Djakadam, Don Cossack and Don Poli occupy the top three places in the betting but Cue Card is just fractions behind in what looks like the most open and impossible to call renewal of the showpiece race in recent memory.
Djakadam could complete a memorable week for owner Rich Ricci and trainer Willie Mullins, who has never won the race, and his form was superbly franked by stable mate Vautour’s win in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.
The two Dons – Cossack trained by Gordon Elliott and Poli for Mullins – have their passionate backers and plenty of claims that make them hard to ignore.
But after a week of stories to remember, from Annie Power’s Champion Hurdle victory to Sprinter Sacre’s Champion Chase comeback, Cue Card could deliver the best possible fairytale ending.
Trainer Tizzard is remarkably laidback about the prospect, considering this is the race he aspires to win more than any other.
Perhaps it’s because his charge has done simply nothing wrong this season, winning the Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase, leaving the Gold Cup the final leg of a Triple Crown, which also carries a seven-figure bonus.
Considering that feat hasn’t been achieved since the mighty Kauto Star nine years ago, the Milborne Port handler could be forgiven for getting carried away.
“I think we have a better chance of winning the Gold Cup than we did of winning the King George, because he likes Cheltenham. He is brilliant around Cheltenham,” he said.
Enhanced odds: Get 16/1 on Djakadam to win the Gold Cup
“It makes me nervous just talking about it because for me it is the best race, the Grand National is probably the biggest but for me the Gold Cup is the best race.
“I used to go to Cheltenham as a young farmer and if I could win the Gold Cup it would be the pinnacle of my training career and you’d never be able to take it away for us.
“The money available is fantastic and it’s a lovely idea to do it, because it’s so rare. It’s fantastic for the stable staff and everybody else to be going in with every chance.”
Ruby Walsh takes the ride on Djakadam fresh from a memorable day which saw him take his tally of career Festival winners to an incredible 51.
His booking, Mullin’s peerless form and a mighty performance in the same race 12 months ago, makes the horse a justified favourite but he did fall when odds-on to win his Gold Cup trial at Cheltenham in January.
Irish trainers delivered in style on St Patrick’s Day – and it wasn’t just Mullins firing in the winners.
Enhanced odds: Get 14/1 on Don Cossack to win the Gold Cup
Going into the final day of racing, they lead their rival British trainers 11-10 in the Prestbury Cup standings with seven races remaining at the Festival, and hopes are high they could maintain that advantage to win the head-to-head battle for the first time.
Tizzard was the sole British trainer to make the winners’ enclosure on Thursday – and he did it in style as favourite Thistlecrack underlined his status as the best staying chaser around to win the feature World Hurdle.
“I’ve spent my whole life running around in these races and nearly got there and finally, finally I’ve got a horse like this. I never thought it would be so easy,” said jockey Tom Scudamore.
“I was always very confident. Once we jumped the last that was fantastic – what a racehorse. He’s the best I’ve sat on and I can say that in public now.”
Time will tell if that’s as good as Tizzard’s week gets – or whether it was merely a tasty hors d’oeruve to Friday’s eagerly-awaited main course.
13:30 Triumph Hurdle Footpad
14:10 County Handicap Hurdle Wait for Me (e/w)
14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Shantou Village
15:30 Cheltenham Gold Cup Cue Card
16:10 Foxhunter Steeple Chase On The Fringer
16:50 Conditional Jockeys Hurdle Ibis du Rheu
17:30 Grand Annual Chase Next Sensation
(all times GMT)
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