The 2019 Cheltenham Festival is upon us once again and the stage is set for another extra-special week in the Cotswolds.
Over recent seasons favourite backers have never had it so good at the Cheltenham Festival, and that's thanks in no small part to four trainers - Britain's Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls and Irish titans Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. They took their dominance to new heights in 2018 by landing 19 of the festival's 28 races between them and few would bet against the quarter landing a similar haul in 2019.
But Friday's feature, the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup, may prove elusive as the market is dominated by a couple of horses from other yards: Presenting Percy, who represents Galway-based Pat Kelly, and the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River, who is bidding to defend the crown he so valiantly landed 12 months ago. At the time of writing the former horse is 7/2 favourite to land chasing's blue riband with Paddy Power, who go half a point longer on last year's hero.
For the record, the Irish firm go 4/1 on this year's King George winner Clan Des Obeaux, who is bidding to give Nicholls a fifth winner in the race, and 9/1 on Kemboy, one of three possible runners for 11-time Irish champion trainer Mullins, who has yet, somewhat surprisingly since he's won just about everything else, to lift the trophy. It's surely a question of time.
Given this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the most open for years, it's quite possible we haven't mentioned the winner and the supposed Mullins second-string Bellshill, a 10/1 chance with Paddy Power, will be on plenty of betting slips come the off (3:30pm) on Friday. The winner of three of his last five races, including the Irish equivalent last time, he looks sure to make his presence felt providing the ground isn't too testing.
The more rain that falls will play into the hands of Native River as it will bring his stamina into play, and the same comment applies to his stablemate Elegant Escape, the winner of this season’s Welsh Grand National.
However, Presenting Percy looked every inch a future Gold Cup winner when storming up the Cheltenham hill last March to slam his rivals in the RSA Chase. That was on the back of an unorthodox preparation so the fact we have barely seen him since - one run over hurdles at Gowran Park in January, when justifying favouritism - shouldn't be a barrier to another festival success and a third overall, having also won the Pertemps Hurdle in 2017.
Whether he's value at current odds is open to question, but he's a worthy favourite nonetheless and we can even back him risk free - sign up with Paddy Power, place a bet on the race and, if loses, they will refund your stake in CASH (up to £10). T&Cs apply.