The 2018 Cheltenham Festival is barely in the books and traders are already looking ahead to the 2019 renewal of the historic Grade One Gold Cup. First run in 1924 and won by Red Splash at 5/1, the race has gone from strength to strength since, with the latest renewal carrying a staggering £575,000 prize pot – over £320,000 of that going to the winner.
Native River delighted connections in the spring of 2018 when delivering the cheque, coming home victorious over three miles, two furlongs, ahead of Might Bite and Anibale Fly. The champion horse and jockey Richard Johnson secured their place in history with an incredible 4 ½ length lead over SP favourite Might Bite and it was nothing short of what the duo deserved.
Trainer Colin Tizzard and the owners who make up Brocade Racing weren’t the only ones celebrating a cash windfall with those who were shrewd enough to back Native River before the off landing a mighty 5/1. Anibale Fly surprised a few when grabbing bronze at 33/1.
That success took Native River’s recent record to two wins from his last two starts and five from six, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be back to defend his honour in 2019. If the talented eight-year-old gelding is to return for another crack at it backers will find an interesting 8/1 available about two-in-a-row. That price has him third favourite in the betting behind a couple who are out for revenge at Prestbury Park, so many will be using William Hill's bet £10 get £30 available through Oddschecker to protect their pick. These horses will be looking to take the throne this time around.
Presenting Percy early favourite with odds-makers
If the odds-makers are to be believed, we’ll see Presenting Percy crowned the 91st winner of the race with the popular bay currently doing the rounds as a 6/1 jolly across the board. Judging the ante-post favourite on recent form alone, it’s incredibly difficult to argue against that stance, with his CV currently showing nine wins and three placed efforts from 17 starts.
Ending second on debut at Punchestown in a two-mile flat race behind Battleford for Team Mullins, it was obvious to race fans with a keen eye that they had witnessed the birth of a future star and it didn’t take Presenting Percy long to prove them right either. He went and won next time out at Ballinrobe when stretched out to 2m 1f and it was a result everyone saw coming, especially bookies who had the victor at 1/2 when trotting to post.
With the monkey off their back, it then took the Percy team another six months before they would taste champagne again. Scoring around Galway in the autumn of 2010, he kicked on to win races at the likes of Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January of this year.
Two from two at Cheltenham Festival
Success against a Gloucestershire backdrop is certainly nothing new to the seven-year-old either with each of his first two visits to Cheltenham resulting in a pay-out. He won the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at the festival in 2017, beating silver medallist Barney Dwan by a considerable margin in the listed race decided over 2m 7f.
Considered little more than an also-ran by the market that day, backers found Presenting Percy as big as 11/1 in the build-up, but the horse didn’t know his price and jockey Davy Russell didn’t care too much for the opinions of so-called experts either. The pair timed their attack to perfection, waiting patiently in the wings before passing beaten horses at the midway stage and keeping enough in reserve to kick on and hit the front at the business end of the argument.
Having nothing to aim at when ahead seemed to steal a bit of the horse’s concentration but, in Russell, he had an experienced pilot on board who knew enough to shake his mount to life and charge for the line. The fact the winner was quick to respond showed he had plenty left in the tank and that was jotted down in the notebooks of punters.
Three-mile-plus novice chaser champion
turning to the Cheltenham Festival 12 months later, Presenting Percy doubled up when cementing the RSA Insurance Novices Chase on the Wednesday afternoon. As this was a Grade One over three miles, there were question marks hanging over his ability to handle a step up in both trip and class, but it proved to be no obstacle to his progress.
Percy was an eye-catching winner when crossing the line seven lengths ahead of nearest rival Monalee. Traders had the victor marked as pre-race favourite with his price attracting support all day and shortening in the build-up. Not many favourites are weighed in as convincing winners on Cheltenham Festival week but those who had their stake money riding on Pat Kelly had a comfortable watch as they cheered their boy home.
He has since been crowned three-mile-plus novice chaser champion after being rated 165 by the BHA head of handicapping, Phil Smith, when chairing his 19th and final round of classifications.
Might Bite to get things right
Might Bite was starting-price favourite at the 2018 Timico Gold Cup when carrying a 4/1 price tag but the gritty ten-year-old was unable to build on his ten career wins from 16 tries when coming off second best to Native River.
Nico de Boinville sat in the saddle and carried the burden of being the race’s most popular selection among both ante-post and on the day backers, but he failed to land a blow on the race winner when it mattered most.
With the battle swinging back-and-forth, Nicky Henderson’s hopeful took hold two from home and in-running backers were piling their cash on as he was travelling the better of the main contenders, but an error in the closing exchanges didn’t help his cause, with the second edging right and losing ground on his rival.
That loss took the nine-year-old’s course record to two wins against three defeats. Those victories came in a 2m 4f novices hurdle early in 2015 and in the RSA Novices Chase at the 2017 festival, holding off Whisper a nose when 7/2 favourite.
An exhibition round of jumping
Owned by The Knot Again Partnership, the striking bay gelding didn’t dwell on the Gold Cup disappointment but instead responded with a quick-fire return to the winner’s enclosure. Thrown into the Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree in April, he again carried market support and the weight of an odds-on label but did his bit for favourite-backers when beating Bristol De Mai by a stunning seven lengths.
Again under the ride of de Boinville, the 28-year-old jock left nothing to chance on this occasion when recovering from a couple of early mistakes to push his mount hard to the line with the pair oozing class on a strong run-in that left the chasing pack for dust.
Speaking to the waiting media after collecting his prize, the four-time British jump racing champion trainer admitted it was a brave move from all concerned, throwing Might Bite back in at the deep end so soon after that Cheltenham near-miss but he was full of praise for how his charge responded. Picking out jumping for praise, the expert eye dubbed it an exhibition round with race fans hard-pressed to see better under the circumstances.
Jason Coote is the founder of many websites and known gambler in Great Britain.