Racing: Stampede of chasers in pursuit of Gold Cup

With three weeks and a day to go until the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a record number of potential runners remain in the Festival showpiece, bringing, for the first time, the prospect of a cut to be missed. For if the 39 horses remaining in the £400,000 Grade One contest are not whittled down to 24, the safety limit, by the final declaration stage in 20 days' time, the lowest-rated among them will be eliminated. "We hope it will not come to that," said the clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, yesterday, "but 39 is quite a large number."

This year's biggest-ever Gold Cup entry of 64 was undoubtedly a function of two leading contenders, Best Mate and Kicking King, being removed from the equation. But not much has happened since to counteract the perceived wisdom that the 78th running is up for grabs. The six horses at the head of the market - Beef Or Salmon, Monkerhostin, Kingscliff, Celestial Gold, War Of Attrition and Take The Stand - can be backed within five points of each other, from 5-1 to 10-1.

At the same forfeit stage 12 months ago, 27 remained from an entry of 40, of which 15 faced the starter. The same proportional representation would bring next month's field down to 22 but given the apparently open nature of this year's contest, the temptation to have a go with sub-standard horses may be strong.

The largest Gold Cup field has been the 22 who lined up in 1982. Silver Buck, at 8-1, won; Night Nurse, the 11-4 favourite, was pulled up; and Sunset Cristo, a 50-1 shot, struck a blow for the no-hopers by finishing third. And there have been some mighty moderate winners: the likes of Master Smudge, Alverton, Davy Lad and Royal Frolic were, in élite terms, very ordinary.

All the leading fancies stood their ground yesterday. Martin Pipe, yet to win the Blue Riband, has left in four alongside Celestial Gold: Iznogoud, Joaaci, Our Vic and Therealbandit. The 25 removed from the fray contained no real surprises; the highest-profile were Fondmort and Silver Birch. Other absentees include the novices Neptune Collonges, The Listener and Hors La Loi, but two first-season chasers, Darkness and Bewleys Berry, stay in the mix.

The lowest-rated of those remaining is the 10-year-old handicapper Early Edition, trained by the individualistic permit holder Oliver Carter and last seen pulling up lame at Newton Abbot 17 months ago.

The next revelation of runners comes on Saturday fortnight with the five-day declarations and a £20,000 supplementary entry stage.

In the Champion Hurdle, there will be no numerical record. The 23 who paid forfeit yesterday can all run if they wish, for the safety limit is 30. The largest field has been the 24 who took part in 1991, when the 4-1 favourite Morley Street won, and in 1964, the year of the 100-6 shot Magic Court.

But there are still 20 still in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, for which the most populous field has been the 13 headed by Call Equiname seven years ago, and a massive 36 go forward for the staying hurdles crown, the World Hurdle. In both 1985, when 5-1 favourite Rose Ravine won, and 1990, when Trapper John, at 15-2, prevailed, 22 runners went to post.

The marathon hurdling division is becoming increasingly sexier, and deservedly so, for the long-distance runners are the true iron men of the Festival. Six World Hurdle entries will be putting their credentials on the line this afternoon at Haydock in the Rendlesham Hurdle: Crystal D'Ainay, going for back-to-back victories, Patriarch Express, Sh Boom, long-absent Royal Rosa and, from France, Blue Canyon and Millenium Royal, stablemates of the two-time title holder Baracouda. The Grade Two three-miler has produced three winners of the greater prize in Baracouda (2002), Anzum (second in1999) and Balasani (1994).

The exciting novice chaser Monet's Garden, runner up in the Rendlesham last year at its usual home, Kempton, will further his education in the Pendil Chase, another transfer from Sunbury, at Sandown on Saturday. The grey eight-year-old, unbeaten over fences, has been left only in the two-mile Arkle Trophy at the Festival, for which he is a 14-1 chance. "He's in grand fettle and Saturday will be another stepping stone," his trainer, Nicky Richards, said, "but we're not sure he'd stay three miles round Cheltenham at this stage."

Ireland's Accordion Etoile, a market leader for the Arkle, the Festival novices' race that has produced more subsequent champions than any other, will not be seen again before the big day but was reported in sparkling form yesterday by his trainer, Paul Nolan.

Last season's Champion Hurdle fourth will keep his date with the Prestbury Park hill come rain or shine. "We couldn't be happier with him," Nolan said. "We're praying for good ground, but he'd run on soft. He has been trained for a year with just one race in mind."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Fabulous Jet

(Haydock 1.50)

NB: Moulin Riche

(Haydock 3.20)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor