This will be the 1st Gold Cup since 2006 that the great Kauto Star will not contest but judging by the initial entries it still promises to be a 1st class renewal of the great race.
As you would expect the leading contenders come from the stables of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson with prehaps the latter having the stronger hand with Long Run who put up as game a performance as you could wish to see when getting up in the dying strides to take a thrilling King George VI Chase and his 2nd success in the race. In his previous race he was beaten fair and square by Paul Nicholls leading Gold Cup contender Silviniaco Conti in Haydock's Betfair Chase thou the winner did have the benefit of a prep run that may have given him the edge that day but none the less the winner is improving at a rate of knots and heads to the Gold Cup with a leading chance. The only question over him being his lack of experience around Cheltenham.
The anti post favourite for the Gold Cup is Long Runs stablemate Bobs Worth who has a perfect 4/4 record around Cheltenham which includes last seasons RSA Chase where he got the better of First Lieutenant in a great battle up the famous hill.
On his only outing so far this season he was the winner of a memorable Hennessy Gold Cup where he ran out a impressive winner from Paul Nicholls 12yo Tidal Bay who himself put up a career best effort in attempting to carry 11-12 and give 6 pounds to Bobs Worth with First Lieutenant running another fine race in 3rd to follow up his good 2nd on his previous outing in a grade 1 chase at Down Royal. These two met again in prehaps the race of the season so far in the Lexus Chase in Ireland where Tidal Bay who looked beat jumping the last came with a storming late run to get up on the line to deny First Lieutenant a deserved success with the popular Flemenstar in 3rd ahead of Willie Mullins duel Cheltenham Festival Sir Des Champs. Less than a length seperated the 1st four home.
At present Flemenstar would appear the least likely to take his chance in the Gold Cup with question marks over his stamina but he will have another attempt at 3m in February in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown and this will tell us more about his Cheltenham target.
Other notable entries incluse The Giant Bolster who was 2nd in last years Gold Cup and always saves his best for Cheltenham. Lucinda Russell has a rare entry in the shape of the rapidly improving Bold Sir Brian. The 2010 winner Imperial Commander could attempt to reclaim his crown but at 12 years of age his best days may be behind him after a near 2 year lay off due to injury but will be very interesting to see how he fares in his comeback run before a possible Gold Cup attempt.
David Pipe has his top class grey Grands Crus entered who returned to form after a breathing operation to run a fine 3rd in Long Runs King George and despite questions over his stamina there must be improvment to come from his excellent run at Kempton
At this stage tho if asked to pick the winner I wouldnt look past Bobs Worth as his form is rock solid. He has outstanding form around Cheltenham with the only doubt being if the going came up heavy which would bring Tidal Bay into the equation with his bottomless stamina and ability to handle desperate ground