Nicky Henderson already has enough golden memories of Cheltenham to keep his children, and grandchildren, entertained for hours when he finally calls it a day, puffs on his pipe in his armchair by the fire.
But when it comes to this afternoon’s story, if everything works out as beautifully as the 67-year-old master of Seven Barrow hopes it will, they might just wonder whether he’s making it up.
If Might Bite wins the Gold Cup – and he has long been favourite to do so – Henderson will become the first trainer ever to land the Festival’s big three races, having already bagged the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday with Buveur D’Air and the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday with Altior.
By then, Apple’s Shakira, also firm favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, and either Santini or Chef Des Obeaux, market leaders in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, may well have already added to Henderson’s record Festival career tally.
But it is Might Bite who will spark the most joyous celebrations if he can see off Colin Tizzard’s Native River and a large Irish contingent.
If there is a great horse in this field, rather than just a good Gold Cup winner, it is probably Might Bite. The winner of his last five races, most recently the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, it’s hard to know just how good he could be. But there are questions. Notoriously, he all but threw the RSA Chase away last March when veering toward an exit on the run-in. Might he do it again? Henderson and jockey Nico De Boinville have a plan, apparently, but who knows if it’s foolproof?
Then there is the ground, which Henderson recognises is softer than ideal. Might Bite has never run over quite this far before and those final extra yards can be brutal. How much will still be left in his locker up the final hill?
With a large field (18) and such as last year’s third, Native River, guaranteeing a searching pace, I wonder whether victory will go instead to one of the strong stayers from Ireland. The ground has gone against Noel Meade’s Road To Respect, but Joseph O’Brien’s Edwulf and Jessica Harrington’s Our Duke will relish the conditions.
A win for Edwulf, a year after collapsing on the run-in in the National Hunt Chase would be quite astonishing. Gasping for oxygen and unable to stand for 90 minutes and then two weeks in recovery, suffering temporary blindness, Edwulf was saved only by the dedication of the vets and O’Brien’s stable staff. By rights, his career should have been over, if not his life. But, incredibly, he has returned as good as new. It would have been entirely understandable after what he had gone through (a one-off neurological episode) if he had held something back at Leopardstown last month, but instead he gave everything to beat Outlander, Djakadam and Our Duke in a sensational Irish Gold Cup. And it wasn’t unexpected, either, owner J P McManus and O’Brien’s staff helping themselves to 100-1 that morning.
Our Duke blundered away his chance at the second last fence then, but has since given Presenting Percy 7lb and a beating at Gowran Park (no mean feat, given the runner-up’s impressive win here on Wednesday) and does seem to have the right attributes for a soft-ground Gold Cup.