Kauto Star & Denman Head Dozen for totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup
One of the most eagerly anticipated races in Jump racing history gets a step closer today after 12 horses stood their ground at the six-day confirmation stage for the £475,000 Grade One totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, the highlight of The Festival on Friday, March 19.
Having become the first horse to regain chasing's championship chase last year, Kauto Star will bid to further his reputation as the outstanding chaser of modern times when going for a third victory in the extended three and a quarter mile contest, emulating Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate.
The Paul Nicholls-trained 10-year-old has looked better than ever this season and goes into Friday's race on the back of an outstanding fourth win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day - his 13th Grade One success. Clive Smith's gelding is currently the red-hot 4/6 favourite with the sponsor to add to his totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup triumphs in 2007 and 12 months ago.
Kauto Star's biggest threat is stable companion and 2008 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Denman, who was seven lengths behind his great rival at The Festival last year.
The 10-year-old, who lives in the very next stable to Kauto Star at Nicholls' Somerset stables, recorded a stunning victory under top-weight in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November but will be looking to bounce back after unseating AP McCoy in the Grade Two AON Chase at the same course on February 13. He is a 4/1 chance with totesport.
It will be the third time that the two horses, who know each other so well, go head to head in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup
Nicholls has also left in leading John Smith's Grand National contender Tricky Trickster, who took advantage of Denman's uncharacteristic jumping errors to triumph at Newbury, as well as last year's fifth My Will.
The champion trainer is bidding to become the first handler since Basil Briscoe (1932-35) to land the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup for a fourth consecutive year.
Imperial Commander has won on four of his five starts over Cheltenham's fences including a two-length verdict over Voy Por Ustedes in the Grade One Ryanair Chase at The Festival last year. Trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, the nine-year-old went down by a nose to Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November prior to taking fifth behind the same horse in the King George VI Chase.
Cooldine romped to a 16-length victory in the Grade One RSA Chase at last year's Festival and the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was beaten a neck in the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup on his latest start, while further Irish interest is provided by Casey Jones, who also triumphed in Grade One company as a novice for Noel Meade.
Carrurthers, fourth behind Cooldine 12 months ago, will be bidding to give trainer Mark Bradstock and owner/breeder Lord Oaksey a fairytale success, while Best Mate's handler Henrietta Knight may aim for a fourth win in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup with Calgary Bay.
Venetia Williams has left in last season's Grand National winner Mon Mome and the potential field is completed by the Paul Murphy-trained pair of Cerium and Mr Pointment.
Friday's racing on the final day of The Festival gets underway at 1.30pm with the £100,000 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle and the 29 acceptors include leading Irish-trained contenders Alaivan and Carlito Brigante as well as Advisor and Soldatino, who have both made impressive starts to their hurdling careers.
A total of 36 horses remain for Friday's third Grade One contest, the £100,000 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.40pm), headed by the Tom George-trained Tell Massini, who has notched a pair of Grade Two victories at Cheltenham already this season.
Restless Harry also boasts winning form at Prestbury Park, having taken the Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle on Festival Trials Day, while Shinrock Paddy landed a Grade One contest at Navan in December.
This season's leading hunter chasers will be hoping to triumph in the amateur's Gold Cup, the £40,000 Christie's Foxhunter Chase (4.00pm), and a total of 39 horses going forward include Roulez Cool, who was runner-up in a Grade Two Chase in France before joining current owner/trainer Robert Waley-Cohen.
Baby Run was third in last year's race and went on to take the Punchestown Champion Hunters' Chase for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, while Aintree chairman Lord Daresbury, who partnered Timmie's Battle to victory in 1978, could return to the winner's enclosure as an owner with the 2008 scorer Amicelli or Aintree Fox Hunters' victor Trust Fund.
Fiercely competitive handicap action looks guaranteed with 71 going forward for the £75,000 Grade Three Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2.05pm), while 128 horses have stood their ground for the £50,000 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (4.40pm).
Four days of enthralling action at The Festival is brought to a close by the £80,000 Grade Three Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (5.15pm) and the 46 remaining entries feature the Nicky Henderson-trained trio of French Opera, You're The Top and Pepsyrock.
The going at Cheltenham remains:
Old Course - used on Tuesday & Wednesday: Good to Soft, Good in Places
New Course - used on Thursday and Friday: Good to Soft, Good in Places
Cross Country Course: Good, Good to Soft in Places
Simon Claisse, Cheltenham's Director of Racing, reported today: "The outlook for the next few days is looking mainly dry with no appreciable rain expected.
"We will consider tomorrow whether to irrigate the New Course further depending on what the forecast is for the latter part of next week."
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