Mate heads Gold challenge

Best Mate heads the 32 entries revealed today for the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup, which takes place on March 18.

Best Mate heads the 32 entries revealed today for the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup, which takes place on March 18.

The Henrietta Knight-trained champion became only the sixth horse to successfully defend his title in chasing’s blue riband event when following up on his 2002 success last year.

Best Mate is rated a 4-5 chance with the sponsors 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 (€505,000) 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 at Cheltenham.

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.

Both entries from France boast excellent credentials.

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 Boxing 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 (€360,000) 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 (€25,100) and £12,500 (€17,995).

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.

Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham’s managing director, commented: “There are just over two months until the 2004 Festival and the publication of the entries for our two flagship chases, the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup and Queen Mother Champion Chase, begins the countdown to March 16, 17 and 18.

“Further interest is added as Best Mate and Moscow Flyer bid to make history by becoming the first pair of Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup and Queen Mother Champion Chase winners to both land the races in successive years.

“It is a rare year that the Pertemps King George VI Chase winner is not entered in either race and this adds further weight to the inclusion of a two-and-a-half mile championship in 2005.”

Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup betting:

William Hill: 8-11 Best Mate, 8-1 Keen Leader, Truckers Tavern, 10-1 Kingscliff, 12-1 Beef Or Salmon, 14-1 Sir Rembrandt, 16-1 Jair Du Cochet, 20-1 First Gold, 25-1 Commanche Court, Therealbandit, 33-1 bar.

Queen Mother Champion Chase betting:

Ladbrokes: 11-8 Moscow Flyer, 9-4 Azertyuiop, 16-1 Kadarann, Le Roi Miguel, Tiutchev, 20-1 Cenkos, Flagship Uberalles, Isio, Native Upmanship, 25-1 Palarshan, 33-1 bar.

More in this section

Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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