The headline race of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a Grade One steeplechase run over a distance just shy of three miles and three furlongs.
The most successful horse in Gold Cup history is Golden Miller who won the race five times during the 1930's. In the modern era Arkle won the race three times in a row in the 1960’s and the Henrietta Knight trained Best Mate won the race three consecutive times from 2002.
18 runners go to post in this year’s “Blue Riband” event and here is a runner-by-runner guide to the market principles:
The nine-year-old has been the ante-post favourite for some time, understandably so having won six of his nine starts over fences including last season's RSA Chase and the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
He has however shown wayward tendencies on more than one occasion, most notably in the RSA 12 months ago.
His trainer Nicky Henderson has also expressed some concern about the conditions Might Bite may encounter on Friday which all points towards him being a very vulnerable favourite.
Despite missing the first half of the season, Native River showed he should be a major player once again in the Gold Cup after claiming a second victory in last month's Denman Chase at Newbury on his seasonal return.
Having finishing third in the race 12 months ago, on the back of victories in the Hennessy, Welsh National and Denman Chase, the eight-year-old is running here on merit rather than as an afterthought.
Our Duke could quite well provide last year’s winning trainer Jessie Harrington with a follow up winner this year,
Harrington has had this race on the agenda ever since Our Duke comfortably landed the Irish Grand National last April with an emphatic round of jumping that left his rivals in his wake.
This season has not gone entirely to plan as Our Duke had to undergo some surgery to correct a kissing-spine which was attributed to his unexplainable defeat at Down Royal.
A solid win over Presenting Percy in testing conditions at Gowran Park last time out puts him bang in contention for this race.
Killultagh Vic fell with the Irish Gold Cup seemingly at his mercy last time out, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the betting public at large.
Prior to that run Killultagh Vic had made a successful return from 714 days off the track with a win in a hurdle race at Punchestown.
The Willie Mullins-trained gelding claimed the notable scalp of Thistlecrack over hurdles at the 2015 Punchestown Festival.
If the nine-year-old can put his tumbles firmly out of his mind a solid case can be made for him.
Road To Respect
Road To Respect was a handicap winner at The Festival last year over 2m5f and has continued to progress since, winning the Leopardstown Christmas Chase in a first-time hood on his latest start.
His ability to stay the Gold Cup distance of an extended 3m2f however has to be taken on trust.
Noel Meade believes his seven-year-old is a superior horse to his previous Gold Cup near misses with Harbour Pilot and Road To Riches.
Definitly Red emerged as a live candidate for the Cheltenham showpiece when scoring an eight-length victory in the Cotswold Chase in January.
The nine-year-old, who also won the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase over the Mildmay fences at Aintree in December, will be a popular choice for many under jockey Danny Cook.
He is also entered for the Grand National where he is shouldering top-weight in the handicap.
The Willie Mullins trained Total Recall won the Munster National at Limerick on his first start for the stable before landing the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury in December. He successfully reverted to hurdling at Leopardstown on his most recent start and is also a leading Grand National fancy.
“Hennessy” form is rated highly in terms of the Gold Cup and former Dessie/Sandra Hughes inmate must have a good each-way chance on Friday.
Miracle horse Edwulf is certainly one of the heart-warming stories of the race.
12 months ago Edwulf's life hung in the balance after he collapsed after the final fence in the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase and there were real concerns he might die.
His unlikely victory in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month, after being nursed backed to health, was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
In what is considered by many to be an open year for the Gold Cup, Joseph O’Brien believes the former point-to-pointer is well entitled to take his chance.
Supplemented into the race this week, the eight-year-old was last seen when finishing an eight-length second to Definitly Red in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham back in January, having pulled up on his previous start in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.
Connections and the trainer Harry Fry were encouraged by the forecast soft conditions this week and will be hoping to get a return on their late entry fee.
Djakadam was runner-up in 2015 and 2016 and takes his place in the field once again.
Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old finished second in the John Durkan Memorial Chase to Sizing John on his seasonal return but was pulled up in the Christmas Chase. In the Irish Gold Cup he was beaten a little over 10 lengths by Edwulf.
Others are likely going to have to underperform for Djakadam to win on this occasion.
The Tom George trained Double Shuffle belied his odds of 50-1 to give the strong favourite Might Bite a real scare at Kempton on Boxing Day, going down by just half a length to Nicky Henderson's leading light.
The eight-year-old looks well overpriced given his three admirable runner-up spots so far this season.
Nicky Henderson is hoping to pull off a historic treble of feature race wins at The Festival this year and the Gold Cup would complete the set should he land it with Might Bite.
Double Shuffle is worth an each-way interest at the prices.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*