Take a walk to the pylons on top of Cleeve Hill; stand there, close your eyes and travel back in time. This very spot was the original home of Cheltenham Racecourse. In 1819 the first Cheltenham Gold Cup was run there, a three mile race on the flat. Spectre was victorious for his owner Mr Brodenham and the race that was to become the Blue Riband of steeplechasing was born. So, look down the hill towards the natural amphitheatre that the Racecourse has been seated in since 1898, and cast your eyes on the contenders for the . At the six day stage I am concentrating on four horses. They are: First Lieutenant, Sir Des Champs, The Giant Bolster and Long Run. Two notable omissions; namely Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti. If you had told me at the start of the season that I would be leaving Bobs Worth out of a Gold Cup preview, I would have said you were barking mad. However, as impressed as I was with his Hennessy victory, his absence and the subsequent doubts on his well -being concern me greatly. He is unbeaten at Cheltenham and a dual Festival winner but the vibes behind him are not great. Therefore, I have ruled him out of my calculations. I am aware that the decision that may well return to haunt me! Silviniaco Conti is a talented and progressive horse, but I do not feel Cheltenham will suit and it will certainly not play to his strengths. Flat tracks yes, undulations no. I still hold a glimmer of hope that First Lieutenant lines up in the Gold Cup. He loves Cheltenham and although he hasn’t won since a victory at Cork in 2011, he maintains form at the highest level. Don’t forget that only a dream Ruby Walsh ride on Tidal Bay, prevented him from winning the Lexus. His 2011 Neptune win and his second to Bobs Worth in last year’s RSA give him valuable Festival form. I keep hearing that he doesn’t stay but he stays just fine. Watch the RSA again and then watch the Lexus. I have become a believer that there has been a grand plan at work with Sir Des Champs from the maestro that is Willie Mullins. I watched the 2012 Jewson again the other day where his jumping was electric. This dual Festival winner did not jump at all well when coming second to Flemenstar on his first start of the season, or when finishing like a train into fourth in the Lexus. What we saw in the Irish Hennessy was an altogether different horse; the jumping was back and we were at the races! Rewind to the Lexus, to hit the birch like he did and finish so close, means he has a serious engine. Photo by Kerry Banner of Love The Image The Giant Bolster was second in last year’s Gold Cup to Synchronised, thus defying his 50/1 odds. He and 2011 winner Long Run are big players in this year’s renewal. The Giant Bolster eats the Cheltenham undulations for breakfast and his previous sketchy jumping is a distant memory. Full marks to team Bridgewater for sorting that one. Haydock, Kempton and Newbury have been his three starts this season but none of those will have suited as well as Prestbury Park does. You cannot leave him out of calculations. What to make of Long Run? Well, what a tenacious horse he is. I was a little late to the table of the Long Run appreciation society, but his win in the 2012 King George shot an arrow through my heart as he was so brave. He’s been to Cheltenham and he’s got the t-shirt and even with his new headgear he will be in there fighting; he’s that kind of guy. So who wins the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup trophy as pictured? That’s a tough one. If First Lieutenant runs, I cannot split him and Sir Des Champs. All I know is either way the tricolours will be flying high and the Irish will sing long into the night as the Gold Cup heads back across the pond for the first time since 2006. The Giant Bolster and Long Run will not give up the battle very easily though.
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