Beef heads record Gold Cup entry

BEEF OR SALMON and Kingscliff top a record entry of 64 horses in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Despite the absence of last year's impressive scorer Kicking King, the race has attracted a huge entry, headed by the recent Lexus Chase winner Beef Or Salmon and Betfair Chase victor Kingscliff.

British champion jumps trainer Martin Pipe, who has yet to win the Gold Cup, has a team of five entered for the Festival showpiece, with last year's Hennessy Gold Cup winner Celestial Gold a leading contender.

Recent Cheltenham scorer Joaaci, Rowland Meyrick Chase winner Therealbandit, Iznogoud and Our Vic complete his quintet.

Paul Nicholls, who took the blue riband with See More Business in 1999, has four entries, including useful novice hurdler Neptune Collonges, who had a decent record over fences in his native France.

Former champion hurdler Hors La Loi III, Cornish Rebel, Royal Auclair and last year's Welsh National winner Silver Birch are other entries for the West Country handler.

A number of leading novices have also been entered for the Grade One event, including Feltham Chase winner Darkness and Nicky Henderson's Crozan.

Cheltenham winner The Listener is one of four entries for Robert Alner who also has Sir Rembrandt, Be My Royal and Kingscliff.

Howard Johnson has entered promising novice Bewleys Berry as well as Lord Transcend and veteran performer Grey Abbey.

Iris's Gift, a former Stayers' Hurdle winner, could bid to pull off a remarkable double as he has been entered by trainer Jonjo O'Neill and owner Robert Lester.

Other notable entries include last year's Grand National hero Hedgehunter and King George runner-up Monkerhostin as well as last year's Gold Cup runner-up Take The Stand.

Champion owner David Johnson admits Celestial Gold is his "key" contender as he bids for a first success in the Gold Cup.

"I've got four horses in and it's just fingers crossed that they get there," said Johnson. "Obviously Celestial Gold would be my key horse at this stage."

Celestial Gold, who won both the Paddy Power and Hennessy Gold Cups last year, has yet to run this season but is pencilled in to make his seasonal reappearance in either the Letheby & Christopher Chase at Cheltenham on January 28 or the Aon Chase at Newbury on February 11.

Johnson is hoping his light programme may see Celestial Gold improve on last year's seventh place in the blue riband.

"He's very well at the moment and he comes back a fresh horse as he has not run yet this season," he added.

"I think he will be much fresher for the Gold Cup this time as last year he'd had four runs and maybe winning the Hennessy and Paddy Power had taken more out of him than we thought."

Philip Hobbs has three entries in the shape of King George VI Chase runner-up Monkerhostin, One Knight and Lacdoudal.

While Monkerhostin could tune up for the Cheltenham event in the Letheby & Christopher race, Hobbs is leaning towards a tilt at the Aon.

Hobbs said: "I'm slightly favouring Newbury because I think he may get better ground there."

Hobbs added One Knight will have his prep outing in the Country Gentlemen's Association Chase at Wincanton on February 18, while second-season chaser Lacdoudal is merely a speculative entry for the big one.

totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup betting:

Ladbrokes: 9-2 Kingscliff, 5-1 Beef Or Salmon, 6-1 Monkerhostin, 12-1 War Of Attrition, Celestial Gold, Take The Stand, 16 Joaaci, 16-1 One Knight, 20-1 Ollie Magern, Hedgehunter, Cornish Rebel, 25-1 Iris's Gift, L'Ami, Royal Auclair, 33-1 bar.

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