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Royal Pagaille goes for Gold

And so, at last, we arrive at the most anticipated racing week of the year. But Festival seems the wrong word for the collection of intensely competitive races at the home of Jump racing. Without crowds to welcome back the winners, and with the racecourse appearing more like a prison camp than a celebration of Thoroughbred excellence, it will be a different week to any other Cheltenham.

Among measures to manage Covid compliance, visiting Irish staff and horses are totally segregated and unable to leave the site. In addition, the large stable of Willie Mullins has deployed some British-based staff to look after his considerable team. Paths around the perimeter of the course have been closed to prevent any crowds gathering. All in all, it's a curious racing fixture that doesn't merit its usual title.

However, a resolution on Royale Pagaille's Cheltenham event target has been made with the thrilling novice set to participate in the Well Child Cheltenham Gold Cup this Friday.

The seven-year-old, owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci held entries for the National Hunt Chase tomorrow and Wednesday's Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, but connections have decided to go for Jump racing's most esteemed horse race.

Venetia Williams disclosed the resolution was made to the Racing Post last weekend and following the decision, Royale Pagaille has been cut to a general 8-1 from 10 for the forthcoming Gold Cup.

Royale Pagaille has been a huge revelation this term, coming tops in all three of his race starts this season, most recently with a scintillating weight-carrying display under Tom Scudamore at Haydock in January's Peter Marsh Chase. Earlier in March, Royale Pagaille was cut by bookies to 2-1 from 9-2 for the National Hunt Chase –but both Williams and Joe Chambers, racing manager for the Riccis, set aside the notion a decision had been made.

However, with the final pronouncement due for the National Hunt Chase event on Sunday morning with odds from BoyleSports coming handy for the punters, Royale Pagaille's target has been decided. Speaking earlier yesterday, Joe Chambers disclosed: "He's set for the Gold Cup. We spoke last night and Venetia was happy to go for the Gold Cup and collectively that's what we agreed, assuming everything remains okay with Monkfish. Once the horse was okay this morning, we said we'd let people know before declarations for the National Hunt Chase. "

"He's rated 166; whether he merits it or not time will tell, but we might as well find out in the Gold Cup than elsewhere and wonder whether should we had. He's been the surprise of the season and it's something to look forward to."

Royale Pagaille, who is expected to be ridden at Cheltenham by talented young jockey and Pointing graduate Charlie Deutsch, will be looking to become the first novice to come out victorious in the Gold Cup since Coneygree in 2015.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the premier Grade 1 National Hunt steeplechase that takes place on the New Course at Cheltenham Racecourse, over 3 miles 2 furlongs and 70 yards, or 5,294 m, with 22 fences to be jumped. The race is a rite of spring during the prestigious annual Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Gold Cup, which is the most valuable non-handicap chase in the whole of Great Britain, offered total prize money of £625,000 in 2019, but Covid has played its part in reducing this to £468,750 this year, its lowest for 10 years.

Golden Miller is the most successful horse in the race with 5 wins from 1932 to 1936.

Meanwhile, ahead of the event this weekend, Champion Flat jockey Oisin Murphy's much-anticipated return after a three-month suspension has been delayed over a mix-up in testing. Murphy, who was banned after testing positive for drug cocaine has been sidelined from riding on Friday at Lingfield. The Irishman confirmed there had been a major "administration mistake" while the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) disclosed he had not completed the required tests.

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