Saturday, March 9, 2019 - Dual Festival hero Presenting Percy and this season's G1 32Red King George VI Chase victor Clan Des Obeaux headline 20 six-day confirmations for the £625,000 G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, the centrepiece of Gold Cup Day at The Festival™ presented by Magners, Friday, March 15.
Presenting Percy captured the 2017 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle and the 2018 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase, although the eight-year-old has yet to race over fences this season and is trying to emulate the great Easter Hero in 1929 by winning chasing's Blue Riband on his first chase start of a campaign.
Trained by Pat Kelly in County Galway, Ireland, Presenting Percy has made one appearance this season, winning the G2 John Mulhern Galway Hurdle at Gowran Park on January 24.
Somerset-based Paul Nicholls is seeking a record-equalling fifth Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, staged over three and a quarter miles, with Clan Des Obeaux, who followed up his Kempton Park success on Boxing Day with a stylish victory in the rearranged G2 Betfair Denman Chase at Ascot on February 16.
If successful in 2019, Nicholls would join the late Tom Dreaper as the most successful trainer ever in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The handler could also be represented in Friday's highlight by Cheltenham specialist Frodon, who has won the latest two renewals of the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at The International and was last seen when successful in the G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, January 26, though Nicholls indicated this afternoon that Frodon is more likely to run in the previous day's G1 Ryanair Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
Native River (Colin Tizzard) beat Might Bite (Nicky Henderson) in a pulsating finish to last year's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, although both horses return to Cheltenham without a victory this season.
Native River was runner-up to Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies) in the G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November, and finished third to Clan Des Obeaux at Kempton Park, while Might Bite was last to complete in both races.
Richard Johnson, Native River's jockey, reported: "Native River is in good nick and it would be nice if the ground was good to soft or soft.
"There is rain forecast and I am sure the course will be slightly on the slow side anyway, but obviously the softer the ground the better as it will bring his stamina into play."
As well as Native River, Colin Tizzard is set to be represented by G3 Coral Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape, second to Frodon in the BetBright Cotswold Trial Chase and Thistlecrack, the 2016 Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle winner who was runner-up to Clan Des Obeaux at Kempton Park when last seen out.
Willie Mullins has yet to win the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, having sent out the runner-up on six occasions. Ireland's champion Jump trainer and the most successful handler of all time at The Festival has four possible starters this year, headed by G1 Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill and G1 Savills Chase winner Kemboy.
Invitation Only, who defied a big weight to land the competitive Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park in January, and Al Boum Photo, successful on his only start so far this season in a Listed chase at Tramore on New Year's Day, complete the Mullins-trained quartet.
Exactly half of the six-day confirmations, 10, are trained in Ireland. In addition to Presenting Percy and Willie Mullins' four contenders, the Irish-trained contingent also includes the mare Shattered Love (Gordon Elliott).
Successful in the G1 JLT Novices' Chase at The Festival in 2018, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned eight-year-old would be bidding to become just the fifth mare to win the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and the first since the great Dawn Run in 1986. Last year's third Anibale Fly (Tony Martin) is also among the strong Irish challenge.
Definitly Red (Brian Ellison) came home sixth behind Native River 12 months' ago. He has won two of his three starts so far in the 2018/19 campaign, with a pair of G2 successes at Wetherby and Aintree.
Trainer Brian Ellison said: "Everything is fine for Definitly Red.
"The lack of pace last time (when second in the Malcolm Jefferson Memorial Chase at Kelso on February 14) just didn't suit him and that won't be a problem at Cheltenham.
"He goes for the Gold Cup good and fresh - we are looking forward to running him."
1.30pm £125,000 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m 179y (MAX 22 RUNNERS)
Joseph O'Brien oversaw the preparation of 2016 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle Ivanovich Gorbatov, who was officially trained by his father Aidan, but the County Kilkenny handler could gain a first victory under his own name at The Festival with Sir Erec, who headlines 25 confirmations for the four-year-old hurdling championship.
Sir Erec is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles, both at Leopardstown, including the G1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle on February 3. He was also a smart performer on the Flat in 2018, ending his campaign by taking third in the G2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October.
Joseph O'Brien said: "Sir Erec had a stone bruise earlier this week, but we are confident that he will recover and be fine for the race. Sir Erec was very impressive at Leopardstown last time. He jumped very well and whilst he did have the run of the race, we were still delighted with his performance.
"He has a great attitude and has adapted to hurdling very well this term. He was a very good Flat horse and we're looking forward to running him.
