2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup once again featured the first, second and third from the 2018 renewal, namely Native River, Might Bite and Anibale Fly, but having mixed fortunes since, started at odds of 6/1, 14/1 and 22/1, respectively. Despite not having run over fences since winning the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival twelve months previously, Presenting Percy, trained in Co. Westmeath by Patrick Kelly, started favourite at 100/30.

However, Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins, once again, saddled four runners in an attempt to finally end his Gold Cup ‘hoodoo’ and improve on his unenviable record of six second-place finishes in the ‘Blue Riband’ event. It turned out to be a bitter-sweet race for Mullins; three of his charges, including failed to finish, but the fourth, 12/1 chance Al Boum Photo – who was, by his own admission, only his ‘third or fourth choice’ – produced the run of his life under jockey Paul Townend to win by 2½ lengths.

Anibale Fly was placed again, finishing to good effect to fill second place and Bristol De Mai, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, took third place, a further 3¾ lengths away. Presenting Percy, attempting to become the first horse for nearly 90 years to win the Gold Cup without a preparatory race over fences, went lame, Native River was as game as ever, but never really travelling on going probably slightly faster than ideal and King George VI Chase winner Clan des Obeaux appeared not to get home over the extra two-and-a-half furlongs.

As a footnote, victory for Al Boum Photo also provided redemption for Townend, who had inexplicably elected to go around, rather than jump, the final fence on the same horse in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown the previous April, thereby denying connections €59,000 in prize money.

2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Beforehand, the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup had looked to revolve around Might Bite, trained by Nicky Henderson, and Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard. However, late support for Our Duke, trained by Jessica Harrington – who had won the race, at her first attempt, with Sizing John in 2017 – forced his price into 9/2, between Might Bite at 4/1 and Native River at 5/1. Nevertheless, the race was dominated by Native River and Might Bite, was widely predicted, and backers of Our Duke were resigned to their fate soon after halfway. The former Irish Grand National winner was never travelling after mistakes at the eleventh and thirteenth fences and gradually lost his position before being pulled up after the fourth-last fence, at the top of the hill.

Meanwhile, Native River made virtually all the running, but was pressed by Might Bite throughout and, together, they turned the race into an extreme test of stamina, especially on the prevailing soft going. In what effectively turned into a match between the leaders, Might Bite took a narrow lead between the final two fences, but Native River regained the advantage at the final obstacle and galloped on resolutely, ultimately outstaying his rival in the final hundred yards or so, to win by 4½ lengths. Might Bite finished a highly creditable second, especially on going that favoured the winner, with outsider Anibale Fly, trained by Tony Martin, emerging as ‘best of the rest’ in third place, a further 4 lengths away.

Winning jockey Richard Johnson fell foul of the stewards, for a breach of the whip rules, which cost him £6,550 – the equivalent of 1.8% of the winning prize money – and a seven-day riding ban. Nevertheless, Native River delivered a dominant performance and, Might Bite aside, none of his rivals made any real impact. Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins – still trying to win his first Cheltenham Gold Cup – saddled four runners, but Killultagh Vic, Bachasson and Total Recall all failed to finish and Djakadam, the outsider of the quartet at 25/1, could only manage fifth, beaten over 20 lengths.

2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup had the distinction of being won by Sizing John, a seven-year-old trained by Jessica Harrington who, at the age of 70, was saddling his first runner in the ‘Blue Riband’ event after 38 years in the training ranks. Remarkably, the winner was having just his fourth start for the yard, having previously been trained by Henry De Bromhead, and was attempting a distance beyond two-and-a-half miles for just the second time in his career. However, Sizing John had won the Grade One Irish Gold Cup, over an extended three miles, at Leopardstown – in which he narrowly accounted for Empire Of Dirt and 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup third Don Poli – the previous month so, while slight stamina doubts lingered, he looked far from a forlorn hope. Indeed, he was sent off fourth favourite at 7/1.

Favourite, though, was Willie Mullins’ Djakadam, who was attempting to make it ‘third time lucky’ after finishing second in the previous two renewals. Djakadam, once again, made a bold bid, travelling well until making a mistake at the second-last fence, after which he was always fighting a losing battle against Sizing John. To his credit, he kept trying and eventually finished a creditable fourth, 3¼ lengths behind the winner, but only half a length out of third place.

Sizing John travelled similarly well throughout under jockey Robbie Power – who was having his first ride in the race – and took a decisive, 3-length lead at the final fence, which he never relinquished. The largely unconsidered Minella Rocco, in the familiar green and gold hoops of J.P. McManus, finished strongly to deny Welsh National winner Native River of third place, by a short head, in the dying stride, but never really looked like getting on terms with Sizing John. The other fancied horse, Cue Card, who was sent off third favourite at 9/2, bit the dust at the third-last fence for the second year running, but had yet to make any real impression on the leaders.

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