Mullins has been trying to land jump racing’s most revered prize since 1988 but it has eluded the serial Irish champion. On six occasions he has saddled the runner-up, including for the past four years.
Djakadam has been responsible for two of those near misses, splitting Don Cossack and Don Poli last year and having been second to Coneygree 12 months before. None of that trio feature among this year’s line-up, while another significant absentee is Thistlecrack, injured since winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
By contrast, Mullins reports that Djakadam has had a perfect preparation and, still only eight, he should be at the peak of his powers. A repeat of either of his past two efforts in the race might suffice but there is reason to believe he is capable of better.
There is no Kauto Star or Denman in this year’s blue riband but it could be a gripping encounter because the eight highest-rated runners are officially rated between 162 and 170. Cue Card marginally boasts the highest rating and, having been a wonderful servant to the sport for seven years, few would begrudge him victory, especially after his fall three out in last year’s race when in the lead.
The Gold Cup is usually won by younger legs, though, and the 11-year-old could be vulnerable on a drying surface. By far his worst run this year was on a quicker terrain in the King George.
Standard Sport's tips
Friday, Cheltenham Festival
1.30 Master Blueyes (nap)
2.10 Bleu Et Rouge
4.10 On The Fringe (nb)
4.50 Dell’ Arca
5.30 Dodging Bullets
Native River, his much-younger stablemate, is harder to dismiss because he seems effective on any ground and has impressed in winning the Hennessy, Welsh National and Denman Chase this year. This is tougher but, given his assured staying power, he will be hard to keep out of the frame.
Stamina could be an issue for Outlander, while Sizing John, winner of the Irish Gold Cup last month, also has to prove his effectiveness over the trip.
At a bigger price, do not be put off Minella Rocco each-way because his two successive falls mask the fact that he beat Native River fair and square over 4m at the Festival last year.
The vibes have also been good for More Of That, his stablemate, but his profile has been patchy since his Stayers’ Hurdle triumph three years ago.
Best bet on the supporting card could be Master Blueyes, who runs in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30).
He is peaking at just the right time and was most impressive when cruising home in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton last month. Conditions should again be to his liking and he can give Alan King his third winner of the race since 2005.
Gordon Elliott has been bullish about Death Duty all season and he will be a warm order for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50) but Wholestone, a triple-course winner who stays well and is proven on any ground, may represent better value.
Bleu Et Rouge, let down by his jumping over fences in recent starts, is interesting switched back to the smaller obstacles in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (2.10).
Dell’ Arca, trained by David Pipe, will have conditions to his liking in the race named after his father, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50), while the final race of the meeting, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (5.30), can go to Dodging Bullets.
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