18 Irish entries for Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

Last year’s winner Sizing John is among 18 Irish-trained entries who feature among 38 in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday March 16.

Jessica Harrington’s charge failed to fire in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase last month but is on track to bid to become the first back-to-back Gold Cup winner since Best Mate (2002-4).

Impressive Ascot winner Coney Island is another leading Irish fancy and his trainer Eddie Harty said: "I was delighted with Coney Island at Ascot. He has come out of it fit and well, and is ready to go again. He has been entered for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase, and will also have entries in the Irish Gold Cup on February 4 and the Ascot Chase a fortnight later.

"We will go for one of those two and then make a decision about which race to aim for at Cheltenham after that.

"I think the Gold Cup picture looks as much as it did before Christmas. Might Bite did nothing wrong, Sizing John did, but that might have been down to the proximity of his prep race, and nothing else really came to the fore.

“My fella has shortened up in the betting after Ascot, but it was only a graduation chase. Touch wood and all being well, we will be able to decide where we are going after his prep run.

"I don't have any concerns about his stamina, but it would have been stupid not to put him in the Gold Cup and the Ryanair as we are still nine weeks out from Cheltenham and can finalise plans nearer the time."

Willie Mullins, who has saddled the runner-up on five occasions, could call upon Djakadam, second in both 2015 and 2016 and fourth when favourite in 2017, Total Recall, Killultagh Vic, Bachasson and Acapella Bourgeois.

Noel Meade has a strong hand, thanks to recent Grade One victor Road To Respect, who was successful in handicap company at The Festival last year, and the progressive Disko, while Gordon Elliott's three entries include Outlander.

32Red King George winner Might Bite heads the home defence and is joined in the field by stablemate Whisper. Both are likely to bid to give trainer Nicky Henderson a third win in the race.

Last year's second and third, Minella Rocco (Jonjo O'Neill) and Native River (Colin Tizzard) are entered again. The latter is yet to race this season but is being aimed at the race, while Native River's stablemate Cue Card, a dual winner at The Festival but a faller in the last two Cheltenham Gold Cups, is also engaged.

Coneygree (Mark Bradstock), who in 2015 became the first novice since Captain Christy in 1974 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, has recently had a wind operation following two disappointing efforts this season. Kauto Star (2007 & 2009) is the only horse to have regained the Cheltenham Gold Cup crown.

Nigel Twiston-Davies, successful with Imperial Commander in 2010, is responsible for impressive Betfair Chase hero Bristol De Mai and runaway Becher Handicap Chase victor Blaklion.

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