Today's 83rd Gold Cup is perceived as one of the most open for years, despite the presence of the three horses who have dominated it for the past four: Kauto Star, with two wins and a second; Denman, with one win and two seconds, and last year's winner Imperial Commander. The first two-named are almost certainly past their peak and there is precious little evidence about the reigning champion, he having run just once this term.
It may be time to look elsewhere. But just as age may be catching up with the old guard, the most precocious talent in the field, six-year-old Long Run, may just be too tender in years; the last of his age to win was one of the giants of the sport, Mill House.
Ireland's two main contenders, Kempes and Pandorama, both produced persuasive rehearsals, the former at Leopardstown last month, the latter at Punchestown back in December. But the ground today may be the key; Kempes (3.20), Willie Mullins' stablemate of Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly, is favoured by lively conditions and there was much to like about the way he travelled smoothly, on going softer than ideal, and then quickened well, before his latest victory.
The enigma of the race is Tidal Bay, who has a fine and varied record at Cheltenham, including victory in the Arkle Trophy three years ago. His talent sometimes seems to exceed his enthusiasm, but if he is still taking an interest in being competitive at the sharp end not many will come up the hill better.
Already twice successful at the track, Sam Winner (1.30) can make his experience tell in the opening Triumph Hurdle at the expense of Smad Place, as can Bobs Worth (2.40), who looks a worthy favourite for the day's other Grade One contest.
On The Fringe (4.00) comes to the amateurs' fray with the reputation of being one of Ireland's most exciting hunter chasing talents in years; and in the handicaps Alaivan (2.05) is preferred to Alarazi; Mister Hyde (4.40) to Sir Des Champs; and Sports Line (5.15) to Nomecheki.