"Sir Erec is quite versatile in terms of the ground. He has form on soft ground on the Flat and if the rain continued to fall, that would not be too much of an issue for him. I think the Triumph Hurdle is a very competitive race and there are any number of horses who could put it up to him. He's in good shape and we wouldn't swap him for anything."
O'Brien could also be represented by Band Of Outlaws, Fakir d'Oudairies and Gardens Of Babylon.
The leading British-trained contenders include the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Quel Destin, winner of the G1 Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, and Pic D'Orhy, who has yet to start in Britain, but was very smart when trained in France, including when runner-up in G1 company.
2.10pm £100,000 G3 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle 2m179y (MAX 26 RUNNERS)
Last year's winner Mohaayed (Dan Skelton, 11st 5lb) features among 45 confirmations for the G3 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle
Irish trainers have won eight of the last 12 runnings of the fiercely competitive race and there are 11 remaining entries from Ireland, headed by Uradel (Willie Mullins), runner-up on the Flat in Cesarewitch on the Flat at Newmarket last year and a promising fifth on his return to hurdling in the valuable Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown in February.
2.50pm £125,000 G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 2m 7f 213y (MAX 20 RUNNERS)
Commander Of Fleet, trained by Gordon Elliott and owned by Gigginstown House Stud, features among a bumper 43 horses going forward in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
Commander Of Fleet has already scored at G1 level, having landed the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 2.
The British-trained challenged is headed by Lisnagar Oscar (Rebecca Curtis), who could not have been more impressive when defeating Ask Ben (Graeme McPherson) by 10 lengths in the G2 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices' Hurdle at Haydock Park on February 16.
4.10pm £45,000 St James's Place Foxhunter Chase 3m 2f 70y (MAX 24 RUNNERS)
Pacha Du Polder (Paul Nicholls) headlines 26 confirmations for the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase. The 12-year-old is aiming for an unprecedented third victory in the race following wins in 2017 and 2018.
Also going forward are Top Wood (Kelly Morgan), the neck runner-up in 2018, while the leading Irish-trained hopes include Stand Up And Fight (Enda Bolger) and Ucello Conti (Gordon Elliott).
4.50pm £110,000 G3 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase 2m 62y (MAX 20 RUNNERS)
Paul Nicholls has won two of the last three renewals of the G3 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase and the 10-times champion Jump trainer has another strong contender this year in recent Wincanton scorer Magic Saint (11st 5lb), who is one of 41 horses going forward.
The handler has also left in last year's winner Le Prezien (11st 7lb) and recent Fakenham scorer Brelan d'As (10st 6lb).
Reigning British champion Jump trainer Nicky Henderson has two contenders for the race named in honour of his late father - last year's fourth Theinval (11st 2lb) and Whatswrongwithyou (11st 1lb), an easy winner on his last two starts in novice company.
5.30pm £70,000 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4f 56y (MAX 24 RUNNERS)
Dallas Des Pictons (11st 5lb), a valuable handicap hurdle winner at Leopardstown on February 3, will be aiming to provide Gordon Elliott with a third straight victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.
Elliott is responsible for eight of the 65 confirmations, including Cartright (11st 2lb), while other leading contenders include Uradel (Willie Mullins, 11st 2lb) and top-weight Early Doors (Joseph O'Brien, 11st 10lb)
Latest Going News
The going remains Good to Soft, Soft in places on all courses at Cheltenham.
The forecast is for conditions to remain unsettled, with plenty of rain around.
Cheltenham Racecourse is situated in Prestbury on the northern outskirts of the historic spa town of Cheltenham. The Home of Jump Racing, Cheltenham Racecourse is the venue for the world's pre-eminent Jump meeting. The Festival™ presented by Magners, which happens in March over four days every year, next takes place from Tuesday, March 12, to Friday, March 15, 2019 inclusive and tickets are on sale. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham Racecourse is a stunning natural arena and offers the highest-quality action throughout the Jump season.
About The Jockey Club
Cheltenham is part of The Jockey Club which stages thrilling sporting occasions including The Randox Health Grand National, The Festival™ presented by Magners and The Investec Derby. Millions of people every year enjoy the special experiences The Jockey Club offers through racing, music, food and entertainment. Governed by Royal Charter, every penny made goes back into British Racing to help the sport thrive. The Jockey Club was founded in 1750 and today is the largest commercial group in Britain's second-biggest spectator sport, operating 15 racecourses nationwide, The National Stud, Jockey Club Estates, Jockey Club Catering, Jockey Club Live and the charity, Racing Welfare. For more information, visit www.thejockeyclub.co.uk
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