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First an able Lieutenant as Sir Des Champs misses Gold Cup

On the day Gigginstown House Stud announced the appointment of crack pilot Brian Cooper as their new number one rider the mood was soured by the news that their leading Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Sire Des Champs is out injured for the season.

However with the ultra-consistent 10/1 shot First Lieutenant likely to step in for his crocked stablemate, the famous maroon silks still have a live chance.

Bobs Worth has hardened as 9/4 favourite in Coral’s betting as a result, with 7/2 Silviniaco Conti the only other runner outside 6/1 in the market.

Paul Nicholls’ King George winner still has to prove he can rival the none-more-gutsy Bobs Worth up the Cheltenham hill, but it’s when you look beyond the front two that the Gold Cup odds begin to look particularly interesting.

Question marks abound over the chasing pack, with just one of the first eight in the betting having won a Cheltenham race over 3m-plus outside of novice company.

If 7/1 chance Cue Card silenced those who doubted his ability to stay a 3m trip by winning the Betfair Chase, his detractors will have been whooping with renewed vigour following his spectacular bottoming out at Kempton.

Meanwhile plans for Dynaste, who finished upsides of Silviniaco Conti when they pair chased home a match-fit Cue Card at Haydock on their seasonal debuts, are on hold.

David Pipe’s 16/1 grey came back sore after his tame King George tilt and while he’s being treated by an equine physiotherapist there is as yet to no plan of action regarding his next engagement.

Al Ferof is only two points shorter at 14/1, but again he must show that can handle 3m2f at Cheltenham having finished 15l adrift of Silviniaco Conti at the less demanding Kempton.

By contrast Mouse Morris’ consistent First Lieutenant looks to have a great chance of making the frame.

Although he may have won just one of his 10 races over the last two campaigns, the battle-hardened nine-year-old has placed in six of the seven Grade 1’s he’s contested during that period.

Tellingly he has also thrived in races that have suited Bobs Worth in the past, such as the 2012 RSA Chase at Cheltenham, the 2013 Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury and more recently the Lexus at Leopardstown.

There’s little doubt that the Cheltenham Gold Cup is such a contest and the relative margins of defeat in those efforts suggest First Lieutenant is getting closer to Nicky Henderson’s star.

Having finished eight-and-a-quarter lengths behind the reigning Gold Cup winner in receipt of 1lb at Newbury he was just a length-and-a-half behind him off level weights at Leopardstown over Christmas.

With second place the worst result he has ever posted in three Cheltenham Festival runs he looks too long at 10/1.