Thistlecrack and More Of That seek to shine on a glittering Cheltenham day
Lee Mottershead looks forward to seeing two exciting Gold Cup contenders
Today a great old race takes on a brand new name. Four months hence a brand new name could also adorn the honour roll of a race even greater and older, for which valuable clues may be gleaned when the mighty Thistlecrack stars on a magnificent afternoon at the sport's spiritual home.
For many, racing provides the means of earning a living. For most, it is a form of entertainment, a hobby, a passion and a welcome distraction from the trials and tribulations of the real world.
This has been a week in which that world has been dominated by a political earthquake.
In January President-elect Donald Trump will become leader of the free world. That is, of course, hugely important, but to those who adore the finest of all winter sports it is perhaps slightly less important than which horse in March will become leader of the staying chasers' world.
On this always eagerly anticipated afternoon Thistlecrack will attempt to assert his claims for that coveted title – but he is not the only one.
For in the traditional highlight of the three-day Open meeting, Cheltenham's biggest fixture outside of the festival, the market is headed by an animal whose trainer has been targeting the rebranded BetVictor Gold Cup with one eye firmly fixed on the biggest Gold Cup of all.
More Of That has already once been a festival championship hero. In 2014 he captured the World Hurdle. He was absent 12 months later, while last season he finished third as 6-4 favourite in the RSA Chase. That was an admirable but disappointing performance, but he is the one to beat in this hot handicap, and not surprisingly so given the recent comments of Jonjo O'Neill.
Speaking earlier this week, O'Neill revealed he is looking towards the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup for the JP McManus-owned More Of That, a dual Prestbury Park novice chase winner he refers to as "the best horse I've ever trained". Given O'Neill has trained numerous high-class horses, not least a Gold Cup winner in Synchronised, that was lavish praise.
With More Of That running off a BHA rating of 154, 13lb less than he would be given over hurdles, there is also a handicapping reason to fancy his chance. Yet there are also reasons to be cautious.
The worry is not only that winners have recently been hard to find for O'Neill. Also a concern is that his stable's leading light has a history of physical problems. He bled from both nostrils in the RSA, just as he had bled when being prepared for the 2015 World Hurdle. As well as that he has undergone a wind operation since he last competed.
If the body behaves, he has a huge chance. If it does not, his backers will be made to suffer.
There are also 18 rivals to defeat, among them his stablemate Taquin Du Seuil, last year's first and second, Annacotty and Buywise, plus a quartet from champion trainer Paul Nicholls, whose team is headed by Frodon, a youngster trying to becoming the first four-year-old ever to win a prize that began as the Mackeson and from 2003 to 2015 was backed by Paddy Power.
One bookmaker has therefore replaced another as sponsor of this famous Saturday showpiece. All bookmakers agree Thistlecrack is the likeliest winner of the Gold Cup.
When sauntering to success in the World Hurdle eight months ago the Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old produced the most stunning display in the contest's long history. He was, for many, the most talented long-distance hurdler of all time and, even before jumping a fence in public, was favourite to land the 2017 Gold Cup.
At Chepstow last month Thistlecrack jumped 18 fences in public under Tom Scudamore. He was breathtaking. Now, against only three opponents, he must jump 19 more at the venue where in the spring connections hope he will claim the sport's highest honour, possibly via the 32Red King George VI Chase.
For a novice to win both the King George and Gold Cup would be extraordinary, but Thistlecrack is an extraordinary horse. Moreover, as the world has witnessed this week, extraordinary things do happen. At Cheltenham, they often do.