Cheltenham Gold Cup, Friday 17th March

Thistlecrack goes into this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup on the brink of being a real superstar in the sport. A victory at Prestbury Park in the biggest race of the meeting would certainly help him reach that territory.

Colin Tizzard’s novice chaser is the one they all have to beat on the back of his run in the King George VI Chase where he looked like a machine around Kempton. Once jockey Tom Scudamore pressed the button on his horse, he showed an incredible turn of foot to stretch away from the multiple-Group One winner Cue Card, two-time King George Champion Silviniaco Conti and a couple of very good horses in Tea For Two and Josses Hill.

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At the start of the season there were a few question marks asked about whether Thistlecrack would be just as good over fences than he was jumping hurdles but he has more than answered those. At this stage, it is hard to look past the eight-year-old who is now evens in the horse racing betting for the Gold Cup.

Thistlecrack’s nearest rival in the betting is his stable Native River. He won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury back in November and recently prevailed in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow. He had to carry top weight at the Welsh track and did so in a brave run from the front where he outstayed his rivals at the Christmas meeting.

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There can be no stamina doubts over whether Native River will stay the 3m2f trip at Cheltenham. At the Festival in 2016 he ran in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup over 3m7f. He just found Minella Rocco too good for him on that occasion at Prestbury Park. He is now rated 168 by the handicapper so it is difficult to see him run in any more handicaps anytime soon. He may not just have the class to win a Gold Cup but he can certainly pick up some place money as he will be staying on when others have cried enough.

Djakadam will be one of a number of Irish horses making the trip across for the meeting. He was second in 2016 and has been the bridesmaid often. He had a good win in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown earlier in the campaign and was third in the Lexus Chase. He is a consistent horse who will also have a big chance of finishing in the frame again. Any rain will help his chances as he prefers a bit of juice in the ground.

Last year’s winner Don Cossack retirement was announced today so he’s out of the picture.

Thistlecrack is set to go off as one of the shortest price favourites in a long time so punters may have to decide if they want to take the skinny odds on the novice or to take the field against Tizzard’s King George winner and hope he makes a mistake.