All we can do is hope: Henderson helpless over danger of Might Bite deviation
The uncomfortable admission that Might Bite might conceivably scupper his own Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup challenge has again been cited as the principal concern of trainer Nicky Henderson, who nevertheless believes the chasing pin-up merits his place as market leader for jumping's holy grail.
While the 7-2 Gold Cup favourite's star is in the ascendancy following his triumph in the King George VI Chase, he will in March be making his first visit to Cheltenham since almost throwing away the RSA Chase by dramatically hanging right and waiting for stable companion Whisper, who he then caught on the line in a pulsating finish.
Whisper is again a possible opponent for Might Bite, who could yet stop off at Newbury for the Denman Chase next month en route to Cheltenham.
Among the 38 entries unveiled on Wednesday for the £625,000 Gold Cup is a joint-record 18-strong contingent from Ireland, although the raiding party will not include Yorkhill, whose trainer Willie Mullins nonetheless has engaged five horses.
The one to beat, however, is Might Bite, now undefeated in five outings but whose stamina has never been tested over the demanding Gold Cup distance.
Henderson said: "We can't guarantee he'll stay the Gold Cup trip as he has never tried three miles two and a half furlongs. That said, he does stay – and he stayed an awfully long way in the RSA, as if you go via the Arkle bar and Guinness tent you're covering a fair bit further than everything else.
"The biggest concern is not the stamina but whether he jumps the final fence and keeps straight. That has to be the crucial thing. He can't afford to deviate off a straight line in the Gold Cup. That is the one issue. All we can do is hope, as there isn't a lot we can do about it."
He added: "I suppose he does deserve to be favourite. He is the one horse who did everything right over Christmas. A lot of things can change, though. We know that."
Henderson does not know if Might Bite will go directly to the festival.
"We haven't decided yet if he'll be out again before the Gold Cup but I'm really not fussed if he doesn't have another run," he said.
"Newbury is very much still an option, but the ground would be a determining factor and he definitely wouldn't race there on heavy. He certainly won't run in the Cotswold Chase, either. If he runs it would probably be the Denman Chase."
A more immediate outing is planned for Whisper, who was fifth behind Might Bite at Kempton in the King George.
"They seemed to go rather quick for him," said Henderson. "He doesn't have many options apart from the Gold Cup, but he would be very likely for the Cotswold Chase before that."
If Might Bite does run at Newbury he is expected to be reacquainted with Gold Cup third Native River, whose return to action has been delayed by ligament trouble. Colin Tizzard, who hopes Richard Johnson will be free to ride, believes that could prove a blessing in disguise.
"He has to be a major player," said Tizzard. "The Gold Cup has been our aim and that's what we're gearing up to run him in."
Reflecting on last year's Gold Cup – and what it taught him – Tizzard added: "You would have thought after jumping the final fence at Cheltenham he would have got to the front. Normally he would have done but that time he didn't.
"It might be we were slightly out of form, or it might be that after winning the Hennessy and Welsh National in the winter we'd been to the well too many times.
"It made us think and this time the Gold Cup will be only his second race of the season, whereas some of the Gold Cup horses have been running their guts out."
As expected, Yorkhill, who faded when stepped up in trip at Leopardstown over Christmas, has not been put in the Gold Cup, with Mullins having instead made entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase.
Ladbrokes offer 8-11 about the Gold Cup winner being trained in Britain, with an Irish success quoted at evens.
Read exclusive previews from 6pm daily on racingpost.com