The 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup is run over three miles, two furlongs and seventy yards. Last years winner Native River is trying to win it again, but he is currently only third in the market, with Presenting Percy heading the betting, but he hasn’t run over fences since winning the RSA at last years festival, while Clan Des Obeaux who won the King George over Christmas, splits them in the market.
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Presenting Percy won a handicap hurdle at the 2017 festival, and won the RSA over fences last season, so he clearly likes the track. He won a handicap chase over three miles and five furlongs at Fairyhouse in December 2017, and was strong at the finish when winning the RSA, so will have no trouble with the extra two furlongs of the Gold Cup, and is very likely to improve for it. His seven lengths beating of Monalee was impressive but the second was quite free through the race, and while the third Elegant Escape has done well since, he was only just over a length ahead of Ballyoptic that day, and has clearly improved since, so Presenting Percy will need to step up on what he did that day. He clearly has a decent chance, but his current odds of just 7/2 are very skimpy, as there are plenty of others with similar form to him, and some like Native River, Clan Des Obeaux and Might Bite who have achieved more.
Presenting Percy hasn’t run over fences since last years RSA, and indeed has only had one run since, when proving his well being, but not much else when winning over hurdles at Gowran. Just because he’s had winners at the least three festivals, with Presenting Percy having an unconventional program before winning last year, there seems to be this idea his trainer has some magical powers, meaning the lack of a chase run this season isn’t a concern. Before Mall Dini gave him his only two winners in 2015, he’d trained just 11 winners in the previous 8 years. I didn’t hear anyone calling him a genius then, and while he’s clearly done well with the aforementioned Mall Dini and Presenting Percy in the last few seasons, to not class as a negative the fact that Presenting Percy won’t have run over fences in a year, before running in an open grade one for the first time, in the Gold Cup of all races, as many seem to be doing, is ridiculous. I’d also worry if the ground came up near good, as although he won the Pertemps on ground Timeform called good in 2017, he was rated just 146 then, so it’s a long way from Gold Cup form, and he hasn’t run on ground faster than soft since running poorly at that years Punchestown festival, .
Clan Des Obeaux looked fairly exposed as below top class, both in his novice season, and again last year, over trips of around two and a half miles, and didn’t promise to be much better over three miles when third at Aintree last season, before starting this season with a fourth of five at Haydock. His form took a big jump forward next time though with a victory in the King George, and he won easily in a four runner grade two at Ascot last time. I think he’d need to improve on a length and a half defeat of Thistlecrack to win the Gold Cup, and while on one hand the fact he was cantering all over the second for much of the straight, could lead you to conclude he just didn’t do much in front, he had no problem sauntering clear in a slower run race last time, and his improvement this year looks to be more about speed rather than stamina, so it could be the extra trip here will find him out. The improvement this year has come on right handed tracks, that are much flatter than Cheltenham, so he does have to plenty to prove that he can be as a good under likely Gold Cup conditions, when softer ground would be another concern.
Native River won an attritional Gold Cup last season, when he outstayed Might Bite after the last, having looked to be going worse than that one for much of the final mile. The ground was heavy that day, so his second on his comeback at Haydock on good ground was very satisfactory, and it seemed like a strange decision by connections to run him in the King George last time, with three miles around Kempton never likely to suit, especially on good ground. He was predictably off the bridle a long way out, and a few slow jumps put him out of contention, before his stamina kicked in, and he stayed on for third. We already know he’s much better than that, and I don’t buy the suggestions that a few hard races have left their mark on him, as he did all you could reasonable expect of him this season under unsuitable circumstances. He goes fine on good ground it’s just that soft ground draws out his stamina more.
Since falling early in the Irish National last year Kemboy has won all four starts, and ran out a seven and a half length winner in the grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas. The pace was steady that day, and it was the same when he won his only other start over three miles at Limerick last April, so he does need to prove he stays that far in evenly run race, let alone the extra trip at Cheltenham, but that said he looked full of running passing the line at Leopardstown, and although he was in the right place when the pace picked up, there would still have been an energy cost when his jockey moved him from the rear of the field to take up the running with a circuit to go, so the fact he went so easily clear of Monalee, who was upsides him jumping the second last, and had been up with the pace from the off, was hugely impressive. He certainly looked to beat him with at least as much in hand as Presenting Percy had at Cheltenham. If he stays the trip, and he must have a decent chance of doing so, especially on decent ground, then he looks to have as good a chance as any, as he surely has more to come too.
