The highlight of this week’s thrilling Cheltenham Festival is the Timico Gr1 Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase which is run on the final day’s seven race programme today.
The jewel in the crown of the National Hunt racing calendar carries a stake of the equivalent of more than R9 million and is run over 5300m with an energy sapping total of 22 fences to negotiate.
Native River and Cue Card are now the ante-post favourites for Friday after the heavily-fancied Thistlecrack was ruled out with injury.
Last year’s winner Don Cossack, who was trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper for owners Gigginstown Stud, will not be there to defend his crown as he has been retired due to injury.
The Gold Cup boasts a proud history of top-class winners.
Golden Miller won the race five times in the years of 1932-1936. In 1934, he made history when he became the first horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year.
The race has been won by legends of the game, including Arkle, Kauto Star, Denman, Desert Orchid, Kicking King, Dawn Run and Best Mate.
In 1983 trainer Michael Dickinson saddled the first five horses home with Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House setting a record that is unlikely to be broken for a very long time.
In 2015, Coneygree became the first novice to win the race since 1974.
In a show of upholding tradition and saluting the heroes, a statue of the greatest jump jockey of all time, Sir A P McCoy, was unveiled on Champion Day, Tuesday.
McCoy, who retired from the saddle at the end of the 2014/15 season, was champion Jump jockey a record 20 times, taking the title every season between 1995/96 and 2014/15, and partnered an incredible 4,358 Jump winners during his career.
His 31 successes at the Cheltenham Festival included two Gold Cups (1997 Mr Mulligan & 2012 Synchronised) as well as three Champion Hurdles (1997 Make A Stand, 2006 Brave Inca & 2010 Binocular).
The lifesize bronze of the legendary jockey is situated on the Best Mate Plaza.
South African racing fans will be able to enjoy the action live on Tellytrack (Dstv 239).
Gold Cup Day – Friday, March 17 (New Course)
3.30pm £125,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1f – 22
4.10pm £95,000 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 1f – 26
4.50pm £125,000 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m – 20
5.30pm £575,000 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1) 3m 2½f – 24
6.10pm £45,000 St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase 3m 2½f – 24
6.50pm £65,000 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4½f – 24
7.30pm £105,000 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m ½f – 24