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2018 Cheltenham Festival Star-Rating Guide

Our expert takes a look at the field set to line up in this years’ Gold Cup and rates each runners’ chances of succeeding at the Cheltenham Festival out of five stars.

There may be 28 races during the Cheltenham Festival, but there’s no doubting the most prestigious and historic of the lot is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Stars have been born, legacies commentated and history has been rewritten in this fantastic staying chase and we look set for a memorable renewal on the final day of the 2018 Festival.

During the regular season, various trials races have been staged across Britain and Ireland. While some have seen their Gold Cup dreams dashed, several potential champion have come forward and the ante-post market looks packed with quality.

Our expert has put together this star rating guide for the Gold Cup – taking a look at each contenders in detail and rated their chances of triumphing at the Cheltenham Festival out of five stars.

CUE CARD – 33/1 William Hill

Colin Tizzard’s teenager began his farewell tour with a fantastic display in the Ascot Chase, pushing Waiting Patiently all the way to the post. Tizzard and owner, Jean Bishop confirmed their 12-year-old would be retired after competing at Cheltenham and Aintree and the team will be hoping for a change of luck in this year’s Gold Cup.

Cue Card was traveling as well as anyone before falling at the third-last in 2016. The same fence forced another race ending error 12 months ago, but Paddy Brennan was already working hard to stay in-touch before tasting turf for the second successive season. A fairy-tale ending to a wonderful career is not out of the question, but Cue Card’s best years are clearly behind him and it would take an incredible performance for Tizzard’s teenager to challenge.


Cue Card (left) battling hard against Waiting Patiently (left) in the Ascot Chase.

DEFINITLY RED – 16/1 Ladbrokes

It seems a heck of a long time since Danny Cook pulled Definitly Red up in last year’s Grand National. Brian Ellison will have been very pleased with the way his charge was traveling, but a faller caused Definitly Red to swerve off line and, fearing an injury, Cook decided to called time on their Aintree adventure.

A distant third place finish on his reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase was followed by two Grade Two victories in the Many Clouds Chase and the Cotswold Chase. Definitly Red led them along at a sedate pace in the Many Clouds and turned it into a real test of stamina. It was a much truer race at Cheltenham, but the fact that runner-up American and Bristol De Mai have decided to swerve the Gold Cup has to count against him. 

Brian Ellison’s charge is in the form of his life and handled the Cheltenham track well in the Cotswold, but the Gold Cup will be a giant leap forward and Definitly Red could struggle.


DJAKADAM – 33/1 BetVictor

As Djakadam surged onto the lead, Ruby Walsh may have thought he had one hand on the Gold Cup last year. A shuddering error two from home opened the door for Sizing John and the two-time runner-up had to settle for more Cheltenham disappointment. Willie Mullins will have been heartened and encouraged by his final run of the campaign at Punchestown, but sadly, the nine-year-old has endured an underwhelming year.

A resounding defeat at the hands of Sizing John in the John Durkan was followed by a poor performance in the Christmas Chase, where he was pulled up well before home. He failed to mount a winning assault in the Irish Gold Cup, yet his jumping was much more convincing as he finished third and he has plenty of history in Cheltenham’s showpiece event. Plus, his current odds are very attractive.


Edwulf (centre, red cap) produced a miraculous display to win the Irish Gold Cup.

EDWULF – 25/1 Coral

It's been a rollercoaster 12 months for Edwulf. Joseph O’Brien thought he has lost his star stayer when he collapsed in the National Hunt Chase and the young trainer was delighted to see his charge make a full recovery. Retirement plans were soon thrown out the window and Edwulf made a low-key return in the Christmas Chase, where he failed to finish the course. Five weeks later, Edwulf’s miracle recovery was complete as the 25/1 shot powered home to win the Irish Gold Cup.

Although Edwulf holds entry into both the Gold Cup and the Grand National, O’Brien will be very mindful of his star’s wellbeing before committing him to any specific date. If Edwulf can repeat the performance he produced at Leopardstown, he could challenge for the places – that’s if he even makes it to National Hunt racing’s premier chase.


KILLULTAGH VIC – 10/1 William Hill

Everyone remembers the incredible recovery Killultagh Vic made at Leopardstown in 2016, dragging himself up off the canvas to snatch a Grade Two victory from the jaws of defeat. The last 18 months have been riddled with injuries, but Willie Mullins declared his nine-year-old was fit to return in December.

