In the fourth of his articles on the big Championship race each day at the Cheltenham Festival, David Cleary runs the rule over the main contenders...
"Lostintranslation has form as good as any in the race, he will be suited by the longest trip he's yet encountered and he's not dependent on the ground being one thing or another."
It's a shame Native River has been forced to miss the Cheltenham Gold Cup after suffering an injury, but his trainer Colin Tizzard has an excellent second-string to his bow in the shape of Lostintranslation and he looks overpriced in a wide-open renewal of chasing's blue riband.
There are perhaps as many as eight plausible winners among the 19 that remain in contention for the prize. Last season's winner Al Boum Photo heads the market with the RSA runner-up Santini, but there are pieces of form which make Delta Work, Kemboy, Presenting Percy, Clan des Obeaux and even Monalee horses that it is perfectly possible to see returning to the winner's enclosure to a hero's welcome.
To make the case first for Lostintranslation: he was among the best novice chasers last season, including finishing second at the Festival to Defi du Seuil over two and a half miles; he beat the RSA Chase winner Topofthegame in impressive fashion at Aintree on his first outing at three miles; he won his first two starts this season, beating Bristol de Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock when upped still further in trip.
He has form as good as any in the race, he will be suited by the longest trip he's yet encountered and he's not dependent on the ground being one thing or another.
The negative is obviously his run in the King George at Kempton when he just didn't show his form and was reported to have had a breathing problem. It was announced very soon afterwards that he would go straight to Cheltenham, so his absence from the trials isn't a worry. Lostintranslation is a big enough price to forgive a poor run that is explainable last time out.
Photo and Kemboy give Mullins a strong hand
Al Boum Photo has had an even quieter preparation, though one that mirrors last year's. As then, he returned at Tramore on New Year's day and did all that was required to land the odds. Last season, he had been due to run at Leopardstown in early-February but missed the race due to the ground. This time he just skipped it. Al Boum Photo won this race convincingly last season and obviously merits consideration again, though that factor is perhaps given too much weight in the market.
After all, in last year's race Al Boum Photo went off a longer price than his stable companion Kemboy (who was short of room and went at the first) and then was beaten by him fair and square at Punchestown. Kemboy had also won in good style at Aintree, beating Clan des Obeaux, so there's an argument that Kemboy has form as good as any in the race.
The question is whether Kemboy is in quite the same form as he was last spring and whether he will be able to show it at Cheltenham if he is. After his return was delayed, caught up in ownership issues, he has run twice and been beaten twice this winter, both times behind Delta Work at Leopardstown.
A lack of an outing offers a plausible excuse for the first defeat and he was a short-priced favourite to turn the tables in the Irish Gold Cup. However, he seemed unsettled by a mistake in the back straight when defeated again, his jumping ropey for a couple of fences after that, which clearly would be a worry at Cheltenham.
Delta Work heads rest of Irish challenge
Clearly Delta Work merits serious consideration, having won those two Grade 1 contests this season. He started favourite for last season's RSA Chase and ran well to take third behind Topofthegame and Santini.
He then won impressively at Punchestown. He presumably needed the run at Down Royal on his return, showed a willing attitude to see off Monalee at Christmas and then got the better of Kemboy and Presenting Percy after all three were still going strongly approaching the last in the Irish Gold Cup.
Presenting Percy looked much more his old self in that race and has had a more regular preparation than he did when running no sort of race as favourite in last year's Gold Cup. He needs to find a little more to win the race, but his Festival record means he has to enter calculations. Two years ago he was a really good winner of the RSA; the year before he landed the Pertemps Final.
In that RSA, Presenting Percy defeated Monalee. Monalee isn't good enough to win a Gold Cup on most of his form, though his second to Delta Work at Leopardstown last time out would be a career best and he has run well on all three visits to the Cheltenham Festival.
Obeaux: A player?
That is not the case with Clan des Obeaux, who has run twice at the Festival - he gave the meeting a swerve in 2017 and 2018 - and failed to make the frame.
In last season's Gold Cup he looked set to play a big hand, but failed to see his race out and finished only fifth. Since then, Clan des Obeaux has won a second King George and, a year older, may be a stronger stayer this time around. A stamina-sapping finish is a concern, though.
Santini heads to the Gold Cup with two wins from two starts this season. He ran a lacklustre race when scrambling home at Sandown on his reappearance, given a breathing operation and sitting out the King George as a result. He then went to Cheltenham on trials day and was much more convincing, winning the Cotswold Chase, staying on strongly to deny Bristol de Mai. Santini has been placed on both visits to the Festival, third in the Albert Bartlett over hurdles and second, ahead of Delta Work, in the RSA.
Which of these eight will win? There is a case for all of them. The absence of Native River means the gallop might not be so searching as it would have been with him in, though this is always a supreme test of stamina and jumping. At the prices, Lostintranslation and Kemboy look the pair that are bigger on form than they should be, Lostintranslation's good run at the Festival previously and the potential for more to come over a longer trip just sway the selection his way.
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Back Lostintranslation at [8.6] or bigger for the Cheltenham Gold Cup