Might Bite leads way as 38 stand ground for Cheltenham Gold Cup
The countdown is on to this season's Cheltenham Festival, and the excitement went up another notch on Wednesday as entries were revealed for the highlight of the four-day meeting, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A total of 38 entries were received, and Irish trainers are strongly represented with 18 hopefuls. Three of the last four Gold Cups have gone to Irish yards, and here are three of their leading contenders.
Last year's winner would be the first to claim back-to-back Gold Cups since Best Mate (2002-2004) but, like a lot of the leading contenders, he has questions to answer.
All looked rosy when the eight-year-old made a winning seasonal return in the John Durkan at Punchestown, but he then inexplicably flopped at Leopardstown over Christmas, though subsequent tests failed to find any abnormalities.
Such is the muddled nature of the market, Coney Island has emerged as a contender in part because his copybook is free of any recent blots.
Winner of a graduation chase at Ascot just before Christmas, the seven-year-old has no experience of Cheltenham, or of racing beyond three miles, but he does have untapped potential.
While Sizing John and Yorkhill disappointed in Leopardstown's Christmas Chase, Road To Respect made the most of the opportunity to win for Noel Meade.
A winner of a Grade 3 handicap chase at the festival last year, Road To Respect has been progressing nicely and could have more to offer.
Best of British
The Irish challenge may be strong, but the home team will put up a stern defence, and they also have some big guns to fire.
Favourite for the race, Nicky Henderson's nine-year-old seems to be maturing and there was no sign of his infamous quirks when he won the King George VI Chase at Kempton last month.
Bobs Worth was Henderson's last Gold Cup winner in 2013 and Might Bite has a great chance of giving him another win in the race.
Colin Tizzard may have lost one of his main weapons with the news earlier this week that Thistlecrack will unfortunately miss the race again, but the trainer still has a strong hand with this eight-year-old.
Third in the Gold Cup last season, Native River is yet to be sighted this season but is slated to start off at Newbury next month.
If it is a wet spring Bristol De Mai's price could contract sharply. On testing ground at Haydock, the seven-year-old annihilated his rivals in the Betfair Chase but then disappointed in the King George.
However, he was subsequently diagnosed with stomach ulcers, so that run can be excused.
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