|Venue: Cheltenham Racecourse Dates: 14-17 March Races: 13:30-17:30 GMT Main race: 15:30|
|Coverage: Commentaries on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, with feature races on BBC Radio 5 Live. Racecards, live text, results & reports on the BBC Sport website & app|
Rachael Blackmore will bid for a repeat victory on A Plus Tard in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup after making history 12 months ago.
Blackmore, who rides for trainer Henry de Bromhead, was the first female jockey to win the big race.
A Plus Tard was well backed by punters on Thursday after the rider and trainer combined to win with Envoi Allen.
Twelve rivals include the Irish Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs, trained by Willie Mullins.
King George VI Chase victor Bravemansgame and Grand National winner Noble Yeats are among the challengers, with a sell-out 70,000 crowd expected at the track.
De Bromhead’s 2022 runner-up and previous champion Minella Indo, plus last year’s third-placed horse Protektorat, also line up.
Ahoy Senor bids to become the first Scottish-trained winner while Hewick would be a fairytale success for John ‘Shark’ Halon.
One jockey who thought he would never ride at Cheltenham again – Davy Russell – will be aboard Savills Chase winner Conflated after he temporarily came out of retirement to step in for trainer Gordon Elliott’s stable jockey Jack Kennedy after he broke his leg.
A Plus Tard’s trainer De Bromhead, who also trains Minella Indo, and Blackmore teamed up for an emotional success in the Mares’ Hurdle with Honeysuckle on Tuesday.
The victory came six months after the death of De Bromhead’s 13-year-old son Jack in a riding accident.
A Plus Tard was pulled up on his only run since last year’s Cheltenham triumph, but Blackmore is hopeful he can stage a revival.
“He seems very well at home and all roads lead straight to the Gold Cup,” said the jockey who won Thursday’s Ryanair Chase on Envoi Allen, a third victory of the week for De Bromhead.
“He hasn’t had the preparation we’d have liked, but I have no doubt Henry will get him there in perfect order for the day.”
Galopin to victory?
Galopin Des Champs has been the ante-post favourite and jockey Paul Townend will be hoping for better luck than at Cheltenham last year.
Townend came down at the last when leading the Turner Novices’ Chase 12 months ago, gifting victory to Bob Olinger.
Mullins, successful with Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020, will hope his main hope this time can build on victories at Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Leopardstown, while his son Patrick rides stablemate Stattler.
“There’s going to be a lot of depth in the race this year. Galopin Des Champs looked very good at the Dublin Racing Festival, but I’m very much looking forward to the Gold Cup again,” said Blackmore.
“I’m not too bothered that people are forgetting about A Plus Tard – that doesn’t make any difference to me going into the race. I certainly haven’t forgotten about him.”
Other leading contenders
De Bromhead is hoping to become the first trainer to saddle the winner three years running since Paul Nicholls from 2007-09 with Kauto Star (twice) and Denman.
The 13-time champion Paul Nicholls is looking to Bravemansgame to provide the first winner trained in England since Native River triumphed for Colin Tizzard in 2018.
Nicholls is seeking a record-equalling fifth Gold Cup triumph and has been showing the same kind of confidence this time as he did around his first victory with See More Business in 1999.
Ahoy Senor, trained by Lucinda Russell, won the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January and the three horses behind him that day oppose again – Sounds Russian, Noble Yeats and Protektorat.
Noble Yeats, trained by Emmet Mullins, could become just the third horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National after L’Escargot and Golden Miller.
Royale Pagaille lines up for Venetia Williams with Joe Tizzard’s Eldorado Allen also in the line-up.
Bargain buy Hewick goes for gold
A horse walks into a bar. Sounds like a joke, right? But it will be no joke if Hewick wins the Gold Cup.
In a world where top National Hunt racehorses can fetch more than £500,000, Hewick – who cost £800 – is a bargain buy.
The horse has already won the Bet365 Gold Cup, Galway Plate and American Grand National for larger-than-life Irish trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon.
And after his victory in the United States, Hanlon led him into the Pint Depot in County Carlow where the horse even had a sip of Guinness.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be going for the Gold Cup, but when will we ever have a horse to run in a Gold Cup again?” said Hanlon.
“It’d be a great story to win it, wouldn’t it?”
Who are our pundits picking?
Former jockeys Andrew Thornton, who won the Gold Cup in 1998 on Cool Dawn, and Charlie Poste are part of the commentary team on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra.
Charlie Poste: I love Galopin Des Champs, I think it is a likely winner but I will have a bit on Minella Indo each-way.
Andrew Thornton: Minella Indo is a good shout with the Henry de Bromhead yard firing on all cylinders and the ground he’ll like. But I think Noble Yeats will be transformed and after winning the National last year I think it will be a rare double.