Horse & Hound’s essential guide to the runners in Thursday’s Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup

ALEXANDER BANQUET
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Willie Mullins.
Owner: Mrs N O’Callaghan

His broodmare sire, Monksfield, was one of the best Champion Hurdle winners, and this imposing gelding showed that he could handle Cheltenham’s undulating terrain when second to Lord Noelie in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase two years ago. Resembled an amphibian when happily sploshing home in front on very wet ground in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month, beating Behrejan and Florida Pearl.

BACCHANAL
8-year-old chestnut gelding

Trainer: Nicky Henderson.
Owner: Lady Lloyd Webber

A powerful galloper with all the right credentials, apart from a minor doubt about his habit of jumping slightly right. He did so when beating a high-class field in Newbury’s AON Chase last month, but has since been on a refresher course with Yogi Breisner, the event trainer who has a good record in helping horses with jumping problems. Prior to Newbury, he finished third in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, nearly seven lengths behind Florida Pearl and Best Mate, but his supporters will expect a reversal of the placings on Cheltenham’s stiffer track and with an extra ¬m to travel.

BEHRAJAN
7-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Henry DalyOwner: The Behrajan Partnership

The archetypal long-distance chaser – I bet that shocked the breeder who put a Mill Reef mare to Arazi. Behrajan was a classy staying hurdler and, while it took time for him to adapt to fences, he has looked a worthy Gold Cup contender this season. His record includes a close second in the Hennessy Gold Cup, followed by a handicap chase win at Wetherby and a second to Alexander Banquet at Leopardstown.

BEST MATE
7-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Henrietta Knight
Owner: Jim Lewis

A most attractive horse, with ability to match – even two defeats en route to this race barely detract from his chances. In late autumn, he failed by just half-a-length to give 20lb to Wahiba Sands at Ascot, and he was only three-quarters of a length behind Florida Pearl, a more experienced chaser, in the King George VI Chase. There must be a doubt about Best Mate’s stamina for this race, partly because he has so much speed, but his class will enable him to cruise for much of the trip.

COMMANCHE COURT
9-year-old bay stallion

Trainer: Ted Walsh
Owner: Dermot Desmond

Few Gold Cup runners have the option of becoming stallions, but this fellow does. Victories in the Triumph Hurdle and Irish Grand National prove he can handle the big occasion,but his form this season is not great. Soft ground would be against him, too.

CYFOR MALTA
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Martin PipeOwner: David Johnson

Hard to assess his chances following injury interruptions over a couple of seasons, but potentially capable of winning. Forget his latest run behind Rince Ri in Cheltenham’s Pillar Properties Chase, since the ground that day was unusually wet, but there was much to like about his handicap chase victory under top weight at Newbury in December. Has produced Gold Cup form in the past, but other rivals have less ifs and buts.

FLORIDA PEARL
10-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Willie Mullins
Owner: Violet O’Leary

One of the best chasers of recent decades, but a horse who occasionally puts in a mediocre performance. Has been placed in the latest two renewals of this race, including second to Looks Like Trouble in 2000, and had previously won the Champion Bumper and Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival, adding to a string of successes in Ireland. Seemed to improve again when benefiting from a forceful ride in the King George VI Chase. A change in tactics and heavy ground at Leopardstown saw him slither to defeat, but don’t write him off.

FOXCHAPEL KING
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Mouse Morris
Owner: Sir Tony O’Reilly

The horse who has acquired the most prize-money this season must be the best horse, right? Not according to bookmakers, who have priced this fine staying chaser in double figures – even the punters have largely shunned him. His three most recent victories, at Leopardstown, Naas and Down Royal, when his victims included Florida Pearl, Alexander Banquet, Rince Ri and Native Upmanship among others, mark him out as a talented plodder at the very least. Such horses have a good record in this race and he is well worth consideration for each-way punters.

