SIR Des Champs will line up in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup with a new jockey after Davy Russell was ruled out with a punctured lung.
Russell suffered a fall on Wednesday from Un Beau Matin in the Coral Cup but attempted to ride in the first two races on Thursday.
After finishing unplaced on Argocat in the Jewson and Stonemaster in the Pertemps Final, Russell was struggling to breathe before his problem was diagnosed.
Nevertheless, despite his pilot still not being decided, trainer Willie Mullins has been happy with the preparation of Sir Des Champs.
“He’s going well and improving all season. He likes the course, he’ll like the ground and on form, he’s up there with the best of them. Let’s hope he’s good enough,” said Mullins of the two-times Festival winner.
“He’s two out of two [at Cheltenham]. Bobs Worth is four out of four and he’s got pretty good form going in there. If he can run his usual good race there, it’s all to play for.
“If he can just keep those errors out of his jumping, he has every chance.
“He’s a top-class horse but he’s in against top-class horses and you don’t win Gold Cups easily.”
With no Kauto Star to call on for the first time in six years, Paul Nicholls is relying on Silviniaco Conti in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He looks to have had the ideal build-up, winning the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the Denman Chase at Newbury.
Nicholls decided not to send him to Cheltenham as a novice last year and, while some are viewing that as a negative, not so the champion trainer.
“He’s won his last four chases, and he’s three from three this year. He’s run in great Gold Cup trials and he keeps winning,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“He does everything right – he keeps jumping, he travels well and he keeps winning. He’s not flashy – he just does the job – and that’s what I like about him.
Only Nicky Henderson’s Long Run represents a link back to the golden era of chasers that also included Denman and Imperial Commander.
He could only finish third last year but won a second King George in December to add to his Gold Cup of two years ago.
“I think we’re happy, he came back and won the King George, it was a bit of an untidy one admittedly but he won it,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“He likes Cheltenham and I do think he was a bit flat last year – I can’t say he is miles better this year, but I think he is better. Long Run has got his King George back, he’s got to get his Gold Cup back and probably shouldn’t be twice the price of Bobs Worth.”
Bobs Worth is Long Run’s Henderson-trained stablemate and is defending an unbeaten Cheltenham record. Henderson said: “He missed a prep race, but the ground was so bad at the time – we’ve had soft ground since October. He’s proved he’s a Grade One winner as a novice but not in this league. Then again, it’s a very open year.”
The Gold Cup tends to suit a certain type of horse and The Giant Bolster outran his odds last season to finish second.
David Bridgwater’s inmate has been trained specifically for the race again this year.
“You can’t beat the form of last year’s race and it will be an interesting contest this time around,” said Bridgwater.
“It would be silly to say that we are going to win the Gold Cup – anyone would be delighted to be placed in the race and winning it would be a bonus.”
It seems a long time since Jodami won the Gold Cup for a northern yard back in 1993 but a genuine contender this year is Malcolm Jefferson’s Cape Tribulation.
A winner at the Festival over hurdles 12 months ago, he saw off Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase in January.
“I know it’s a tough shot, but if he ran well in it there’s good place money,” said Jefferson. “If you look at both his hurdle races the way he stays on he can find more. He’s really versatile. If he gets a good gallop, he stays.”
Despite winning an Arkle and finishing second in this season’s King George, Captain Chris is still available at a big price.
However, the nine-year-old has tended to jump to his right when he runs at Cheltenham.
Trainer Philip Hobbs said: “He all but won the King George and he might have won at Ascot the other day so I think he’s undoubtedly a very good horse if we get everything right on the day.
“He runs against the very best and performs very creditably a lot of the time so he’s not without a chance. It’s a minor disadvantage going left-handed but I don’t think he’s so inclined to go right as last season.”