After claiming a smart victory over the smaller obstacles, Mullins threw Killultagh Vic into the Irish Gold Cup. Paul Townend’s mount was traveling best of all turning for home, but a crashing fall at the second last left Willie and his team with their head in their hands. Thankfully, Killultagh Vic is expected to make a full recovery and take his place in the Gold Cup. It looks like he’s retained most of his old talent, but the time spent off the track is a worry and it’s hard to say how he will bounce back after that emphatic tumble at Leopardstown.


Nico de Boinville celebrates after guiding Might Bite to victory in King George.

MIGHT BITE – 4/1 Paddy Power

Worryingly for his Cheltenham rivals, Might Bite didn’t have to be at his best to win the King George. Nicky Henderson’s charge clearly didn’t enjoy the softer ground and his jumping was very safe, but he still had enough class to comfortably see off Double Shuffle and Tea For Two. Might Bite has been given a nice break to recharge the batteries and the prospect of good spring ground will be extremely favourable.

Some will say Might Bite hasn’t beaten much over fences – both his Grade One victories came over Whisper and no Gold Cup rivals displayed their colours in the King George. Yet, you cannot deny the nine-year-old has looked much more composed this season and it’s unlikely we will see the dramatic swerve towards the stables that almost cost him the RSA.

He was fantastic for 90% of the RSA and showed incredible battling qualities to get his nose to the line first. Conditions should suit him down to the ground and Nicky Henderson will have him primed for Festival season. Might Bite is the leading candidate heading into Cheltenham.


MINELLA ROCCO – 20/1 Ladbrokes

Minella Rocco has been fairly anonymous since finishing fourth as the favourite in the Irish Daily Star Chase. Jonjo O’Neill’s chase finished a decent fourth in a the Christmas Chase, a result which sits between two failures in the BetVictor Handicap Chase and the Irish Gold Cup.

Minella Rocco’s form figures are similar to those he carried into last year’s Gold Cup, where he stormed home to finish closest to Sizing John. The 2016 National Hunt Chase winner comes alive in the spring and he clearly enjoys the challenge presented by Cheltenham. While some will be put off by his poor seasonal form, Minella Rocco is a challenger not to be overlooked.


Native River clearing the water jump on his way to winning the Denman Chase.

NATIVE RIVER – 6/1 Paddy Power

Native River’s achievements last season shouldn’t be underestimated. He came into the Gold Cup on the back of wins in the Ladbrokes Trophy, the Welsh National and the Denman Chase. Despite expending plenty of energy during those gruelling races, the eight-year-old had enough grit and determination to hold on to a spot in the places.

Tizzard rewarded his top stayer with an extended holiday, completely bypassing the first half of the campaign. Native River returned in the Denman Chase earlier this month and comfortably saw off Cloudy Dream from the front of the field. Richard Johnson has struck up a nice understanding with Native River and the duo will fancy their chances heading back to Cheltenham.

Colin Tizzard will need to get his tactics spot on if he wants to get his hands on the Gold Cup, but the rest he gave Native River should pay off during the spring and he will be a prime challenger for the second season running.


OUR DUKE – 9/1 Paddy Power

A lot was expected of the runaway Irish Grand National winner as he went to post in the JNWine Champion Chase as the odds-on favourite. Harrington was dismayed to see Our Duke labour over the line last. A back problem was discovered, and he didn’t return to action until the Irish Gold Cup.

Robbie Powers’ mount clattered pretty much every fence around Leopardstown but was staying on strongly as he passed the post fourth. He dropped back in trip and conceded weight to dangerous novice Presenting Percy in the Red Mills Chase, displaying speed and class in abundance to claim a much-needed victory. More progress is expected between now and Cheltenham, but Our Duke is progressing nicely and should put himself in the frame.


– 33/1 Coral

Outlander has always been talented, but inconsistency has often held him back. It looked like this season would be the same old story, as Gordon Elliott’s charge finished near the rear of the field in the Irish Daily Star, but he produced a fantastic display to claim a surprise victory in the JNWine Champion Chase a few weeks later.

Jack Kennedy’s mount hated the heavy ground at Haydock, but responded by running two good races back-to-back. First, crossing the line third in the Christmas Chase, before battling with Edwulf all the way to the line at the Dublin Racing Festival. The chances of Outlander stringing together three strong performances is unlikely, but he brings solid form into the Gold Cup and his current odds are extremely attractive.


ROAD TO RESPECT – 10/1 BetVictor

Since winning the Brown Advisory Plate at the Festival last year, Road To Respect has gone from strength-to-strength. He ended last season with a smart victory over Yorkhill at Fairyhouse and returned to action with a bang at Punchestown, storming clear to win the Irish Daily Star. Outlander produced an excellent display to defeat him in the JNWine Champion Chase, but Sean Flanagan’s mount was far from disgraced in second.

Despite his excellent form and obvious improvement, Road To Respect carried a lengthy price into the Christmas Chase. As rivals fell away around him, Meade’s charge produced a composed display to outlast two Gigginstown stablemates and claim a second career Grade One. He brings the best form with him across the pond and has winning memories around Cheltenham. Road To Respect is the ideal each-way candidate and the best bet in this year’s Gold Cup.


Road To Respect leaping the last en-route to winning the Brown Advisory Plate at Cheltenham last season.

SIZING JOHN – 6/1 William Hill

Sizing John enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the staying ranks last season and was hugely impressive in capturing the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Jessica Harrington’s mount looked as good as ever in dispatching Djakadam on his reappearance in the John Durkan, but last season’s heroics clearly caught up with him in the Christmas Chase, where he failed to challenge and cantered over the line seventh.

No medical problems were discovered following that festive flop, forcing Harrington into giving her stable star an unplanned mid-season break. Plenty of horses have claimed Gold Cup glory on the back of similar lay-offs and Sizing John’s reappearance record is very strong. Others Cheltenham rivals have filled the column inches in his absence, but Sizing John is too classy to be forgotten.


TOTAL RECALL – 16/1 Ladbrokes

Weeks after arriving from Sandra Hughes’ yard, Total Recall began life in County Carlow with a strong winning performance in the Munster National. Mullins sent his recruit to Newbury for the first time in December and he was subsequently backed into favouritism for the Ladbrokes Trophy. Whisper looked to have the victory in the bag, but Paul Townend timed his late charge to perfection to claim a historic victory for a jubilant Willie Mullins.

After pulling hard for much of the race, Total Recall warmed up for the spring with an excellent victory over hurdles at the Dublin Racing Festival. Total Recall’s odds have dropped since Mullins confirmed he would take in the Gold Cup en-route to the Grand National. Yet, all his form this season has come in handicap company, he could only beat Whisper by a neck when gaining a stone at the weights and he’s never stepped beyond Grade Three company over fences, let alone featured in a race with the size and stature of the Gold Cup.


Robbie Power and Sizing John celebrating after their 2017 Gold Cup success.


EDWULF – 2.5
CUE CARD – 2.5
The Cheltenham Gold Cup (3:20pm) is a Class A Grade 1 chase run over three miles and about two and a half furlongs. 

If the Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious event in the National Hunt calendar, then the Gold Cup has to be the most prestigious race.  The race has provided us with some of the most unforgettable sporting, let alone racing, stories and achievements.  The race continues to serve up thrilling stories, and the combination of speed, stamina and jumping that is required means that it is the ultimate test of the thoroughbred.

2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup Runner By Runner Guide and Tips

Brian Healy assesses the early entrants for the Cheltenham Festival Friday showpiece, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Can Sizing John defend his crown?

Arguably the most anticipated race of the entire Cheltenham Festival week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup goes to post at 3.30pm on Festival Friday, and the top-class Grade One contest is sure to boast another fantastic field for the chasing Blue Riband.

Boasting a winners’ prize in excess of £350,000, the extended 3m 2f contest has a rich roll-call of winners, and the seasonal chasing highlight draws massive interest from around the globe to bear witness to another competitive and spellbinding spectacle between the very best staying chasers.

Jessica Harrington won the 2017 renewal with her Sizing John (6/1, William Hill) who will return in defence of his crown; but having brushed aside Djakadam on his return to win the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, the Midnight Legend gelding finished distressed when crossing the line a well-beaten seventh behind Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase.

He is better than he showed that day, and if bouncing back to his best then he ought to go close. The second Harrington runner, Our Duke (9/1, Paddy Power) meanwhile arrives on the back of a win over Presenting Percy in the recent Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

The Oscar gelding had looked set to go close in his previous outing in the Irish Gold Cup where he was still travelling well when making a shuddering mistake two out. That blunder robbed him of momentum, and he never recovered.

He also made a bad mistake last time out at Gowran Park, and his jumping will have to stand up to a searching examination at Cheltenham. If he can avoid mistakes then he ought to post a big effort, but he can throw in a bad one and that has to be a concern for supporters.

2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John will bid to defend his crown in the Festival showpiece.

Similarly, Coney Island (33/1, Paddy Power) boasts some very solid form in novice company last term, beating the likes of Anibale Fly (33/1, William Hill) and Road To Respect to win the Drinmore Novices’ Chase prior to finishing just one length in arrears of Our Duke in the Neville Hotels Novices’ Chase.