GO BALLISTIC
13-year-old brown gelding

Trainer: Henrietta Knight
Owner: Sheila Lockhart

A grand old boy,good enough to compete at the previous seven Festivals and as much a part of the Festival as Cleeve Hill in recent seasons. Second to See More Business in this race in 1999 and ran really well in the Pillar Chase on his reappearance, but the youngerpups will be quicker when it counts.

LEGAL RIGHT
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Jonjo O’Neill
Owner: Russell McAllister

A horse who has been a considerable challenge to his trainer. Frequent bouts of lameness have been interspersed with some really good efforts at the racecourse, but he was well behind in the King George and his talents seem just below the standard required.

LOOKS LIKE TROUBLE
10-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Noel Chance
Owner: Tim Collins

Trained by a man whose genius is matched only by his patience, virtues that have paid off with this top-class chaser. He won the Gold Cupin 2000, and reappeared the following season with an emphatic victory at Down Royal. A touch of heat was then discovered in a leg and he was roughed off, returning to racing 14 months later for an emphatic victory at Wincanton. Beat only reasonable horses that day, but he jumped well and portrayed the usual hallmarks of class. Apart from his leg, there are no obvious doubts about this top-class horse.

LORD NOELIE
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Henrietta Knight
Owner: Executive Racing

One for a very short list if the ground is on the fast side of good, he won the Royal & SunAlliance Chase in 2000 and has plenty of ability. Ran a fine race when fourth under 12st in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury in November, and it was no surprise when he got stuck in the mud in Cheltenham’s Pillar Chase two months later.

MARLBOROUGH
10-year-old brown gelding

Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Owner: Sir Robert Ogden

Won the William Hill Handicap Chase at this meeting two years ago and progressed in 2001 when collecting the Gold Cup substitute race at Sandown. Had ante-post punters coughing when ruled out of the King George VI Chase with a trapped epiglottis, but then ran most promisingly in the AON Chase at Newbury. Marlborough was travelling so easily three fences out that his rider could have lit a cigarette, but lack of match practice eventually halted his run. He will be fitter next time and soft ground will suit, but if Mick Fitzgerald opts to ride Bacchanal, punters will have a clue to this horse’s chance.

SACKVILLE
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Frances Crowley
Owner: Seamus O’Farrell

Last season’s best novice chaser, Sackville has run like a sack of spuds in recent races. A great pity, since he accrued a sequence of victories in the spring and held his form long enough to win Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase in November. His subsequent efforts have been baffling, but since he is trained by a sister-in-law of Aidan O’Brien, magic or some other hidden power could have been administered to produce a cure. Without it he seems to have no chance, especially if the ground is heavy.

SEE MORE BUSINESS
12-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Owner: Sir Robert Ogden

Much to like about his recent victory in the Jim Ford Chase, not least that Joe Tizzard was given a second chance to show he could do the job for owner Sir Robert Ogden. Wincanton was pretty dry, and See More Business looked vulnerable until Upgrade’s stamina gave out, so don’t get all sentimental and start backing this grand old horse unless the going is very soft. He gets run off his feet on fast ground.

SHOOTING LIGHT
9-year-old bay gelding

Trainer: Martin Pipe
Owner: John Brown & Mick Blackburn

It could take forever to analyse the genius of Martin Pipe – this horse provides a version in one. A classy hurdler/chaser when trained by Pat Murphy (no mean trainer himself), Shooting Light has rocketed up the ratings under Pipe’s guidance, winning a novices’ handicap, the Thomas Pink Gold Cup and the Tote Silver Cup. AP McCoy could be a vital component for this horse (he may choose to ride Cyfor Malta), but future historians will be glad if Shooting Light wins – there will be no finer way of appraising Pipe’s ability.

SHOTGUN WILLY
8-year-old chestnut gelding

Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Owner: Graham Roach

A very good novice over hurdles and fences, he made a name for himself when beating First Gold in the AON Chase at Newbury last year, but has not looked quite as good subsequently and was soundly beaten by Bacchanal recently. Would rise up the list of possible candidates if it rains.

Read more about Cheltenham: