BEEF OR SALMON

Trainer: Michael Hourigan

Jockey: Timmy Murphy

It will be champagne and caviar for scores of Irishmen if this exciting seven-year-old makes the progress needed to win chasing’s premier event, but he really is up against it in taking on a proven star in Best Mate.

Two recent grade one victories inIreland enabled Beef Or Salmon to display precision jumping, stamina and acceleration. Punters now have to decide whether there was any power left in the engine, because he will surely need more on this occasion, and he is still a novice.

BEHRAJAN

Trainer: Henry Daly

Jockey: Richard Johnson

Blundered several times before being pulled up in this race last year, but he was only a seven-year-old at the time. Being that age did not stop Best Mate, but some horses mature faster than others, and Behrajan has since won a decent Ascot handicap and the Pillar Property Chase, which is a Gold Cup trial. One for each-way punters to consider, particularly if the ground is on the soft side of good.

BEST MATE

Trainer: Henrietta Knight

Jockey: Jim Culloty

Since beating Commanche Court and See More Business in this race last year, Best Mate has landed another championship event in the shape of the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park and proved himself worthy of the top rating among staying chasers. He acts on all types of ground, stays and jumps efficiently, and can become the first horse since L’Escargot to win the Gold Cup for a second time. How many times has that been said in the intervening 32 years? The trend is against him, but at eight he is probably at his peak.

CHIVES

Trainer: Henrietta Knight

Jockey: Richard Guest

A fine-looking eight-year-old chaser, who put up a grand show under top weight in the Welsh National to finish runner-up, and then chased home Valley Henry (giving 6lb) at Newbury. Probably lacks the class for this, but a serious Grand National prospect.

COLONEL BRAXTON

Trainer: Dessie Hughes

Jockey: Norman Williamson

This eight-year-old carries the same colours as Champion Hurdle candidate Rhinestone Cowboy, but his chance of winning looks far less obvious. Has been comprehensively turned over by Beef Or Salmon twice this season.

COMMANCHE COURT

Trainer: Ted Walsh

Jockey: Ruby Walsh

Has won his share of big races and was only beaten 1.75 lengths in this event last year. Now 10-years-old, there is no reason why he should turn the tables on Best Mate. Reportedly best suited by good or faster ground, but handles softer and won at Navan recently.

CYFOR MALTA

Trainer: Martin Pipe

Won the Thomas Pink Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, but he could not defy a 10lb rise when tacklingthe Tripleprint Gold Cup. This 10-year-old has ability, but it does not seem of Gold Cup standard.

FIRST GOLD

Trainer: Francois Doumen

Jockey: Thierry Doumen

Looked like pure gold when thrashing a quality field to win the King George VI Chase in 2000, but has not won since landing the Martell Cup a few months later and now aged 10 was no match for See More Business at Wincanton recently.

FLORIDA PEARL

Trainer: Willie Mullins

This 11-year-old has had a disappointing season by his very high standards, and although often placed in the Gold Cup it has always looked too much of a stamina test. Has not been showing his usual joie de vivre at home and is a doubtful runner.

HARBOUR PILOT

Trainer: Noel Meade

Jockey: Paul Carberry

An improving eight-year-old, but a succession of thirds suggests he just lacks a finishing kick. Could not keep pace with Beef Or Salmon from the last fence in either the Ericsson Chase or Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup (tried in blinkers on the latter occasion). Colonel Braxton, who will take him on again next week, denied him the runner-up spot each time. His chances of reaching the frame would increase if it turned muddy.

HUSSARD COLLONGES

Trainer: Peter Beaumont

Jockey: Russ Garritty

His owner Nick Bannister has owned and ridden some good point-to-pointers in his time, but this eight-year-old is different class and could certainly reach aplace if the ground was on the soft side of good. Won the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at this meeting last year, so we know he stays the trip and handles Cheltenham, and although he has yet to win this season, he has conceded weight to his conquerors on each occasion. Another suitable choice for each-way punters.

KEEN LEADER

Trainer: Jonjo O’Neill

Jockey: Liam Cooper

Considering he is in the same stable as Champion Hurdle hopeful Rhinestone Cowboy, it is a compliment to Keen Leader that Jonjo O’Neill describes this seven-year-old as the “most exciting horse I have ever trained”.

He would certainly spice up the Gold Cup field, but his jumping is not without blemish and would be seriously tested in a field of top-flight proven horses. Also entered in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase.

LA LANDIERE

Trainer: Richard Phillips

Jockey: Warren Marston

Leaping out of her skin with talent and enthusiasm this season, and romped home in the Racing Post Chase to give trainer, Horse & Hound columnist Richard Phillips, his biggest success. The Gold Cup would stretch this eight-year-old’s stamina and the Cathcart Chase later in the afternoon looks a better option.

MARLBOROUGH

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Jockey: Mick Fitzgerald

Ran really well when second to Best Mate at Kempton, but the last 11-year-old to win this was Mandarin in 1962, and, although 12-year-old What A Myth scored seven years later, it is reasonable to assume that once past the age of 10 horses are caught out by younger rivals at this level. He was fourth 12 months ago and could struggle to improve on that position.

SACKVILLE

Trainer: Frances Crowley

Seems short of the class required to win this event, and he was well off the pace when falling at the last fence 12 months ago. Has since shown his good health with a couple of victories, but was no match for Beef Or Salmon in the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown.

SEE MORE BUSINESS

Trainer: Paul Nicholls

Jockey: Joe Tizzard

A horse for whom the phrase “never say die” could have been coined. In a lengthy career he has won £700,000 in prize-money, a Gold Cup and two King George VI Chases, although his third place in this event last year was just as honourable. Two wins this season indicate he has not regressed, and he seems less prone to accept defeat than he did a few years ago. A younger horse will surely deny him even greater fame, but Cheltenham will be awash with tears if he becomes the first 13-year-old to win the great race. Is finally gaining the public affection that lesser horses have enjoyed.

SHOTGUN WILLY

Trainer: Paul Nicholls

If it pours for the next week and the mud is very deep, this good nine-year-old stayer could make the places, but as the Grand National represents a better chance of glory, he is unlikely to line up here.

TRUCKERS TAVERN

Trainer: Ferdy Murphy

Jockey: Davy Russell

Left in the slow lane by Valley Henry on good ground at Newbury and unlikely to repeat his Haydock victory over Hussard Collonges at level weights.

VALLEY HENRY

Trainer: Paul Nicholls

Jockey: Barry Geraghty

His prospects of winning would have been higher had he not thrown in a shocking effort in the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham in January. His trainer felt soft ground was to blame, and there was a huge improvement when the eight-year-old ran at Newbury on good ground. Saw off Chives (receiving 6lb) on that occasion, while Marlborough was beaten when falling at the last. His price will shrink if the ground is quick.