In the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival, there’s been one key talking point, and that’s Presenting Percy. Can he win the Gold Cup despite the obscure preparations which have seen just one run over the hurdles, and not at all in a steeplechase?
Presenting Percy last raced on January 24, winning at Gowran Park by one-and-a-quarter lengths. However, before then, he had a 316-day break, with the race prior to that his Novices’ Chase win at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. The eight-year-old is still the bookies’ joint-favourite to win the Gold Cup, but faces some stiff competition.
Fellow favourite, Clan des Obeaux has recently won the King George VI Chase and Denman Chase, but prior to these meetings did not have the best record over fences, last winning a steeplechase in November 2017. However, trainer Paul Nicholls has previous success, with Kauto Star winning the Gold Cup twice in the early noughties. And Nicholls believes his horse has had the perfect preparation for Cheltenham Festival, adding: “Of all the horses in the Gold Cup, he is probably the most improving youngster; a lot of those horses in there are exposed”.
Last year’s winner Native River is currently third favourite – and has raced twice this season. However, he could only manage a runner-up place in the Chase at Haydock and a third-place finish in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Out of all of Colin Tizzard’s runners at this year’s festival, the former Gold Cup winner is his best chance of success.
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Native River may have only raced once prior to his Gold Cup win last year, but looking back at previous winners, the majority have raced at least three times. In fact, between 1988 and 2001, Gold Cup winners arrived at Cheltenham with an average of 3.85 runs. Since Best Mate managed the hattrick of wins between 2002-04, this has decreased to 2.76.
One trainer that believes that Presenting Percy can’t win the Gold Cup with a lack of preparation is Henrietta Knight. She was famously accused of wrapping up Best Mate in cotton wool prior to his first Gold Cup win (where he raced three times in the build-up) and the following two defences of his title (where he raced just twice). She said: “I can’t see how a horse can win a Gold Cup without having run in a steeplechase for the season – especially one stepping out of novice company”.
A Twist in the Plot
Last weekend, the unusual preparations for Presenting Percy continued, when he took to a reconfigured Galway track, to get some practise in. In order to recreate the famous Cheltenham course, the tracks were flipped, so that Presenting Percy could take them on, on his left-hand side. But owner, Philip Reynolds revealed that the horse ran that specific track twice last month: “The whole crew at Galway did a great job in getting the fences out and, as everyone has seen, they put them going left-handed for us. They also put them going down the dip rather than going up it, so bar going over to Prestbury Park and jumping a few in anger, we couldn’t have done much more”.
Think that Presenting Percy can win the prestigious title? Have a punt on the Gold Cup 2019 on Betfair.