Nine-time G1 winner Cue Card and progressive staying chaser Native River headline 14 six-day confirmations for the G1 £575,000 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3.30pm), the feature race at The Festival and highlight of Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 17.
Both horses are trained by Colin Tizzard on the Somerset/Dorset border, with Cue Card set to make a sixth appearance at The Festival, having triumphed in the 2010 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and the Ryanair Chase in 2013.
The 11-year-old, who is bidding to become the oldest winner of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase in 48 years, fell three fences out when travelling strongly in chasing’s Blue Riband 12 months ago.
Native River, second in last season’s J T McNamara National Hunt Chase, captured the G1 Betfred Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April and returns to Cheltenham on the back of a string of three victories, including game displays in two of the toughest handicap chases in the calendar – the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh National.
Willie Mullins has saddled the runner-up in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on six occasions and Ireland’s champion Jump trainer looks set to be represented by Djakadam, who found only Don Cossack four and a half lengths too strong last year.
Don Cossack’s owner Gigginstown House Stud have left in the Gordon Elliott-trained pair of G1 Lexus Chase victor Outlander and Empire Of Dirt, who won the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at The Festival in 2016 for his previous trainer Colm Murphy.
The five Irish-trained contenders going forward also include Sizing John (Jessica Harrington), who beat Empire Of Dirt in the G1 Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 12, and impressive Thyestes Handicap Chase scorer Champagne West (Henry de Bromhead).
Jonjo O’Neill may be represented by the 2014 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle victor More Of That and Minella Rocco, successful in the J T McNamara National Hunt Chase last year, while Nigel Twiston-Davies has left in impressive G2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase winner Bristol De Mai.
Smad Place (Alan King) is due to make his seventh appearance at The Festival after finishing eighth in last year’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, while trainer Paul Nicholls will be aiming for a record-equalling fifth win in the race with recent Kelso scorer Saphir Du Rheu.
Tea For Two (Nick Williams), who took the 2015 G1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park and will be ridden by Lizzie Kelly, and Irish Cavalier (Rebecca Curtis), fifth in last season’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, complete those going forward.
1.30pm £125,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1f
Defi Du Seuil, unbeaten in five starts over hurdles, headlines 23 confirmations for the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle. The Philip Hobbs-trained gelding has gained three victories at Cheltenham already this season and also captured the G1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in December.
His owner J P McManus, successful in 2016 with Ivanovich Gorbatov, may also be represented by Charli Parcs (Nicky Henderson), who scored easily on his UK debut but fell on his latest start in the G2 BetBright Genius Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton Park on February 25 – a race won by Master Blueyes (Alan King).
Irish handlers have won three of the past four renewals of the JCB Triumph Hurdle and seven Irish-trained acceptors include Mega Fortune (Gordon Elliott IRE) and Bapaume (Willie Mullins IRE), who were first and second in Leopardstown’s G1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
2.10pm £95,000 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 1f
Irish-trained horses also have an excellent record in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle, having accounted for seven of the past 10 winners. The Gordon Elliott-trained Tombstone (11st 3lb), a G3 winner at Gowran Park on February 11, is one of 74 acceptors for this year’s contest.
North Hill Harvey (11st 3lb, Dan Skelton) is set to make his first start since taking the G3 stanjames.com Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The Open in November, while the weights are headed by the 2015 Stan James Champion Hurdle runner-up Arctic Fire (11st 12lb, Willie Mullins IRE). A maximum of 26 runners can take part.
2.50pm £125,000 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m
Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud also have a leading contender in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with Naas G1 scorer Death Duty featuring among 38 entries going forward in the three-mile race.
Dual course G2 victor Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle third West Approach (Colin Tizzard) are due to clash at Cheltenham for a fourth time this season, with Bacardys and Augusta Kate featuring among 14 Willie Mullins-trained entries still engaged.
Dr Richard Newland enjoyed success at The Festival a decade ago with Burntoakboy in the Coral Cup. The Worcestershire-based handler has an interesting contender for The Festival this year in Catamaran Du Seuil.
The five-year-old has won two of his three starts impressively since arriving from France, scoring by five lengths at Wincanton in January and most recently sauntering to a 23-length victory at Carlisle on February 20.
His only disappointing effort came in between those two victories, when he was 4/9 favourite but finished a well-beaten sixth in a novices’ hurdle at Wetherby on February 4.
In addition to his entry in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, Catamaran Du Seuil also hold entries in the Coral Cup (10st 5lb) and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (11st) at The Festival.
Worcestershire-based Newland said today: “We have left Catamaran Du Seuil in the Albert Bartlett today. Everything is fine with the horse, it is just a question of getting him into one of the races he is entered in.
“We would ideally like to run him in one of the handicaps, but if he doesn’t get in we could look at going for the Albert Bartlett with him. The other option would be to wait for the consolation race at Kempton Park on Saturday.
“It was a good a good performance at Carlisle and we are keen to run him in something. His owner (Michael Tudor) is coming over from America and we will discuss what we are going to do.
“His run at Wetherby was an aberration. He just didn’t look like the same horse, although he did have a high heart rate after the race. That is why we put blinkers on him at Carlisle. At home he seems fine, but we will retain the blinkers for his next start.”
The safety limit is 20 runners.
4.10pm £45,000 St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase 3m 2½f
On The Fringe (Enda Bolger IRE) looks set to be a short-priced favourite as he bids to become the first three-time winner of the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, having triumphed in 2015 and 2016.
Salsify (Rodger Sweeney) could also bid for an historic third victory in the race following successes in 2012 and 2013.
The two 12-year-olds may take on Wonderful Charm (Paul Nicholls), Ask The Weatherman (Jack Barber) and Paint The Clouds (Warren Greatrex) among the 35 confirmations. The maximum field size is 24.
4.50pm £65,000 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4½f
Rider Donagh Meyler and trainer Gordon Elliott have already combined to win the Galway Plate and Munster National this season and the jockey and trainer look set to team up again with The Storyteller 11st 7lb), one of 115 remaining entries for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in which 24 can line up.
5.30pm £105,000 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m ½f
Garde La Victoire (11st 12lb, Philip Hobbs), a G2 winner over fences at Cheltenham, tops the weights among the 54 acceptors for the G3 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase, a race that could feature the 2015 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase victor Dodging Bullets (11st 5lb, Paul Nicholls).
Last year’s second Dandridge (10st 11lb, Arthur Moore IRE) and the Nicky Henderson-trained pair of L’Ami Serge (11st 6lb) and Theinval (10st 9lb) also remain engaged.
The safety factor is 24 runners.
Tickets still available
Tickets for all enclosures on the first three days of The Festival next week - Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday - are still available and can be bought through
Purchasers of tickets for the Best Mate Enclosure and the Tattersalls Enclosure can print them at home, while Club Enclosure badges should be picked up at the collection point at Cheltenham Racecourse on the day.
All enclosures for the final day, Gold Cup Day, Friday, Mach 17 are sold out, though a few restaurant places can still be purchased. There are more hospitality offerings available on the first three days.