Everything has essentially come right for Gordon Elliott’s strapping nine-year-old and the good ground will very much play to his strengths.
You could make a case that his latest two efforts left a bit to be desired and there is no great argument there.
In the King George at Kempton at Christmas he fell at the second last when trying to close in on Cue Card and Vautour.
As well as that Don Cossack never really travelled through the contest, although Kempton was far from the ideal course for him.
On the credit side, however, is even though Don Cossack appeared all at sea on that flat track, he was certainly staying on powerfully when departing the scene.
Elliott then concluded that sending his charge to Cheltenham on the back of a fall was less than satisfactory and he asked Don Cossack to race again at Thurles in the middle of January.
Like Kempton, Thurles was never going to suit and the Sholokhov gelding was less than impressive in beating Wounded Warrior by nine and a half lengths.
But as a confidence booster the exercise more than served its purpose and a relatively recent work out by Don Cossack at Leopardstown was most encouraging.
He went over nine fences with stable companion No More Heroes, who had to be put down after suffering a career-ending injury in the RSA Chase on Wednesday, and seemed to be on particularly good terms with himself. Don Cossack displayed real enthusiasm, in contrast to Thurles, and his jumping was especially quick and accurate.
Only ten have been declared for this Gold Cup and one of them, Road To Riches, ran in yesterday’s Ryanair Chase.
The defection of Vautour has clearly taken from the race and, realistically, it will be a major surprise should the winner fail to come from four horses, with Djakadam, Cue Card and Don Poli added to Don Cossack.
Djakadam produced a stunning performance for a six-year-old when chasing home Coneygree here a year ago and has to have made a full recovery, following a fall at Cheltenham in January.
He was taken wide, for the better ground, throughout by Ruby Walsh, race won by Smad Place, and was cantering when falling at the tenth.
Prior to that he put up one of the best Gold Cup trials seen over the campaign when trouncing Valseur Lido by 12 lengths in the John Durkan at Punchestown.
The overwhelming evidence, however, suggests that Djakadam is at his most potent when the surface is at least soft, so conditions are not going to be in his favour.
Cue Card has been in fantastic form this season and will qualify for a £1m bonus should he do the business now.
He showed great battling qualities to defeat Vautour in the King George at Kempton, digging down deep after being none too clever at the final fence.
Don Poli will stay every yard of the punishing three and quarter miles and the fact has won on his previous two visits to the festival has to be regarded as a major plus.
But the bottom line is that he was flat to the boards at Leopardstown at Christmas to beat First Lieutenant and Foxrock and that shapes as being a fair way short of what might be required here.
There is one contest that may well hold the key to the puzzle and it is a Grade 1 At Punchestown last April.
That afternoon, on decent ground, Don Cossack slammed Djakadam by seven lengths, running away from him in the closing stages.
Plenty has been made of the fact that Elliott’s charge has twice failed at this meeting, but there were extenuating circumstances on both occasions.
No one will begrudge Willie Mullins if he can finally land the biggest prize in National Hunt racing with Djakadam or Don Poli, but for me it has to be Don Cossack.
Gorbatov set to Triumph in opener
Ivanovich Gorbatov is fancied to win the JCB Triumph Hurdle for the Aidan and Joseph O’Brien combination.
A really good sort on the flat, he found bad ground all too much when a disappointing fourth behind Footpad at Leopardstown in February and wasn’t knocked about by Barry Geraghty.
Prior to that he actually went through testing conditions at Leopardstown to win his maiden in fine style, but is expected to improve substantially for better ground now.
Fringe looks a cut above rivals in Foxhunters
Enda Bolger’s On The Fringe can repeat last year’s success in the St James’ Place Foxhunters Chase, where so much attention, obviously, will be focused on Victoria Pendleton and Pacha Du Polder.
On The Fringe was superb twelve months ago, coming through smoothly in the straight to beat Pacha Du Polder by just under four lengths.
He made his reappearance at Leopardstown in February, managing only seventh of eight finishers behind the ill-fated You Must Know Me.
On The Fringe performed far better that the bare result, though, tiring badly in the closing stages, on the heavy ground, and will strip a lot fitter now.