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This year's Cheltenham Gold Cup has demonstrated the perils of ante-post betting. Favourites Best Mate and Kingscliff were withdrawn, and then farce became tragedy when supplemented runner Farmer Jack died on the gallops on Wednesday. Some are saying the Gold Cup is jinxed.
The race has been denuded of much talent, but whoever wins on Friday will nevertheless be a true hero. There remain two British Hennessy winners in Celestial Gold and Strong Flow, an Irish Hennessy winner which also lowered the colours of Best Mate this season in Beef or Salmon, and Kicking King, the winner of the King George. These are the class acts and the finish should be fought out between them.
Kicking Kinghas the most appeal and can claim the biggest prize of all for Ireland to cap the wins of Hardy Eustace and Moscow Flyer this week. The King George win is the best form in the book and that exhilarating victory suggests there could be more improvement to come.
The nagging question is whether his stamina will hold out for the extra quarter of a mile up the Cheltenham hill. His form at the course is sound, and even if he does fade towards the end, his tactical running may mean he is too far ahead to peg back. Beef or Salmon prefers softer ground and makes too many jumping errors. Celestial Gold is the bigger threat.
In the opening race, the JCB Triumph Hurdle, Admiralcan record a remarkable Royal Ascot/ Cheltenham festival double.
Martin Pipe's Bongo Fury is a strong fancy in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle. The form of her second to Essex in the Tote Gold Trophy is rock solid.
2:00 Admiral (each-way)
3:15 Kicking King (win)
5:20 Bongo Fury (each-way)