DEPENDING on where you shop, the top three in the betting for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup in March have yet to reappear this season.
Sir Des Champs is the definite favourite no matter where you look, Long Run and Bobs Worth then dispute and Flemenstar, best priced 9/1, heads the 'have run this season' brigade.
The betting for the Gold Cup can be expected to fluctuate more than any of the other Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival over the coming weeks and you can expect some sort of a stir after tomorrow's Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Despite the fact that next March will celebrate two years since Long Run memorably triumphed in the Gold Cup, it should not be forgotten that Nicky Henderson's charge will only be eight years of age despite the fact that he seems to be around for much longer.
Since Best Mate won his first Gold Cup as a seven-year-old in 2002, three more seven-year-olds have won the race (Kicking King, War of Attrition, Kauto Star). And since Best Mate won his third as a nine-year-old, three at that age have won the Gold Cup (Kauto Star, Imperial Commander, Synchronised), with Denman the only other eight-year-old to oblige since Best Mate, and Long Run the only six-year-old since Mill House, all the way back in 1963.
So, unlike most horses who have aspiring challengers leaping out of the novice ranks, Long Run hasn't got the ageing legs that might catch him out against his younger rivals.
His stable companion Bobs Worth, along with Flemenstar, will both also be just eight next year, while Sir Des Champs and Silviniaco Conti will both be seven.
Long Run went into last year's Betfair Chase as the warm favourite, as he also appears to be for tomorrow's renewal, but last year he had to bow to the incredible class of a reignited Kauto Star.
Tomorrow, there will be no Kauto Star, but Messrs Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh will be on hand with Silviniaco Conti in a bid to again topple the former Gold Cup hero.
Silviniaco Conti didn't make the line-up at Cheltenham last year but his facile success at Aintree and his impressive win in the Charlie Hall (3m, 1f) on his first start this term have certainly put him in contention to be a live Gold Cup contender and those credentials will be again put on the line tomorrow for what looks his sternest test yet.
Grand Crus failed to produce what was expected of him in last Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup, but on his day he is a fair yardstick and Silvinaco Conti has some good form with him in Grade One company and it would appear that the Nicholls inmate has progressed a fair bit since then.
Should Silviniaco Conti emerge victorious tomorrow, the Long Run camp may look towards the lack of race fitness as their demise. For whatever reason, though, he just didn't seem to be at his best last season and that would be a slight question mark whether he can ever reach those dizzy heights again.
But should Long Run win, he would surely catapult himself to the head of the Gold Cup betting and those emerging youngsters who fancy a crack at the blue riband of jump racing will be put back a peg or two until they prove otherwise.
This year's long distance chasing division truly is a fascinating one with the surfacing of some really exciting horses from last year's novice ranks. The Betfair Chase could be the first real indication as to whether it will be one of that talented crop or if the 'old guard' of Long Run can return to the scene of his biggest triumph.
The outcome of tomorrow's race and the potential of a Gold Cup winner will be discussed at length until next Saturday when a similar debate should arise after the Hennessy Gold Cup and then, eight days after that, it is John Durkan day at Punchestown where a clash between Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs looks a real possibility.
We may not have the likes of Kauto Star, Denman or Synchronised returning for more Gold Cup honours next year, but, with those filling the void, there's still an awful lot to look forward to.