Mate aims to be best of 32 Gold Cup entries

BEST MATE remains odds-on across the board to win an historic third Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup following the publication of the entries yesterday.

Best Mate, one of 32 entries for the March 18 contest, became only the sixth horse to successfully defend his title in chasing’s blue riband event when following up on his 2002 success last March.

At this year’s Festival he will bid to record a third successive Cheltenham Gold Cup victory, a feat only achieved before by the legendary trio of Arkle (1964-66), Cottage Rake (1948-50) and Golden Miller, who won jump racing’s top chase five times from 1932-36.

But there is a talented team of opponents also dreaming of landing the £350,000 contest, including Kingscliff, winner of last season’s Christie’s Foxhunter Chase at the Festival but a well-beaten second at Haydock on Saturday, and Sir Rembrandt, both hailing from the stable of Robert Alner, successful in the 1998 race with Cool Dawn.

Both Commanche Court and Truckers Tavern, runners-up to Best Mate in the last two Cheltenham Gold Cups, have been entered again, while the young pretenders include the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Keen Leader and Martin Pipe’s star novice Therealbandit, who has twice won over fences round Prestbury Park.

Pipe has five entries in total, including the 11-year-olds Cyfor Malta and Shooting Light, You’re Agoodun and Toto Toscato, who has not raced since March, 2000.

Paul Nicholls has just two entries, Sleeping Night and Venn Ottery, who has been moved to the season’s leading jumps trainer by permit-holder Oliver Carter.

There is a nine-strong challenge from Ireland, headed by Beef Or Salmon, a third-fence faller in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Other Irish-trained entries include last year’s third, Harbour Pilot, the veteran Florida Pearl and his stablemates Macs Gildoran and Rule Supreme.

The Guillaume Macaire-trained Jair Du Cochet beat Best Mate in the Tote Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in November before being pulled up when a warm favourite in the Pertemps King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephen's Day.

First Gold, trained by Francois Doumen, finished third in the Kempton event.

There are 25 entries in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, run on the second day of the Festival, March 17, including last year’s winner Moscow Flyer, who has still never been beaten when completing the course over fences.

Jessica Harrington’s champion is one of eight entries from Ireland in the two-mile showpiece alongside the likes of Le Coudray, who was second to Best Mate in the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown last month and Native Upmanship, the Champion Chase runner-up for the past two seasons.

Nicholls, successful in the 1999 race with Call Equiname, has six entries this year.

These are last season’s Irish Independent Arkle Chase winner Azertyuiop, who was a gallant second under top weight at Ascot on Saturday, Cenkos, recent Castleford Chase winner Kadarann, Le Roi Miguel, Venn Ottery and Young Devereaux.

Pipe’s three entries are King George VI Chase second Tiutchev, Seebald and Latalomne, who has moved from Brian Ellison’s stable.

The 2002 winner Flagship Uberalles and Palarshan, successful in last season’s Grand Annual Challenge Cup Chase, add further interest to the £250,000 contest.

There are supplementary entry stages for both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Chase five days before each race and respectively costing £17,500 and £12,500.

Edredon Bleu, champion two-miler in 2000 and winner of this season’s King George, is not entered in either the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Champion Chase.

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