Having scored easily on his return in a three-runner race at Ascot, Eddie Harty’s charge wasn’t unfancied for the recent Ascot Chase; but he never jumped or travelled in that contest off the fast and furious pace set by Cue Card, and he pulled-up mid-race.

It was a disappointing run from the Flemensfirth gelding who would need to jump much better than he did in that contest if he were to have any chance of landing this big prize.

Harty’s charge could be just one of a number of runners in the race which could also feature last year’s runner-up in Minella Rocco (20/1, Coral) who hasn’t fired in four starts this term, including when beaten and falling behind surprise winner Edwulf (25/1, William Hill) in the Irish Gold Cup.

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge has the talent to go close, as he showed twelve months ago; but he is a moody performer and much will depend on whether he fancies giving his best effort.

Edwulf meanwhile almost lost his life at this meeting last year, collapsing on the run-in when contesting the National Hunt Chase; but slowly nursed back to health, he put behind him a couple of lesser runs to land a big-prices shock in the Irish Gold Cup.

Enigmatic Minella Rocco finished runner-up in last year's renewal.

He beat established Grade One performers such as Outlander and Djakadam, but he will have to back up that run now; while Killultagh Vic (10/1, Coral) looked set to win when taking up the running before the last fence only to fall.

Willie Mullins’ charge had won both chase starts in the 2015/16, overcoming a bad blunder to score in a Leopardstown Grade Two contest. However, he was absent for almost two years before making a winning return over hurdles at Punchestown prior to that near-miss.

If none the worse for that spill, which looked a heavy fall, then he is another for whom a case could be made.  

Like JP McManus, the maroon silks of Gigginstown House Stud could be carried by several representatives, headed by Road To Respect (10/1, Unibet) who won last season’s Brown Advisory Plate prior to beating Yorkhill to win a first Grade One at Fairyhouse.

Noel Meade’s charge has won two of his three starts this term, but he suffered a reversal in the Champion Chase behind Outlander. Subsequently back on track when beating Balko Des Flos (50/1, William Hill) in the Christmas Hurdle, he ought to give a good account although the form of the Noel Meade yard continues to give cause for concern.

The famous colours could also be carried by Outlander (33/1, Unibet) who chased home Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup having finished third to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase.

The Stowaway gelding can make the odd mistake, but he’s a talented sort who could well outrun his big odds, and he didn’t disgrace himself in the race twelve months ago despite a back injury which curtailed his jumping.

Balko Des Flos, Valseur Lido (50/1, Betway) and Sub Lieutenant (50/1, Paddy Power) are other Gigginstown entries, but the trio look to face big tests if pitching up in the Blue Riband.

Might Bite (4/1, Paddy Power) has been heading the ante-post market for some time now, and Nicky Henderson’s charge is unbeaten over fences since falling when clear in last season’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

He has since scored in the RSA Chase twelve months ago, as well as landing further Grade Ones at Aintree and back at Kempton when taking the King George VI Chase from Double Shuffle.

RSA Chase winners have a good record when stepping into the Gold Cup, and while he showed plenty of quirks last term - he almost pulled himself up when clear in the RSA Chase - he looks much more straightforward now.

This is his toughest test to date, while he tries this trip for the first time; but the progressive Scorpion gelding can’t be ruled out from adding another big prize to his collection.

Might Bite heads the ante-post betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Djakadam (33/1, William Hill) has had a few bites of the Gold Cup cherry now, and there is a slight suspicion that this stiff uphill finish just stretches the stamina of the Saint Des Saints gelding.

He is a classy short though who should continue to give a good account, although he must be fed up now of being beaten by Sizing John; having finished fourth in this last year, he twice finished runner-up to Jessica Harrington’s charge in subsequent outings.

Pulled up in the Christmas Chase, he ran a better race to post a highly creditable third in the Irish Gold Cup; but beaten ten lengths there, he could prove vulnerable again taking in this race.

Willie Mullins perhaps surprisingly has thrust Total Recall (16/1, Coral) into the Gold Cup picture, but the Westerner gelding is entitled to take his chance following wins at Limerick and Newbury over fences - the latter in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase where he beat Whisper - and he produced an excellent performance back over hurdles to score at Leopardstown.

This is a considerably tougher assignment, but he looks progressive and ought to give a good account; while Bachasson (50/1, William Hill) has won his last three over fences, which include Listed races at Thurles and Tramore.

The Voix Du Nord gelding has only once contested over three miles, when falling behind Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Albert Bartlett; he would have to rate a doubtful stayer at this trip, and the Ryanair Chase may prove his Festival target.

