Cheltenham ready for Gold Cup showdown

Richard Johnson on Native River in the 2018 Gold Cup

Richard Johnson won the 2018 Gold Cup on Native River, who goes again in Friday’s showpiece race

Presenting Percy will bid to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday for his enigmatic, publicity-shy Irish trainer Pat Kelly.

The two-time Cheltenham Festival winner is among 16 contenders in what looks a highly intriguing renewal of jump racing’s showpiece contest.

Last year’s first and second, Native River and Might Bite, face each other again while 10-time British champion trainer Paul Nicholls seeks a record-equalling fifth career Gold Cup triumph, with Clan Des Obeaux.

Willie Mullins saddles four hopefuls as he looks to take the coveted trophy back to his Irish yard for the first time after being runner-up six times.


A Gold Cup win has always eluded trainer Willie Mullins

Mullins, who went into this year’s meeting as the all-time leading Festival trainer, will be represented by Bellshill – the pick of stable jockey Ruby Walsh – Al Boum Photo, Kemboy and Invitation Only.

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Roared on by a bumper 70,000 crowd, Native River won an enthralling duel 12 months ago to give Dorset-dairy-farmer-turned-top-trainer Colin Tizzard his first Gold Cup win.

This time Tizzard also has the 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack, who was runner-up to Clan Des Obeaux last time, and Welsh National victor Elegant Escape.

Last year’s third, Anibale Fly, multiple Grade One winner Bristol De Mai, Definitly Red, Double Shuffle, Yala Enki and Shattered Love complete the field.

Unusual prep for Presenting Percy


Davy Russell – who rode Tiger Roll to victory at last year’s Grand National – will saddle Presenting Percy

Unconventional. That is a fair summation of Presenting Percy’s preparation for the championship race.

Since running out an impressive winner of last season’s RSA Chase, the eight-year-old has raced just once, over the smaller hurdles when winning at Gowran Park in January rather than the steeplechase fences he will encounter in the Gold Cup.

As a warm-up, the horse was twice sent to Kelly’s local Galway racecourse where staff turned the fences round to face the opposite way so the normally right-handed track could replicate the left-handed conditions of Cheltenham.

The last horse to win steeplechasing’s blue riband event after a hurdles-only preparation was Easter Hero 90 years ago.

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Can Native River win a second Gold Cup?

However, Presenting Percy is twice a winner at the Festival, having also landed the Pertemps Hurdle in 2017.

Owner Philip Reynolds, the son of former Irish premier Albert, admitted to being nervous ahead of the big race.

“It’s easier when he’s in Pat’s and I know he’s being looked after and couldn’t be in better hands. But when we’re in the parade ring before a race, it’s terrifying, to be honest,” he said.

“I don’t understand the whole ‘people’s horse’ thing, but he’s a horse that goes out and gives you everything he’s got, and I think people admire that.

“Pat is pleased with him, and it would, of course, be very special to win a Gold Cup on a number of levels.”

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