|Cheltenham Festival on the BBC|
|Dates: 14-17 March Venue: Cheltenham|
|Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live & BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, live text coverage on the BBC Sport website and app (full coverage details)|
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Cue Card & Native River run for Colin Tizzard
- Updated: March 17, 2017
Cue Card will bid to make amends for a late fall last year when he lines up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.
The popular steeplechaser, under the guidance of trainer Colin Tizzard, will have stablemate Native River among his rivals.
A strong Irish challenge includes the two-time runner-up Djakadam who bids to secure a first win for trainer Willie Mullins.
Outlander, for in-form Gordon Elliott, and Sizing John are other contenders.
Lizzie Kelly on Tea For Two will be the first woman to ride in the race for 33 years.
A sell-out crowd of about 60,000 is expected for jump racing’s showpiece event where runners negotiate 22 fences over three-and-a-quarter miles.
Redemption for Cue Card?
Cue Card was disputing the lead and missed out on a potential £1m bonus for winning the race.
Now aged 11, the popular horse has gone on to win a third Betfair Chase at Haydock this season, before losing out to stablemate Thistlecrack in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and winning at Ascot in February.
Brennan will be on board again, while champion jockey Richard Johnson partners Native River, winner of the Hennessy at Newbury, the Welsh Grand National and February’s Denman Chase at Newbury.
Tizzard, whose long-time Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack was ruled out with injury last month, said he has no preference for his hopefuls.
“There is no way I would want one horse to win more than the other,” said the 61-year-old, who trains on the Somerset/Dorset border.
“All I want them to do is run their races, come back fit and sound and may the best horse win.”
Leading lady goes for gold
Kelly will become the first woman to ride in the race since Linda Sheedy pulled up the rank outsider Foxbury in 1984.
“It’s very interesting and a great privilege, but I see myself just the same as everyone else,” said the 23-year-old Kelly who is used to making headlines.
She became the first female rider to win a Grade One race over jumps, with Tea For Two at Kempton in December 2015.
“If people look at me and think they’d like to do the same, that’s great,” said Kelly, who rides for her stepfather trainer Ian Williams and has been working as a pundit on BBC Radio 5 live this week.
“I appreciate a lot of girls don’t have the support I’ve had but if you’re good enough, you’ll get the opportunities.
“I’m very excited and looking forward to it. I’ve looked back at old videos and seen different ways of winning a Gold Cup and have my plan. I think we’ve got a good chance of a place.”
Seventh time lucky for Mullins?
The 2017 Festival turned into a winning one for Mullins on Thursday after the usually dominant Irish champion trainer had suffered disappointments on the opening two days, including the shock defeat of Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Douvan.
He has saddled the runner-up of the Gold Cup six times but has yet to taste victory, and will be hoping for a change of luck.
Djakadam has chased home Coneygree and Don Cossack in the past two Gold Cups.
But he has enjoyed a better preparation this time and is expected to go well for the Festival’s all-time leading jockey Ruby Walsh, who rode a four-timer for Mullins on Thursday.
|Willie Mullins’ Gold Cup runners-up|
|2016: Djakadam||2015: Djakadam|
|2014: On His Own||2013: Sir Des Champs|
|2006: Hedgehunter||2000: Florida Pearl|
The other contenders
In contrast to Mullins, Elliott is enjoying a successful week and seeks to follow up Don Cossack’s 2016 win with Outlander this time.
Jessica Harrington saddles her first runner in the race – Irish Gold Cup winner Sizing John – with Henry de Bromhead represented by Champagne West.
Jonjo O’Neill runs More Of That and Minella Rocco, while Bristol De Mai, Saphir Du Rheu and two of last year’s finishers – fifth-placed Irish Cavalier and Smad Place (eighth) – complete the field.
|Analysis – Cornelius Lysaght, BBC horse racing correspondent|
|Victory for the ‘people’s favourite’ Cue Card would bring the house down, but, even at an evergreen 11, he’s got to defy the age stats and there’s a chance 2016 was ‘his year’.|
|Native River has won his last three, but even so there are questions as to whether that form is good enough for this.|
|More Of That, a previous Festival champion over hurdles, has been coming to the boil nicely and is increasingly well-touted.|
|Those around Djakadam are very hopeful of going one place better after two seconds, but to me Sizing John could be the one.|
|Racing against Douvan at his most imperious, he was defeated seven times, but, up in length of race, he’s thrived and as well as having a touch of class he seems nice and relaxed so should last out this longer distance again.|
What’s it like to win a Gold Cup?
Andrew Thornton, winning rider on Cool Dawn in 1998
“Every jockey dreams of riding in the Gold Cup. If you’re on something you fancy, you’ll have it mapped out weeks before.
“You get down to the start and you’re on your own with the plan you’ve devised. You try to get a clear passage and get the horse jumping well and after that you’re in the lap of the gods.
“To win it was the best thing that ever happened in my career.
“Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins have had a quiet Cheltenham so far but it could be their year with Djakadam. He handles the track and occasion and has had an uninterrupted preparation.”