It's a wide-open Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, with two rising stars - Clan des Obeaux and Presenting Percy - at the top of the market with very different profiles, a defending champion in Native River crying out for rain, and two Irish challengers in Kemboy and Bellshill that we are all not sure about.
Throw in a possibly revitalised Might Bite and a favourite of many in Thistlecrack and it's a bit of a mind-boggler!
So let's have a look at some of the leading protagonists...
2/8, mid-division, slight mistakes 5th and 11th, went 3rd after next, pushed along to challenge approaching 2 out where mistake, ridden and no impression on winner before last, kept on one pace run-in
Grade 1 winner for Willie Mullins and would have landed another big pot but for running out at the final fence in extraordinary circumstances under Paul Townend at Punchestown. Returned to beat stable companion Total Recall at Tramore this season and that was convincing. Stamina is a small question mark, but he's not got much mileage on the clock and clearly is a high-class seven-year-old capable of better. Not to be ignored lightly.
Talented character and another for Willie Mullins. Needs to be held up for a late thrust, and on occasions has looked special, including when beating tough stick Djakadam in the Punchestown Gold Cup. Back to winning ways last time when denying Road To Respect in the Irish Gold Cup but that form is not good enough for me. If he won I would not be surprised - third in the RSA and a Grade 1 novice hurdle winner - but equally I couldn't tip him to do so.
2/6, tracked leaders, switched towards outside before 5th, pushed along 4 out, one pace when hung left between last 2, ridden and stayed on to snatch 2nd final strides, no chance with impressive winner
Has only recently burst on the scene for 10-times champion trainer Paul Nicholls, landing his last two starts in scintillating style. There was a hint of things to come behind Bristol De Mai at Haydock earlier in the campaign, but he was decisive in defeating Thistlecrack in the King George and did what he had to when denying the inferior Terrefort at Ascot last time. Beaten in all four starts at Cheltenham but far from disgraced, albeit a slight worry if better on a flat track. A real improver and could be anything. That said, appears to need to be strangled off the pace and I'm not totally sure of his jumping.
Colin Tizzard's Elegant Escape is interesting as an eachway bet for an outsider. He stays all day, as his win in the Welsh National would suggest, and would have got Frodon in another furlong last time. He'll get outpaced...but will stay on.
It appears Paul Nicholls is going to bottle this with Frodon, who I suspect will end up in the Ryanair. That said, it makes no difference whether the Cotswold Chase winner runs or not as he won't stay and isn't good enough!
Won/8, always prominent, ran freely, headway to dispute 3rd and led from 6th, joined 6 out, led again before 4 out, strongly pressed and mistake 2 out, ridden and asserted approaching last, kept on well under pressure run-in
Has had jumping issues in the past for Ireland's champion trainer Willie Mullins. However, has now won his last four races and is clearly an improving seven-year-old. Biggest moment of glory came last time out in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, when he thrashed Monalee nearly eight lengths. Has a mixture of speed and stamina but still doesn't totally convince in the jumping stakes. Hard to fault at present, but has yet to shine in any race at Cheltenham.
Warm weather and the prospect of decent ground has seen a few quid come for Might Bite in recent days. Clearly a high-class performer, and stamina only gave way late when beaten by Native River in 2018. Prior to that had landed a King George and beat Bristol De Mai seven lengths in the Bowl at Aintree. Been hopeless in two runs this season at Haydock (fences apparently too big but a tame excuse) and Kempton in the King George. Had a wind operation and would be folly to ignore, for all his stamina will always be a cause for concern. Basically, a talented horse with quirks for champion Nicky Henderson.
Defending champion. Stamina is key to the Colin Tizzard runner, and he gutsed it out to deny Might Bite in 2018 after a protracted battle. This term he's been far from disgraced under conditions that were never going to suit, finishing second to Bristol De Mai at Haydock and third to Clan Des Obeaux in the King George when he was always under pressure. Rain is probably key, but if it comes down to a slug-fest he's the one to have on your side and Richard Johnson was built for the ride.
Going for a hat-trick of Festival successes, having been brilliant in the Pertemps Final in 2017 over hurdles, and equally so over fences when annihilating Monalee in the RSA. Trained by Pat Kelly, who clearly can train but doesn't seem to be able to talk so we can't ask him about his gelding's Gold Cup preparation. Has only had one run this season, and that was over hurdles, so is trying to become the first horse since Easter Hero 90 years ago to land the main event without a run over fences that season. Has won up to 3m5f so stamina not an issue, but quite simply hard to know what to expect following his current preparation.
Has long been considered by some a Gold Cup horse, but not good enough in my book even under the excellent Sean Flanagan. Noel Meade's hope has been beaten by Kemboy and Bellshill in recent starts, and needs to brush up his jumping. For me his fourth behind Native River in the 2018 Gold Cup is as good as he is.
Brilliant hurdler who hacked up by seven lengths in the 2016 World Hurdle. However, chasing career has not been as good despite glimmers of retaining old star quality. Famously denied by the super tough Many Clouds at Cheltenham in 2017, and had done very little since then for Colin Tizzard until chasing home Clan Des Obeaux in the King George at Kempton. Hard to know what to make of that form with a number of big guns disappointing. But it was a step in the right direction and obviously at his best he's quality.
All in all, it's a tough Gold Cup. Many questions will be answered. But last year I tipped up NATIVE RIVER each-way and luckily got it right. This time around I'm doing exactly the same thing. Yeeehaaa!