Road To Respect won a handicap at Cheltenham in 2017, and was a twelve length fourth in last years Gold Cup. He didn’t have any real excuses that day, although he was still just a seven year old so it would be reasonable to expect he might have more to come. He won at Down Royal on his first start back this season, before coming third to Kemboy at Leopardstown, but while Monalee had little excuses that day, Road To Respect was hampered after the fourth last and then stumbled badly on the run to the second last, so he did very well to regather and almost get up for second. The slow pace wouldn’t have suited him either, and you could use the lack of pace as an excuse for his narrow defeat to Bellshill last time too. The extra distance at Cheltenham will suit, and he doesn’t need to find an awful lot to have every chance.
Bellshill ran well when third in the 2017 RSA, although no match for Might Bite. He’s only had five runs since, all in Ireland. He would have gone close in the Irish National had he not ran around in front coming to the last, so although the steady pace may not have suited Road To Respect last time, he too should improve for more of a test. He also goes just as well on all ground, and is far from totally exposed.
Might Bite looked a star when winning the RSA in 2017, somehow still winning despite ducking out and almost pulling himself up on the run in. He also looked a star in last years Gold Cup, when he traveled and jumped really well for a long way, but after a prolonged battle with Native River that one had the superior stamina on heavy ground. Might Bite left the impression he would have been an impressive winner on better ground though, and looked the one to beat for this year. Things couldn’t have gone worse for him so far, with a dismal run at Haydock, followed by another very poor effort at Kempton. Connections gave him a full MOT after that but didn’t find anything, so have given him a wind op in the hope that could be the reason. It has to be a worry that they didn’t actually find a problem with his wind, which surely lessens the chances that it is the reason. It seems a leap of faith to expect him to bounce back to his best, but if he does, he would be the one to beat on any ground that wasn’t really soft.
Thistlecrack won the King George in 2016, but that was a very poor renewal and he was all out after the last. You could make a case for saying his jockey kicked for home too soon, but the plaudits he received after that always seemed way over the top, and while it’s a credit to connections to get him back after a few injury hit years, I would use his proximity to Clan Des Obeaux at the finish as a reason to hold down what the winner achieved, rather than thinking Thistlecrack is suddenly a major Gold Cup contender at the age of eleven, over a trip that always looked like it would be past his optimum.
Al Boum Photo looked set for third place when falling two out in last years RSA, but he seems to have improved since then. He won at Fairyhouse, and would have won at Punchestown if his jockey didn’t have a brain freeze on the run to the last. He was an impressive winner at Tramore on his only run since. This is a big step up in class, on only his second start outside novice company, but he does still have the potential to improve more.
Frodon has a great record carrying big weights in handicap chases, while not looking good enough at grade one level. He did win the grade two Cotswold Chase last time though, and although he looked to be tying up after the last, he seemed to find more close home when Elegant Escape came to his quarters, so it could be he was idling slightly, rather than running out of stamina, and although that race was officially meant to be run over just over a furlong shorter than the Gold Cup trip, it was actually run over about three miles and two furlongs, so he doesn’t have much further to go at all. Softer ground could make the test too much for him though, and he doesn’t really look good enough anyway.
Elegant Escape has improved this year, and he really relished the stamina test of the Welsh National. He found the drop back to shorter against him last time, and looked like dropping away on the run down the hill, having sat close to Frodon in the earlier parts of the race. His stamina kicked in from the last bend though, and he stayed on well. You would imagine he wouldn’t be good enough in a Gold Cup on decent ground, but if it came up very soft, or heavy like last year, then he would come right into the mix. Monalee doesn’t look good enough, and doesn’t look likely to appreciate the extra trip either. He would surely be better off going for the Ryanair.
Presenting Percy and Clan Des Obeaux clearly both have a decent chance of winning the Gold Cup, but I couldn’t have either at current odds of just 7/2 and 9/2. I’d make Native River fractional favourite at the moment, and wouldn’t put anyone off the current 6/1, but I’d rather wait until I know what the ground is like, and the same applies to Kemboy who looks a fair price at 10/1. Might Bite at 16/1 non runner no bet could be worth a nibble though. Yes he could blow out again, but you would imagine unless connections are very happy with him at home, and they have had a few months to get him right, then they won’t run him, and under those circumstances 16/1 looks very big about a horse who on his best looks the most talented in the race. If he came back to the form he was in just three starts ago, but this time on slightly better ground, he would take an a lot of beating. I would just back him win only given the concerns though.
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