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Three Irish Horses Poised to Contend for Cheltenham Gold Cup 2019

The Cheltenham Festival is the grandest occasion for racing in the UK and Ireland, and so it stands to reason that the meeting’s flagship race, the Gold Cup, is the one they all want to win.

It’s a renewal that Irish horses and connections have a history of success in, and the 2019 edition looks like it might deliver yet more glory for the Emerald Isle.

Defending champion Native River might be based in the Somerset yard of trainer Colin Tizzard, but this is a horse with Irish blood, having been bred from Native Mo, the unraced progeny of Be My Native and started his career in the point-to-point fields with Denis Ahern.

As for 2017 Gold Cup winner Sizing John, it was a switch to the Jessica Harrington yard in County Kildare that made all the difference. The chaser had enjoyed a middling career up until the move to Ireland, but in his first year under Harrington’s tutelage, he landed both the UK and Irish versions of the Gold Cup as well as the Punchestown Chase.

Don Cossack did the business for the Gigginstown team in 2016, while Lord Windermere – the famous 20/1 outsider – learned his craft with Jim Culloty in County Cork prior to his Cheltenham gory of 2014.

As a result, there’s a rich heritage for this year’s hopefuls to follow, and here’s a trio with Irish connections who could well take the spoils in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Presenting Percy
There is an indelible Irish footprint with Presenting Percy, who is owned by Philip Reynolds, trained by Pat Kelly and typically ridden by Davy Russell.

The eight-year-old is the ante-post favourite with the bookmakers after his astonishing run at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. He demolished a strong field in the RSA Chase to win by seven lengths from Monalee, and that was a second consecutive victory at the meeting, having triumphed in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle 12 months prior.

A stayer who loves a test of stamina on soft ground, there was a long wait for the right conditions in which Presenting Percy would make his 2018/19 seasonal return, and that eventually came at Gowran Park late in January.

There, he kept on well to win the Galmoy Hurdle by just over a length from Bapaume.

You sense that his tilt at the Gold Cup title will be governed by the weather, and anything but soft ground underfoot might just put paid to his chances for this year at least. Punters will be glued to the long-range weather forecast before investing their hard-earned cash, but if the rain does come, Irish eyes could be smiling at the Festival once more.

Native River

Another who wouldn’t mind a deluge in the lead-up to the March meeting is the reigning champion, Native River.

The Brocade Racing star reigned victorious in the notoriously sticky conditions at the Festival in 2018, and that’s not the first time the nine-year-old has prospered in softer going, having won his warm-up on the mud in the Denman Chase.

The betting market has been largely unmoved by his return to action this season, where he has been a distant third to another Gold Cup contender, Clan Des Obeaux, in the King George, before a slightly better run in the Betfair Chase, where he finished second.

Another who hasn’t had the ground so far in an unusually dry January, Native River should not be written off should the spring showers come early.

It’s one of those bizarre quirks of fate that Willie Mullins, for all his success at the Festival down the years, has never trained a Gold Cup champion, but 2019 could finally be the year, with both Bellshill and Kemboy finely poised.

The former won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in fine style, but it’s the latter whose versatility might just get Mullins over the winning line.

A winner on all types of ground, the French-bred horse produced a fantastic performance to win December’s Savills Chase from Bellshill, Road to Respect and many other top-class chasers.

It was an eye-opening run in quick conditions, and provided confirmation that if the Festival is played out on good ground, Kemboy might be the leading Irish fancy for the Gold Cup.

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