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A Golden chance for Kauto Star to make history; THE IRISH VIEW ON DAY FOUR ALL THE LATEST FROM THE PRESTBURY PARK COURSE GELDING READY TO TRIUMPH.

Byline: BY PETER O'HEHIR

BANK on Kauto Star to rewrite the history-books in today's Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, highlight of another wonderful Festival at Prestbury Park.

Paul Nicholls, who saddles five of the 16 runners today, is bidding for a third Gold Cup in a row, and a fourth in all.

And, although the race statistics and history are against 2007 victor Kauto Star, Ruby Walsh's mount undoubtedly sets the standard.

Only six horses have won the Gold Cup more than once - Easter Hero, Cottage Rake, Golden Miller, Arkle, L'Escargot and Best Mate.

Significantly, all six have won the race back-to-back. No horse has ever come back to regain the crown, after relinquishing it, as Kauto Star did to stable-companion Denman a year ago.

And no horse which has been placed in the race has gone on to lift the most coveted prize in steeplechasing the following year.

But such records and statistics will mean little when the 16 horses face the starter at 3.20.

And, on this season's form, Kauto Star is the horse to beat and set to crown another superb week at the Festival for the inimitable Ruby Walsh.

Outpointed last year when DENMAN produced an awesome display of front-running to lead home a 1-2-3 for Paul Nicholls, Kauto was then beaten a nose by Our Vic at Aintree.

Paul Nicholls has given the nine-year-old an easy season in the build-up to today's ultimate test, a comfortable win in the Nicholson at Down Royal in November, followed by an unfortunate experience in Haydock's Betfair Gold Cup, when Sam Thomas was unseated at the final fence, leaving Snoopy Loopy to triumph.

Of course, Kauto Star is at his best around Kempton Park, where he has won the King George three times, most recently slamming Albertas Run and Voy Por Ustedes.

Off the track since Christmas and primed for today, Clive Smith's gelding sets a high standard and, if at his best, should write his own special chapter in the Gold Cup story.

So impressive last year, Denman has been under a cloud for most of the season, troubled by a heart problem.

And, on his belated seasonal debut, at Kempton last month, he was soundly beaten, no less the 23 lengths, by David Pipe's Madison Du Berlais.

That was a hugely disappointing effort.

And, despite recent up-beat reports from Paul Nicholls, that Denman has perked up and put the Kempton experience behind him, it's difficult to see him completing back-to-back wins.

NEPTUNE COLLONGES, third last year, when pipped by Kauto looks likely to be sent off second favourite and has definite claims.

A relentless galloper, he crashed at the second last in the Lexus at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting before making amends in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup.

But, realistically, a four lengths defeat of Jim Dreaper's Notre Pere doesn't look like Gold Cup-winning form to me.

Of the others, Jonjo O'Neillis pair EXOTIC DANCER and ALBERTA'S RUN, and MADSION DU BERLAIS will have plenty of followers, along with Nicky Henderson's BARBERS SHOP, owned by the Queen and the mount of Barry Geraghty.

Of this group, Exotic Dancer looks most likely to upset the Nicholls party, although he has never beaten Kauto and was a well-beaten fifth last year.

Six Irish challengers will line up for the opener, the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with Oliver Brady's EBADIYAN likely to attract most interest, but far from certain to emerge best of the sextet.

The Christy Roche-trained LETHAL WEAPON, unbeaten over hurdles, probably needs to improve plenty to make an impact at this level. But he looks capable of figuring prominently against a strong home challenge, spear-headed by the Barry Geraghty-ridden grey ZAYNAR.

Plenty of Irish interest throughout the card, with the Gold Cup the only one of Festival's 26 races without an Irish-trained challenger.

Paul Nolan's progressive ALPHA RIDGE has prospects in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, although the drying ground is a concern.

And a better proposition, each-way, might be the Charles Byrnes-trained WEAPON'S AMNESTY, a winner at Gowran and Limerick before failing to give 3lb to Roberta Goldback at Leopardstown, form boosted when the runner-up ran well against Tuesday's Supreme Novices winner Go Native at Naas.

Last year's winner TIGER CRY is back for a double-bid in the Grand Annual, with a chance of finishing in the frame again.

And, 18 years after Lovely Citizen's memorable win in the Foxhunters, Eugene O'Sullivan is back with definite prospects in the race, with 12-year-old JUVEIGNEUR in good fettle in the point-to-point field in recent weeks.

The Vincent O'Brien COUNTY HURDLE looks wide - open, with the eight-strong Irish challenge headed by last year's winner Silver Jaro.

But, in a tough race, DAVE'S DREAM, smooth winner of the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday, should prove tough to beat under a mandatory 5lb penalty.

TODAY'S IRISH RUNNERS

1.30 - Triumph - Art Sleuth, Ebadiyan, left, Jumbo Rio, Lethal Weapon,

Mourad, Tharawaat

2.05 - County - Clopf, Sesenta, Silver Jaro, Raise Your Heart, Fisher Bridge, Farringdon, Sky Hall, Kandari

2.40 - Albert Bartlett - Alpha Ridge, Browns Baily, On The Way Out, The Midnight Club, Weaponis Amnesty, Western Charmer

4.00 - Foxhunters - Chief Oscar, Dublin Hunter, Juveigneur

4.40 - Martin Pipe - Faltering Fullback, Hangover

5.15 - Grand Annual - Perce Rock, Tiger Cry, Central House, Clew

Bay Cove, Valain

O'HEHIRS' RACE TIPS

FRIDAY, MARCH 13

1.30.Zaynar (NAP)

2.05.Daveis Dream

2.40.Weaponis Amnesty

3.20.Kauto Star

4.00.Juveigneur

4.40.Big Eared Fran

5.15.My Petra

CAPTION(S):

MISSION Kauto Star will hope to avenge last year's defeat to Denman
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 13, 2009
Words:930
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