Irish raiders mount serious challenge to Gold Cup old order
THE old guard or the young pretenders - that is the burning question ahead of today's Cheltenham Gold Cup.
While some racing romantics, as well as their legion of fans, insist that the chances of former winners Kauto Star, Imperial Commander and Denman should not be dismissed, it appears many punters believe a new name will be inscribed on the trophy today.
Nicky Henderson's Long Run heads the cast of young hopefuls, followed closely by the pair from this side of the Irish Sea -- the Willie Mullins-trained Kempes and Pandorama from the Noel Meade yard.
However, the participation of the latter hung in the balance late last night, with Meade praying that the forecast overnight rain arrived.
However, the Co Meath handler wasn't optimistic that there would be ample cut in the ground for him to let Pandorama take its chance.
"The prospects of Pandorama running in the Gold Cup are looking a bit dodgy with the ground drying out,'' the trainer said. "He is here, in good form and we are very happy with him. But the ground is drying out and unless it is no quicker than good to soft then it is most unlikely that he will run.
"We would love to see the rain arrive tonight or early in the morning."
Last year's hero Imperial Commander continues to shade favouritism.
But there seems little market confidence behind dual winner Kauto Star or Denman, either of which would bring Paul Nicholls equal with Tom Dreaper as the most successful trainer in the race should one of them give the British champion a fifth win.
Mullins, who remains in the hunt for the leading handler award at the Festival after his two winners on Tuesday, relies on the Tony McCoy-ridden Kempes as he seeks a first victory in the Grade One event.
Unlike Meade, Mullins would prefer the rain to hold off for Kempes.
A victory for either raider would crown an incredible, indelible week for the visitors.