonal appearances, but both went into their victories as the clear favourite with the bookies and weren’t facing the same sort of competition Don Cossack would be up against this time around.
The imperious Thistlecrack has moved smoothly towards the even-money mark and looks head-and-shoulders above of the chasing pack. Native River has proven his quality and stamina twice already this season, when winning the Hennessy and the Welsh National and looks to be the biggest danger to his stablemate. The likes of Djakadam, Cue Card and Valseur Lido have all recorded impressive wins during the early season, but such has been Thistlecrack’s overwhelming dominance, all three are floundering well behind in the betting.
It took Don Cossack thirteen outings over fences, including three Grade 1 victories, to climb up to a rating of 171 - Thistlecrack has reached that mark after just four and the stranglehold he now enjoys over the entire three-mile chasing division isn’t showing any signs of weakening.
Nothing is impossible in jumps racing and it wouldn’t be totally implausible for Thistlecrack to could come a cropper at the first fence on his maiden Gold Cup assault. However, if that ridiculous notion does materialise, is Don Cossack the leading candidate to benefit from more Tizzard Gold Cup bad luck? At this current moment, the answer to that question - and the one posed previously – has to be a resounding, no.