Cue Card (33/1, William Hill) isn’t a certain runner with connections still to decide whether the King’s Theatre gelding and stalwart of Colin Tizzard’s yard takes his chance in the race where he has fallen the last two years.

Colin Tizzard saddles Native River in the Gold Cup, looking to better his third in the race last year.

While he ran back to his best in the Ascot Chase, his best days may be behind him now; however NATIVE RIVER(6/1, Paddy Power) could well improve on his third-place finish in last season’s renewal.

The Tizzard runner has improved markedly since winning a maiden Grade One at Aintree back in April 2016, and following a narrow defeat over hurdles on his return to action he reeled off a hat-trick of wins which included a mammoth weight-bearing performance to win the Welsh Grand National.

Having then won the Denman Chase impressively, the Indian River gelding did little wrong when finishing third in this race twelve months ago where the drying ground possibly just caught him out. He had also had a relatively hard season, having had a run every month up until the Festival.

He arrives here a much fresher horse, having made a taking return to action in this season’s Denman Chase where he beat Cloudy Dream by twelve lengths, with the returning Saphir Du Rheu (100/1, BetVictor) further behind. Ruth Jefferson’s charge is no mug, although he is arguably better over shorter given the way he travelled well into the race before finding little for pressure; while Saphir Du Rheu probably needed the run.

It was hard not to have been impressed by the manner of Native River’s own performance where he jumped well and travelled strongly throughout; he only needed to be pushed out to score readily, and if building on that outing then there appears no reason why he can’t improve on last season’s third.

Saphir Du Rheu meanwhile ought to strip fitter for that run, and he ran well for fifth in this race twelve months ago. He can give a good account, although whether he is a bona-fide Grade One performer is debatable. 

Definitely Red (16/1, Coral) will find this tougher than the Cotswold Chase he won over this course in January, beating American; but Brian Ellison’s charge is well worth his place in this line-up, and his earlier defeat of Cloudy Dream entitles him to respect.

He has contested before at the Festival, falling behind Minella Rocco in the 2016 National Hunt Chase; but he has been more assured with his jumping, and while he needs to find a jolt of improvement stepping into another white-hot Cheltenham Gold Cup, he can give a good account.

Double Shuffle (40/1, Unibet) ran his heart out when chasing home Might Bite at Kempton last time, beating Tea For Two (66/1, William Hill) and Thistlecrack. However, Tom George’s charge has been the bridesmaid on several occasions now, and he was possibly flattered by his proximity to the Gold Cup ante-post favourite given that one appeared to idle on the run-in.

Nick Williams’ Tea For Two meanwhile has yet to show his true form at this venue in three starts, twice pulling up which include last time out in the Cotswold Chase.

The Kayf Tara gelding has done most of his winnng on flatter tracks, and the undulations of Cheltenham may again see him struggle.

Tea For Two has disappointed on all starts at Cheltenham, and Nick Williams' charge could struggle again.

It is hard to make a case for Mala Beach (100/1, Unibet), who pulled up last time behidn Edwulf; Shantou Flyer(100/1, BetVictor) who was beaten at Kelso in the Ivan Straker Chase; or Tenor Nivernais (150/1, Unibet) who failed to beat a rival last time out as winners of this race.

The Last Samurai (66/1, William Hill) meanwhile may miss out on a tilt at this race in favour of another crack at the Grand National. Fourth to Definitely Red in the Cotswold Chase last time, he would need to improve a good deal to win this.


A back-to-form Sizing John would surely go close in defence of his crown, while stablemate Our Duke can be given solid claims if jumping better; Coney Island blotted his copybook with a poor display of jumping last time at Ascot, while Djakadam has come up short in the past three renewals of this race.

Might Bite has to prove stamina over the extra quarter-mile, while there is always a risk that the quirks which saw him almost throw away the RSA Chase twelve months ago may resurface. The most solid option then, assuming this doesn’t come too soon, looks to lie with NATIVE RIVER (6/1, Paddy Power) who made a very pleasing return to action following a break when beating Cloudy Dream to win a second Denman Chase.

Colin Tizzard’s charge finished third in the Gold Cup twelve months ago, where the combination of a relatively busy season and the quicker ground may just have taken the edge off the Indian River gelding.

He arrives here much fresher than twelve months ago, and so long as the ground doesn’t dry out considerably then he ought to post another big effort. He is a horse who doesn’t know when he is beaten, and he looks solid each-way material in what looks a pretty open renewal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him firmly in the mix once again.


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