Richard Johnson is hopeful of a good performance from defending champion Native River in Jump racing's Blue Riband event, the £625,000 G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm).
Colin Tizzard's charge captured the three and a quarter-mile event with a thrilling four and a half-length victory under Johnson last season and he has run respectably in two races this term. Second to Bristol De Mai in the G1 Betfair Chase on his seasonal debut in November, the nine-year-old son of indian River was a staying-on third in the G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Native River is bidding to become the first horse since Best Mate (2002, 2003 & 2004) to retain his Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup crown.
Britain's champion Jump jockey said: "Native River is in great form. This season, we haven't really had conditions which have suited him, but the rain has come in recent weeks.
"Going left-handed and this extended three miles and two furlong trip will suit and hopefully he can have a repeat of last year."
Native River will be joined in the Gold Cup by stable companions Elegant Escape, winner of the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in December and Thistlecrack, who chased home Clan Des Obeaux in the G1 King George VI Chase.
Thistlecrack's rider Tom Scudamore said: "He has run very well so far this season and it was a good performance at Kempton. He's in good order and hopefully he can run well."
The Nicky Henderson-trained Might Bite has yet to recapture his high-class form of last season, which included a G1 King George VI Chase win, before he chased home Native River in Jump racing's Blue Riband event.
His jockey Nico de Boinville commented: "Might Bite needs to improve from his last two runs this season, however on the form of last year, you'd like to think he comes here with a chance. If he could put up a run like he did last year, we would be very happy."
Paul Nicholls' Clan Des Obeaux has emerged as the rising star this term, backing up his success in the King George with an emphatic victory in the G2 Betfair Denman Chase at Ascot last time. He will partnered by Harry Cobden, who added: "I'm really looking forward to riding Clan Des Obeaux. I schooled him this week, he's in great form.
"He's had the perfect preparation and had a lovely run round Ascot last time - I'm just looking forward to the big race, hopefully he well and comes back safe and sound."
MAGNERS CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP LANDMARKS
● Willie Mullins may be the most successful trainer in the history of The Festival™ presented by Magners, with 64 wins to date - one more than Nicky Henderson - but, unlike his British rival, Mullins has yet to conquer the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. He has trained six runners-up of the G1 £625,000 race, but not a winner. He has four horses in this year's contest (Kemboy (David Mullins), Belshill (Ruby Walsh), Al Boum Photo (Paul Townend) and Invitation Only (Patrick Mullins)). Henderson, who has been victorious in two Magners Cheltenham Gold Cups with Bobs Worth (2013) and Long Run (2011), runs last year's second-placed Might Bite (Nico de Boinville).
● Paul Nicholls, who runs Clan Des Obeaux (Harry Cobden), is the most successful current trainer in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. He has won it four times: See More Business (1999), Kauto Star (2007 and 2009) and Denman (2008). If Nicholls wins today, he will equal Tom Dreaper's record as the race's most successful trainer ever, which has stood since 1968.
● Five of the jockeys riding in this year's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup have already been successful in the race. Ruby Walsh, who rides Belshill, took it in 2007 and 2009 aboard Kauto Star, while Richard Johnson won in 2000 (Looks Like Trouble) and 2018 (Native River). Johnson attempts to defend his title on Native River this afternoon. Davy Russell will try to win his second Gold Cup - he first scored on Lord Windermere in 2014, and rides Presenting Percy this year. Barry Geraghty is another dual winner (Kicking King, 2005 and Bobs Worth, 2013); he is in the Tony Martin-trained Anibale Fly's saddle today. Nico de Boinville's record in the race is excellent - from two rides, he has won once (Coneygree in 2015) and finished second (Might Bite, 2018). He rides Might Bite again.
● Four jockeys are having their first Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup rides: Jonathan Burke (Double Shuffle), Charlie Deutsch (Yala Enki), Tom O'Brien (Elegant Escape) - and Harry Cobden, who rides the well-fancied Clan Des Obeaux.
● Five horses in this year's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup have already scored at previous Festivals. Native River, of course, is the returning Gold Cup hero of last year. Might Bite took the G1 2017 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase. Shattered Love, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Jack Kennedy, won the G1 JLT Novices' Chase in 2018. Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore) was successful in the G1 2016 Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle. And the Pat Kelly-trained Presenting Percy has two Festival victories to his record from two appearances - the 2017 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle and the 2018 G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase.
● If Native River repeats his 2018 triumph, he will become the eighth horse to win more than one Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Golden Miller won it five times, from 1932-36, and Arkle (1964-66), Best Mate (2002-04) and Cottage Rake (1948-50) recorded three victories. Easter Hero (1929-30) and L'Escargot (1970-71) both won twice.
FROST REFLECTS ON FRODON
Bryony Frost was still on cloud nine when reflecting on Frodon's victory in yesterday's G1 £350,000 Ryanair Chase on this morning's The Opening Show on ITV.
Trained by Paul Nicholls, Frost and the seven-year-old son of Nickname made nearly all of the running in the two mile and five furlong event, staying on gamely up the Cheltenham hill to record a length and a quarter-victory.
Frost became the first woman to ride a G1 winner over hurdles or chases at The Festival™ presented by Magners aboard Frodon and she was effusive in her praise of the gelding when discussing yesterday's thrilling success.
She said: "I stopped off with the family to celebrate Frodon's success at the Gloucester services to have a burger and a coke.
"It hasn't quite sunk in yet. I text Clifford [Baker, assistant trainer] to see how Frodon was this morning and he was A1. He was squealing going down to the walker, so he's King Kong in Ditcheat this morning and so he should be!
"It's mad to be on the front pages. The world has just blown up since that win. It's cool as for a little while I can let everyone see it from my eyes and to see what an achievement it is here.
"Frodon's win means a lot. That's not because of who we are or whatever, it is just about the equine athletes and the supremacy of them. To be able to say Frodon is the best and that he won the Ryanair is very special."
Frost is based with Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls and she is hoping for a big run from the progressive Clan Des Obeaux, ridden by Harry Cobden, in today's £625,000 G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm).
She continued: "Clan Des Obeaux has got the class. As soon as he walked into Ditcheat, he was labelled a Gold Cup horse.
"Paul's horses are in great form and it's another big day for the team. He will give it a good shout. OK he has to prove he can win round Cheltenham, but he is a more mature horse now."
Frost rides Brelan D'As in the G3 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (4.50pm) and If You Say Run, both for Nicholls, in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (5.30pm).