The Cheltenham Gold looms ever closer and there are now just 28 runners left that can win National Hunt Racings most coveted prize. In many ways the situation has not changed from last year, Kauto Star went into the race as favourite after having won the King George Chase in his race previously and guess what ? – it is exactly the same this time around. Questions were raised about his ability to stave off his much heralded stable mate Denman, who came into the race as second favourite and guess what - it is the same again, but this time of course Denman has been far less convincing than 12 months ago. Nonetheless their trainer, Paul Nicholls is keen that the two battle it out again.
There were few who thought that Denman could ever get beaten after his highly impressive victory in the race last season, but a fibrillating heart and a long lay off has clearly taken a huge toll on him as was evidenced in his defeat in the Levy Board Chase last week at Kempton Park behind Madison Du Berlais.
Bookmakers are reporting widespread desertions on the 2008 winner and increasing support for Kauto Star as well as last years third, Neptune Collonges, also trained by Nicholls. Denman appears friendless and it looks like stable jockey at the Paul Nicholls Ditcheat yard, Ruby Walsh will ride Kauto Star, like he did last year.
David Pipe, who trains Madison Du Berlais is confident that his horse can improve for the run and will go into the race with huge potential. Do not forget that Madison is the only horse ever to have beaten Denman over fences and it was by such a wide margin that it is seriously difficult to see Denman being able to make that up. Madison Du Berlais is being shortened for the race all the time and is now 8-1 fourth favourite in the Gold Cup Betting. He is one of four entries from the Pipe stable.
Others still very much in the equation is the Jonjo O’Neill trained, Exotic Dancer, who, last time out won the Lexus Chase in Ireland, a race in which Gold Cup third favourite, Neptune Collonges fell at the last when leading, but was looking beaten at the time. O’Neill claims that Exotic Dancer has never been better and a big run is expected.
Notre Pere is an interesting entry. Winner of the Welsh Grand National has to be considered for the Gold Cup if the going is on the soft side. He is a well known mud lover and has the staying pace to get him up the Cheltenham hill. With odds of 25-1 he has to be worth an each way bet.
In addition to Denman, Kauto and Neptune, Nicholls has four others in the field, they are Star De Mohaison, Big Bucks, My Will and Nozic. From these a winner is unlikely but there has many who rate Big Bucks as a potential future Gold Cup winner and he might just have the class to get himself into the frame. Again at odds of 66-1 he has to be worth an each way flutter.