TIME FOR RUPERT is expected to re-establish his Gold Cup credentials today by winning the Argento Chase -- the feature race on Cheltenham Trials Day.
The strapping eight-year-old likes Cheltenham, where he won two novice chases last season, before succumbing to an infection last January, causing him to miss this race. The lingering effects of that illness were still with Time For Rupert when, sent off the 7/4 favourite, he was never at the races in the RSA Chase, yet still managed to plug on to finish fifth -- beaten only six lengths by Bostons Angel.
This season he was a very good second to Weird Al in the Charlie Hall Chase before running too badly to be true behind Kauto Star and Long Run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
He subsequently enjoyed a confidence-boosting victory at Newbury under new jockey Denis O'Regan in mid-December, and is in good fettle according to trainer Paul Webber.
Webber believes this is the trial to sort out the minor places for the Gold Cup. Master Oats and Looks Like Trouble won it in their Gold Cup years, and jump racing's blue riband event may not be the two-horse race everyone is predicting. Today's dangers include the fragile Diamond Harry, though this may not be his favourite track; course specialist Midnight Chase, which has won four times over fences here and was a very respectable fifth in last season's Gold Cup; and Captain Chris, last year's Arkle winner.
It will also be interesting to see how Tidal Bay, possibly the most capable in the field when in the mood, goes for Ruby Walsh. Captain Chris was third, beaten 18 lengths by Kauto Star in the King George, and before that was unlucky not to post his first win since the summer break when unseating Richard Johnson at the last in the Haldon Gold Cup.
Today's trip, a stiff three and a quarter miles, asks a big question of him, but will tell connections whether his Festival race is the Gold Cup or the Ryanair.
Star billing today goes to Big Buck's, which should not have too much trouble winning his 15th straight race when he takes on just five rivals in the Cleeve Hurdle despite Paul Nicholls' assertion that he will be a few pounds short of his best. Dynaste went off a little too fast in an attempt to crack him last time and David Pipe's hurdler still represents his biggest threat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)