The Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup is arguably the highlight of the National Hunt season every year.
Won last year by the Colin Tizzard trained Native River, it features three miles and two furlongs of the very top quality of racing.
Here is a look at the leading contenders to win the famous contest in 2019.
Not since 2004 has a horse managed to retain its crown in the Gold Cup, when Best Mate made it three in a row.
Now featured in the Cheltenham Hall of Fame, Native River would stake a significant claim to joining that elite line up if managing victory again this year.
He opened this season with a solid second in defeat to Bristol De Mai before running as well as could be expected at Kempton, a track which has never appeared to suit him.
The extra stamina test provided by Cheltenham’s undulations will be welcome in March.
According to James Prosser, founder of the myracing tips and news website, Presenting Percy has been a popular tip among followers: “A recent poll of over 1,900 of our users saw Native River come out on top as the most fancied horse to win the Gold Cup. If they are right I’m certain the atmosphere at Cheltenham will be electric.”
Pat Kelly is not a trainer who you would immediately associate with the antepost favourite for the Gold Cup - two years ago he had just seven horses in his yard.
That didn’t stop him winning the Pertemps Hurdle at the 2016 Festival with the Philip Reynolds’ owned Mall Dini, before going on to take the same race with Presenting Percy a year later.
Now eight years old, Presenting Percy has gone from strength to strength since graduating to fences.
His jumping, while questionable at times earlier in the season, was impeccable in the RSA Novices’ Chase in March earlier this year, where - having been sent off the 5/2 favourite - he might light work of a competitive field to win by an impressive seven lengths.
Another popular choice for myracing users, Presenting Percy was voted the second most likely horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, only narrowly behind Native River.
No horse has ever won both the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Gold Cup - Brown Lad came closest, winning the former in 1975 before finishing second in both 1976 and 1978 - but Thistlecrack is being well supported to become the first.
Unlucky with injuries, he was ruled out of most of 2017 with a leg injury, before then missing the 2018 Gold Cup with a stress fracture.
His first run of the season saw him finish a promising third in the Betfair Chase, before improving on Boxing Day to finish second in the King George VI Chase, staying all the way to the line.
Since that run, his odds have more than halved with a number of bookmakers, and he has proved popular with the punting public receiving a quarter of votes in the recent survey.
Clan Des Obeaux
Despite being seen as a leading trial, the last time the King George VI winner went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup was back in 2010 (Long Run). Clan Des Obeaux, however, has the benefit of being just seven years old - the same age Long Run was in 2010.
Trained by Paul Nicholls, this French bred gelding was progressive last season, finishing in the places in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase and the Betway Bowl Chase.
Forced to miss Cheltenham due to lameness in 2018, his run in the King George was a career best. Stamina would be a worry though with Cheltenham a notoriously tougher track than Kempton but he is unexposed at longer trips and still young.
The 2019 Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup takes place on Friday, March 15th. It will carry a prize pool of £600,000, plus a new addition for this year - the original Gold Cup has been returned to Cheltenham Festival and will be reintroduced as a perpetual prize.