Cheltenham Gold Cup: what is the strongest trial?

Don Cossack (Brian Cooper) wins the Gold Cup from Djakadam

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Gold Cup: what is
the strongest trial? By STUART RILEY 2:30PM 24 FEB 2017

WITH three weeks to go until the showpiece of the entire Cheltenham Festival, we look at where the contenders tend to come from and assess which were this campaign's most important Gold Cup trials.

Betfair Chase, Haydock
Average RPR of last ten winners: 175.5
Gold Cup winners to come from race in last ten years: 2
2016-17 winner: Cue Card

The Betfair Chase is the first major Gold Cup pointer of the season and, given its exceptional honour roll littered with superstars such as Kauto Star, Imperial Commander, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card, it is more than somewhat surprising no horse has done the double since Kauto Star landed it en route to his 2007 Gold Cup win.

Two winners have come from the race since then: Imperial Commander was beaten a nose the year he won Cheltenham's biggest prize while Kauto Star, who got the better of Imperial Commander that day, unseated in this during the 2008-09 campaign when he went on to become the first horse to reclaim the Gold Cup crown. Long Run was also beaten the year he placed in Synchronised's Gold Cup.

With runner-up Coneygree out of the Gold Cup, it falls to Cue Card to represent the Betfair Chase this year. And while history suggests following up at the festival will be difficult, the positive is that Cue Card ran to a Racing Post Rating of 180 at Haydock, the highest figure recorded this season, even before Thistlecrack was ruled out of the race.

Significance rating: 2 out of 5

Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury
Average RPR: 169
Winners from race: 3
2016-17 winner: Native River

The Hennessy has a fine tradition of throwing up the Gold Cup winner, with Denman and Bobs Worth both doing the double as second season chasers, while Lord Windermere was eighth in this the year he went on to claim a shock win in the Gold Cup.

It is as a second season chaser that a Hennessy horse had the greatest impact on the Gold Cup and in Native River the race has another from that mould. He is a relentless stayer with a fair bit of class and echoes those that have gone before and went on to success at Cheltenham.

Significance rating: 3/5

Native River

There are echoes of Denman and Bobs Worth in Native River

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PICTURE: Getty Images

King George, Kempton
Average RPR: 180.3
Winners from race: 4
2016-17 winner: Thistlecrack

The premier staying chase of the winter, the King George has been taken en route to Gold Cup glory four times in the last ten years, with Long Run and Kauto Star (twice) doing the double and Imperial Commander overturning a well-beaten fifth in 2009-10.

Kauto Star and Long Run have also both placed in a Gold Cup after a win and a placed effort in the King George, while Exotic Dancer chased home Kauto Star in both races in 2006-07.

This year's race was won in scintillating fashion by Thistlecrack, who was subsequently made the odds-on favourite until defeat in the Cotswold made him odds-against and then injury ruled him out all together. The race will still be represented by runner-up Cue Card, who reportedly suffered from Lymphangitis after the race but showed no ill-effects with a recent Ascot romp, while the fourth home Tea For Two is also set to line up.

Significance rating: 3/5

Lexus Chase, Leopardstown
Average RPR: 168.8
Winners from race: 3
2015-16 winner: Outlander

The Lexus Chase has had a huge bearing on the Gold Cup, throwing up three festival winners and a whole host of placed horses in the last ten years.

Synchronised and Denman both won the Lexus the season they won the Gold Cup, while Lord Windermere was seventh in this en route to Cheltenham. Don Poli and Road To Riches, the last two winners, went on to place at Cheltenham, as did Exotic Dancer the season he was third behind Kauto Star and Denman, while Sir Des Champs turned a fourth in the Lexus into Gold Cup silver in 2013.

It all bodes well for this season's winner Outlander who may lack the fanfare of the Colin Tizzard battalion, but in beating Don Poli, Djakadam and Valseur Lido in December possesses arguably the strongest and without question the single deepest piece of form on offer with Grade 1 winners filling every position down to ninth.

Significance rating: 4/5

Sizing John and Jonathan Burke jumpjng to success

Sizing John: emerged as a Gold Cup contender

PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)

Irish Gold Cup, Leopardstown
Average RPR: 167.2
Winners from race: 1
2016-17 winner: Sizing John

The Irish Gold Cup has not had the same impact as the Lexus, with just Lord Windermere, who was sixth in this, taking in the race before Gold Cup glory.
Sir Des Champs also landed this the year he was second to Bobs Worth and this year's winner Sizing John is a similar type as he has largely been racing over shorter distances.
It was Sizing John's first try at three miles and in beating Empire Of Dirt, Don Poli and Carlingford Lough he proved himself more than useful. If he can improve further for the extra two furlongs he could shine now he is out of Douvan's seismic shadow.

Significance rating: 1/5

Wild cards

Last year's Gold Cup winner Don Cossack had just the one run in preparation when romping to victory in the Kinloch Brae, won this year by Sizing John, while twice in the last ten years the Thyestes winner has gone on to place in the Gold Cup, a positive for Champagne West each-way backers.

Of the non-Grade 1s it is the Denman Chase, won this year by Native River, that has been by far the biggest pointer. It has been won by subsequent Gold Cup winners Kauto Star and Coneygree in the last ten years, while a further five placed horses have taken in the race as their final prep.

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