The 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup picture became much clearer after a superb days racing at Newbury and Leopardstown with leading contenders Silviniaco Conti and Sir Des Champs both enhancing there Gold Cup prospects and several other possible contenders being rules out of this years race.
The obvious place to start is with Betfair Chase winner Silviniaco Conti who made it 3/3 for the season with another comfortable victory in Newbury's Denman Chase jumping superbly and quickening up nicely in very testing conditions to see off last years Gold Cup runner up The Giant Bolster who himself ran a great Gold Cup trial after a disappointing run in the King George but this is a horse who saves his best for Cheltenham so connections will be delighted with his run at Newbury but will have to improve considerably to reverse the form with the winner who has now beaten him twice this season.
Over in Ireland Sir Des Champs finally got the better of Flemenstar in a pulsating renewal of The Hennessy Gold Cup where his superior stamina came into play to see off his old adversary. It was also notable that he jumped and travelled much better than in The Lexus Chase and this duel Festival winner is peaking at just the right time and will be a formidable contender at Cheltenham where he will bid to take the Gold Cup back to Ireland for the first time since War Of Attrition's win in 2006.
Flemenstar must now be very unlikely to run in The Gold Cup with the Ryanair and Champion Chase his most likely targets while Henry De Bromhead has also ruled out Sizing Europe.
Paul Nicholls who in recent years has had the likes of Kauto Star, Denman and Neptune Collonges to go to war with at Cheltenham looks set to rely on Silviniaco Conti as his only runner as his other possible contender Tidal Bay looks likely to run in The World Hurdle on route to The Grand National thou he may be left in the race at the 5 day stage and if the ground comes up very heavy like it has all winter there would be few horse better equipped to handle such a brutal stamina test than Tidal Bay who despite being a 12 year old is at the peak of his powers since joining Paul Nicholls.
The long time ante post favourite Bobs Worth has not been seen out since his impressive Hennessy Gold Cup win after he missed his intended prep run in the Argento Chase but with his unbeaten record at Cheltenham which includes wins at the last two Festivals he is a worthy favourite. Id be slightly concerned that he has only had one run all season but Nicky Henderson is the leading Cheltenham Festival trainer for a reason and he will be a popular choice for Gold Cup glory come March 15th.
It would be no surprise to see Nicky Henderson saddle the 1st and 2nd in the race with Long Run who battled so bravely to get up in the final strides to win a gruelling King George Chase on Boxing Day and must have a sound chance of reclaiming the crown he won back in 2011.
Providing all the leading contenders line come the big day this years race appears to have more depth than last years race with Bobs Worth, Sir Des Champs, Long Run and Silviniaco Conti all looking to have excellent chances with First Lieutenant, Imperial Commander, The Giant Bolster others to have shown form at the highest level around Cheltenham and this could well be a vintage renewal of the blue ribbon of NH racing.