In similar form, he should take all the beating and though some will be wary that he has been to Cheltenham four times and not won, two of those runs were in juvenile hurdles and he was second on the two other occasions, once giving 24lb to the winner.
The conditions have come right for Colin Tizzard’s trio of Native River, Thistlecrack and Elegant Escape, just as they have once again gone against Nicky Henderson’s representative Might Bite, whose hard-fought second a year ago appears to have left an indelible mark.
The ground, arguably, was too quick for Native River at Haydock and, less comfortable going right-handed, he did well to finish third at Kempton.
The equine flu outbreak prevented him from running at Newbury, where we might have seen more from him. Most Gold Cup winners have, however, got their head in front at some stage during the season.
Thistlecrack is now 11 and it is half a century since Paul Kelleway steered a horse older than 10, the 12-year-old What A Myth, to Gold Cup victory. Tizzard’s best shot may, therefore, be with his Welsh National winner Elegant Escape, a staying-on second to Frodon in the Gold Cup trial here in January.
We all know what Richard Johnson will try to do on Native River – gallop everything else into the ground in a war of attrition – and he could set up the stamina contest Elegant Escape needs.
The elusive Presenting Percy would be the first since Easter Hero 90 years ago to win without having run in a steeplechase that season. I dare say, however, very few have tried trainer Pat Kelly’s unorthodox approach.