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2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup betting tips: Ante-post preview of the Cheltenham Festival showpiece

Native River can go close in the 2018 Gold Cup. (credit: GettyImages)

Brian Healy assesses the early entrants for the Cheltenham Festival Friday showpiece, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Can Sizing John defend his crown?

Arguably the most anticipated race of the entire Cheltenham Festival week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup goes to post at 3.30pm on Festival Friday, and the top-class Grade One contest is sure to boast another fantastic field for the chasing Blue Riband.

Boasting a winners’ prize in excess of £350,000, the extended 3m 2f contest has a rich roll-call of winners, and the seasonal chasing highlight draws massive interest from around the globe to bear witness to another competitive and spellbinding spectacle between the very best staying chasers.

Jessica Harrington won the 2017 renewal with her Sizing John (6/1, William Hill) who will return in defence of his crown; but having brushed aside Djakadam on his return to win the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, the Midnight Legend gelding finished distressed when crossing the line a well-beaten seventh behind Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase.

He is better than he showed that day, and if bouncing back to his best then he ought to go close. The second Harrington runner, Our Duke (9/1, Paddy Power) meanwhile arrives on the back of a win over Presenting Percy in the recent Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

The Oscar gelding had looked set to go close in his previous outing in the Irish Gold Cup where he was still travelling well when making a shuddering mistake two out. That blunder robbed him of momentum, and he never recovered.

He also made a bad mistake last time out at Gowran Park, and his jumping will have to stand up to a searching examination at Cheltenham. If he can avoid mistakes then he ought to post a big effort, but he can throw in a bad one and that has to be a concern for supporters.

2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John will bid to defend his crown in the Festival showpiece.

Similarly, Coney Island (33/1, Paddy Power) boasts some very solid form in novice company last term, beating the likes of Anibale Fly (33/1, William Hill) and Road To Respect to win the Drinmore Novices’ Chase prior to finishing just one length in arrears of Our Duke in the Neville Hotels Novices’ Chase.

Having scored easily on his return in a three-runner race at Ascot, Eddie Harty’s charge wasn’t unfancied for the recent Ascot Chase; but he never jumped or travelled in that contest off the fast and furious pace set by Cue Card, and he pulled-up mid-race.

It was a disappointing run from the Flemensfirth gelding who would need to jump much better than he did in that contest if he were to have any chance of landing this big prize.

Harty’s charge could be just one of a number of runners in the race which could also feature last year’s runner-up in Minella Rocco (20/1, Coral) who hasn’t fired in four starts this term, including when beaten and falling behind surprise winner Edwulf (25/1, William Hill) in the Irish Gold Cup.

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge has the talent to go close, as he showed twelve months ago; but he is a moody performer and much will depend on whether he fancies giving his best effort.

Edwulf meanwhile almost lost his life at this meeting last year, collapsing on the run-in when contesting the National Hunt Chase; but slowly nursed back to health, he put behind him a couple of lesser runs to land a big-prices shock in the Irish Gold Cup.

Enigmatic Minella Rocco finished runner-up in last year's renewal.

He beat established Grade One performers such as Outlander and Djakadam, but he will have to back up that run now; while Killultagh Vic (10/1, Coral) looked set to win when taking up the running before the last fence only to fall.

Willie Mullins’ charge had won both chase starts in the 2015/16, overcoming a bad blunder to score in a Leopardstown Grade Two contest. However, he was absent for almost two years before making a winning return over hurdles at Punchestown prior to that near-miss.

If none the worse for that spill, which looked a heavy fall, then he is another for whom a case could be made.  

Like JP McManus, the maroon silks of Gigginstown House Stud could be carried by several representatives, headed by Road To Respect (10/1, Unibet) who won last season’s Brown Advisory Plate prior to beating Yorkhill to win a first Grade One at Fairyhouse.

Noel Meade’s charge has won two of his three starts this term, but he suffered a reversal in the Champion Chase behind Outlander. Subsequently back on track when beating Balko Des Flos (50/1, William Hill) in the Christmas Hurdle, he ought to give a good account although the form of the Noel Meade yard continues to give cause for concern.

The famous colours could also be carried by Outlander (33/1, Unibet) who chased home Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup having finished third to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase.

The Stowaway gelding can make the odd mistake, but he’s a talented sort who could well outrun his big odds, and he didn’t disgrace himself in the race twelve months ago despite a back injury which curtailed his jumping.

Balko Des Flos, Valseur Lido (50/1, Betway) and Sub Lieutenant (50/1, Paddy Power) are other Gigginstown entries, but the trio look to face big tests if pitching up in the Blue Riband.

Might Bite (4/1, Paddy Power) has been heading the ante-post market for some time now, and Nicky Henderson’s charge is unbeaten over fences since falling when clear in last season’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

He has since scored in the RSA Chase twelve months ago, as well as landing further Grade Ones at Aintree and back at Kempton when taking the King George VI Chase from Double Shuffle.

RSA Chase winners have a good record when stepping into the Gold Cup, and while he showed plenty of quirks last term - he almost pulled himself up when clear in the RSA Chase - he looks much more straightforward now.

This is his toughest test to date, while he tries this trip for the first time; but the progressive Scorpion gelding can’t be ruled out from adding another big prize to his collection.

Might Bite heads the ante-post betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Djakadam (33/1, William Hill) has had a few bites of the Gold Cup cherry now, and there is a slight suspicion that this stiff uphill finish just stretches the stamina of the Saint Des Saints gelding.

He is a classy short though who should continue to give a good account, although he must be fed up now of being beaten by Sizing John; having finished fourth in this last year, he twice finished runner-up to Jessica Harrington’s charge in subsequent outings.

