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.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2016

The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured nine runners, but looked competitive enough, with the bookmakers betting 9/4 Don Cossack, 5/2 Cue Card, 9/2 Djakadam and Don Poli and 10/1 bar that quartet. Cue Card, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Paddy Brennan, was travelling well in a share of the lead when falling at the third-last fence but, thereafter, the finish was dominated by the other three market leaders.

Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper, had won his last six completed starts and had only been 2 lengths down, and staying on, when falling at the second-last when favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, won by Cue Card, the previous Boxing Day. The nine-year-old appeared, on paper, to fully deserve his position at the head of the market and so it proved in the race.

Bearing the familiar maroon and white colours of Gigginstown House Stud, Don Cossack raced prominently throughout and, after taking the lead at the third-last fence, took command on the run-in and only had to be pushed out to win by 4½ lengths. The luckless Djakadam, who might have finished a little closer but for ‘fiddling’ the penultimate obstacle, finished runner-up for the second year running and Don Poli – wearing the second colours of Gigginstown House Stud, but trained, like Djakadam, by Willie Mullins – completed an Irish-trained 1-2-3.

Don Cossack was a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliot, who later admitted that he had ‘never been so nervous’ in his life, but a second for Gigginstown House Stud, following the victory of War Of Attrition, trained by Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, a decade earlier. On his retirement, due to injury, the following January, Elliot called Don Cossack ‘a horse of a lifetime’.

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