Cheltenham Festival: Three to back in the Gold Cup
Will this finally be the year that Willie Mullins is first past the post? Our tips on where to put your money
Cheltenham Festival's final day features the biggest race of the meeting - the Gold Cup. But who will win the blue riband event this year?
Willie Mullins will be hoping that 2016 is finally his year. The Irish trainer has a wonderful record at Cheltenham but has never won the main event, finishing runner-up five times. He has three runners this year, including joint favourite Djakadam, who will be ridden by top jockey Ruby Walsh.
But with the glamorous Don Cossack also attracting a lot of support, who should you put your money on? Here are The Week's three tips for the big race:
The romantic choice: Cue Card
If he wins the Gold Cup, ten-year-old will earn his owners a massive £1m bonus for completing the Triple Crown, having already won the Betfair Chase and King George this season.
No ten-year-old has won the Gold Cup since 1998, but Cue Card appears to be a horse reborn after an operation to improve his breathing last year.
"His credentials for this week are unimpeachable," says Chris Cook of The Guardian. "Reasons to oppose him are hard to find."
He also has the backing of Channel 4 tipster Tom Lee. "He's at the peak of his considerable powers and at his very best at Cheltenham in March," he writes on cheltenham-festival.co.uk.
The trier: Don Poli
Not the most glamorous horse, but one that is generating an awful lot of interest among the tipsters as the race draws near.
"Smart Alecs have made comic capital out of the Willie Mullins seven-year-old's grinding style," says Daily Mirror tipster Newsboy. "But actions speak louder than words, and Don Poli's deeds have been to win races at the last two Cheltenham Festivals."
He backs the gelding to triumph - and Andy Stevens of the London Evening Standard agrees.
Don Poli, he says, "does not seem to have any chinks in his armour and can finally provide Mullins with the victory he craves".
He is by no means a flyer, but it is his "bottomless reserves of stamina and that can give him the edge over Cue Card and Don Cossack".
Marcus Armytage in the Daily Telegraph believes Don Poli is the horse best equipped to last the distance. "When others cry 'enough' at the foot of the hill he will find another gear up the rising ground," he says.
The outsider: Smad Place
The grey pace-setter will be easy to spot at the head of the field in the early stages of the race, but whether he is still there in the final furlong is a different matter. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a double-figure bet, this could be the horse to back.
"He's a bold front runner who can be hard to pass if he gets into a good rhythm," says Armytage of the Telegraph.
Smad Place won the Hennessey at Newbury and Gold Cup trial run at Cheltenham in January and that, "with his great attitude to boot, gives connections a glimmer of hope", says Alex Hammond of Sky Sports, although she is another who backs Don Poli to win.
"He may not quite have the class to see it out against the form horses Don Cossack and the £1m bonus-chaser Cue Card, but he will surely get his own way out in front, and he could make them all go," says Tony Calvin of Betfair.
The Week's choice: Don Poli
Five Cheltenham Festival tips from Thistlecrack to Gold Cup shot Don Poli
"The greatest show on turf" gets underway on Tuesday.
This year's Cheltenham Festival promises to be as exciting as ever, with 28 races across the four days of action. The biggest showdown is Friday's Gold Cup, but there are plenty of other major Grade 1 races, including the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and World Hurdle.
Former Olympic track cyclist Victoria Pendleton makes her Cheltenham jockey debut in the Foxhunter Chase on Friday, while Irish trainer Willie Mullins has thrown everything at this year's event with around 60 runners.
"No trainer has ever before assembled such a powerful squad of horses for the Cheltenham Festival", says Cornelius Lysaght of the BBC.
Here are six tips for this year's festival.
Altior - Supreme Novices Hurdle, 1.30pm
The first race of the festival features one of the hottest favourites in Min, but his odds are so short he offers little value. Punters have a better bet in Altior.
He is "seriously fast, as he showed when sprinting away from his rivals at Kempton over Christmas, and in any normal year he'd be favourite", says Tom Dutton of the London Evening Standard.
Min is unexposed after just a couple of races in Ireland, says Danny Archer of Cheltenhamfestival.net, and may not be the certainty many take him for. "With course form and proven form against decent opposition, Altior rates as a strong fancy to get the better of Min," he writes.
Annie Power - Champion Hurdle, 3.30pm
A late entry into the field, Annie Power should deliver Mullins at least one winner on opening day.
"The horse was not even being considered for the race until last month, when reigning champion Faugheen was ruled out for the season. However, Annie Power is now the hot favourite," says The Sport Review website.
But her odds may count against her. "She's too short for me but it would be a travesty if a mare as good as her never won a race at the Cheltenham Festival," says Alex Hammond in Sporting Life.
Un De Sceaux - Queen Mother Champion Chase, 3.30pm
Another Mullins-trained horse is the tip for the main race on Wednesday, which is likely to be dominated by short-priced favourites, says Tom Dutton of the Standard. "If betting at odds-on is your thing, he looks nailed on," he writes, but offers up God's Own as an alternative.
"You will need nerves of steel if you are an Un De Sceaux backer - he is a hot head and Ruby [Walsh, the jockey] will need to keep a lid on him. Despite that, I really fancy him and am struggling to find an alternative," says Alex Hammond in Sporting Life.
Thistlecrack - World Hurdle, 3.30pm
A future Gold Cup contender, according to trainer Colin Tizzard, who could be "one of the best bets of the week", says City AM, although that could change if his odds come in too much. "He'd be 1-2 if we were trained by Willie Mullins," says the paper's racing editor, Bill Esdaile.
Esdaile is not alone in backing Thistlecrack. "He looks every inch the top class three mile hurdler and he could well turn out to be one of the bankers of the meeting with one horse having to improve enormously to get near him," says Danny Archer of Cheltenhamfestival.net.
Don Poli - Gold Cup, 3.30pm
The big one is tough to call this year, with the tipsters split. Don Cossack, Vautor and Cue Card are all favourites but Don Poli could spring a surprise.
"The more I look at the race, the more I fancy Don Poli. He has all the attributes of a Gold Cup winner... He has the ideal temperament for a Gold Cup too as he isn't highly strung and should take it all in his stride," says Alex Hammond in Sporting Life.
He is "not the most obvious" of the four Mullins trained horses in the race, argues Marcus Armytage of the Daily Telegraph. "He's not the fastest horse of all time but when others cry 'enough' at the foot of the hill he will find another gear up the rising ground."