Pulled up in the Christmas Chase, he ran a better race to post a highly creditable third in the Irish Gold Cup; but beaten ten lengths there, he could prove vulnerable again taking in this race.

Willie Mullins perhaps surprisingly has thrust Total Recall (16/1, Coral) into the Gold Cup picture, but the Westerner gelding is entitled to take his chance following wins at Limerick and Newbury over fences - the latter in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase where he beat Whisper - and he produced an excellent performance back over hurdles to score at Leopardstown.

This is a considerably tougher assignment, but he looks progressive and ought to give a good account; while Bachasson (50/1, William Hill) has won his last three over fences, which include Listed races at Thurles and Tramore.

The Voix Du Nord gelding has only once contested over three miles, when falling behind Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Albert Bartlett; he would have to rate a doubtful stayer at this trip, and the Ryanair Chase may prove his Festival target.

Cue Card (33/1, William Hill) isn’t a certain runner with connections still to decide whether the King’s Theatre gelding and stalwart of Colin Tizzard’s yard takes his chance in the race where he has fallen the last two years.

Colin Tizzard saddles Native River in the Gold Cup, looking to better his third in the race last year.

While he ran back to his best in the Ascot Chase, his best days may be behind him now; however NATIVE RIVER (6/1, Paddy Power) could well improve on his third-place finish in last season’s renewal.

The Tizzard runner has improved markedly since winning a maiden Grade One at Aintree back in April 2016, and following a narrow defeat over hurdles on his return to action he reeled off a hat-trick of wins which included a mammoth weight-bearing performance to win the Welsh Grand National.

Having then won the Denman Chase impressively, the Indian River gelding did little wrong when finishing third in this race twelve months ago where the drying ground possibly just caught him out. He had also had a relatively hard season, having had a run every month up until the Festival.

He arrives here a much fresher horse, having made a taking return to action in this season’s Denman Chase where he beat Cloudy Dream by twelve lengths, with the returning Saphir Du Rheu (100/1, BetVictor) further behind. Ruth Jefferson’s charge is no mug, although he is arguably better over shorter given the way he travelled well into the race before finding little for pressure; while Saphir Du Rheu probably needed the run.

It was hard not to have been impressed by the manner of Native River’s own performance where he jumped well and travelled strongly throughout; he only needed to be pushed out to score readily, and if building on that outing then there appears no reason why he can’t improve on last season’s third.

Saphir Du Rheu meanwhile ought to strip fitter for that run, and he ran well for fifth in this race twelve months ago. He can give a good account, although whether he is a bona-fide Grade One performer is debatable. 

Definitely Red (16/1, Coral) will find this tougher than the Cotswold Chase he won over this course in January, beating American; but Brian Ellison’s charge is well worth his place in this line-up, and his earlier defeat of Cloudy Dream entitles him to respect.

He has contested before at the Festival, falling behind Minella Rocco in the 2016 National Hunt Chase; but he has been more assured with his jumping, and while he needs to find a jolt of improvement stepping into another white-hot Cheltenham Gold Cup, he can give a good account.

Double Shuffle (40/1, Unibet) ran his heart out when chasing home Might Bite at Kempton last time, beating Tea For Two (66/1, William Hill) and Thistlecrack. However, Tom George’s charge has been the bridesmaid on several occasions now, and he was possibly flattered by his proximity to the Gold Cup ante-post favourite given that one appeared to idle on the run-in.

Nick Williams’ Tea For Two meanwhile has yet to show his true form at this venue in three starts, twice pulling up which include last time out in the Cotswold Chase.

The Kayf Tara gelding has done most of his winnng on flatter tracks, and the undulations of Cheltenham may again see him struggle.

Tea For Two has disappointed on all starts at Cheltenham, and Nick Williams' charge could struggle again.

It is hard to make a case for Mala Beach (100/1, Unibet), who pulled up last time behidn Edwulf; Shantou Flyer (100/1, BetVictor) who was beaten at Kelso in the Ivan Straker Chase; or Tenor Nivernais (150/1, Unibet) who failed to beat a rival last time out as winners of this race.

The Last Samurai (66/1, William Hill) meanwhile may miss out on a tilt at this race in favour of another crack at the Grand National. Fourth to Definitely Red in the Cotswold Chase last time, he would need to improve a good deal to win this.


A back-to-form Sizing John would surely go close in defence of his crown, while stablemate Our Duke can be given solid claims if jumping better; Coney Island blotted his copybook with a poor display of jumping last time at Ascot, while Djakadam has come up short in the past three renewals of this race.

Might Bite has to prove stamina over the extra quarter-mile, while there is always a risk that the quirks which saw him almost throw away the RSA Chase twelve months ago may resurface. The most solid option then, assuming this doesn’t come too soon, looks to lie with NATIVE RIVER (6/1, Paddy Power) who made a very pleasing return to action following a break when beating Cloudy Dream to win a second Denman Chase.

Colin Tizzard’s charge finished third in the Gold Cup twelve months ago, where the combination of a relatively busy season and the quicker ground may just have taken the edge off the Indian River gelding.

He arrives here much fresher than twelve months ago, and so long as the ground doesn’t dry out considerably then he ought to post another big effort. He is a horse who doesn’t know when he is beaten, and he looks solid each-way material in what looks a pretty open renewal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him firmly in the mix once again.


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2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup betting tips: Ante-post preview of the Cheltenham Festival showpiece

Brian Healy assesses the early entrants for the Cheltenham Festival Friday showpiece, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Can Sizing John defend his crown?

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