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CHELTENHAM: Our Duke steps out of Sizing John's shadow in Gold Cup
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CHELTENHAM: Our Duke steps out of Sizing John's shadow in Gold Cup
on 16 March 2018
Jessica Harrington-trained Our Duke is set to represent in today's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup as reigning champion Sizing John was forced out due to injury

INJURY may have forced reigning champion Sizing John out of Friday's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Jessica Harrington is still strongly represented by Our Duke.

The Irish National winner blotted his copybook on his Down Royal return but excuses emerged and he was much better when fourth in the Irish Gold Cup.

He built on that by giving weight and a beating to Wednesday's sparkling RSA winner Presenting Percy in the Red Mills Chase.

"He seems to be in great form. We haven't had to do too much with him because the Red Mills Chase wasn't that long ago," Harrington said.

"He needed that race as he'd made a bad mistake in the Irish Gold Cup and ended up finishing only fourth. The owners said last season we'd miss Cheltenham and go for the Gold Cup this year. It was their decision."

Willie Mullins fields four in his attempt to win the race for the first time. Djakadam has been placed three times previously and Killultagh Vic is another strong contender. Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall and Bachasson complete his team.

Mullins said of Killultagh Vic, who looked likely to go very close in the Irish Gold Cup but for falling at the last: "He beat Thistlecrack in a Grade 1 hurdle so stamina is not on my mind.

"We were worried, it was a heavy fall but he's schooled well since. When I saw the reverse angle, it looked like he was trying to be too careful and just unbalanced.

"I'm hopeful that he'll have learned and will be all right on the day."

Total Recall won over hurdles at the Dublin Racing Festival.

"Last time he jumped one or two hurdles too well and got a bit free, but he was just going his own pace," said Mullins.

"We decided on Cheltenham because the Bobbyjo was coming too soon after the hurdle race, which wouldn't have been the normal route to take for a National horse. After that the Gold Cup was the only other option."

Noel Meade's Road To Respect has made giant strides since winning a handicap at this meeting last year and has been kept fresh since winning a Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas.

"Nobody could paint a horse that could win a Gold Cup, but anybody who looks at this lad would like him," said Meade.

"He is everything you want. He has the most beautiful head, shoulders and depth and strength everywhere. He's the most beautiful horse you could wish to see, so if ever you could paint a Gold Cup winner, you would say this could be one."

The fact Edwulf is even lining up for Joseph O'Brien is a tribute to the Cheltenham vets who treated him after a major scare at the meeting last year. He recuperated well enough to win the Irish Gold Cup last time out to book his place.

"After what happened in Cheltenham, J.P. (McManus, owner) and Frank (Berry, racing manager) said we could take our time with him and if he never ran again, that was fine and if he did, then great," said O'Brien.

"He was absolutely flying going into the Irish Gold Cup. He was 100-1 the day before and went off 33s. We've been happy with him since and hopefully he goes there with a good each-way chance."

Colin Tizzard hopes the patient approach he has adopted with Native River this term will pay dividends.

Having gone close last year when third to Sizing John after a season which saw him win the Hennessy, Welsh National and Denman Chase, Tizzard felt those exertions probably took their toll in the final 100 yards.

Tizzard said: "We wondered last season if by going for the Hennessy, then going on to the Welsh National and then the Denman Chase that maybe we had taken the edge off him so he wasn't approaching the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the best of form. He ran well to finish third.

"We had Native River ready for Newbury - he had been to Larkhill three times as we didn't want him to get tired, or injured and we wanted him to do himself justice so he was ready for that.

"He is bound to improve for that run, every horse does."

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