Al Boum Photo will bid to become the first horse to complete a hat-trick in the Cheltenham Gold Cup since Best Mate did so in 2004. Bookmakers have the Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old as 4-1 favourite as he follows a familiar path to the Festival meeting in March.
Mullins had been trying to lift the most coveted prize in steeplechasing for 20 years prior to Al Boum Photo’s first success in 2019. He started at 12-1 that day and was one of four stable representatives and the only one to complete the course. The racing bets shows us that last year’s victory was more widely anticipated, starting 100-30 favourite and holding off Santini by a neck.
On both occasions he went to Cheltenham a fresh horse after winning the New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore. Mullins saw no reason to change a winning formula and Al Boum Photo coasted to a wide margin victory on January 1st to set up his Cheltenham hat-trick bid. The fact that he has only raced six times since the start of 2019 explains why he has yet to gain the superstar status afforded to previous Gold Cup winners. There will be no denying his place in the history books if he is victorious again on March 19th.
Nothing has emerged to challenge Al Boum Photo at the head of the Cheltenham betting but there are some dark horses among this year’s entries. None more so than Royal Pagaille who was slashed from 50-1 to 12-1 after romping to a 16 lengths win at Haydock in the Peter Marsh Chase.
Trainer Venetia Williams is understandably cautious about a horse taking the step from handicap company to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The handicapper has given the seven-year-old a rating of 166 after that success, just 6lbs below Al Boum Photo. The deciding factor on his participation may be the ground as all his from is in testing conditions.
A Plus Tard entered the Gold Cup picture with a last-gasp victory in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December. He defeated the Mullins-trained Kemboy and Melon in one of the highest quality renewals of that race in living memory. The big question for A Plus Tard is the extra two furlongs and Cheltenham’s uphill finish, unknown territory for a horse previously thought to be a two and a half miler.
The early fall of Minella Indo in the Savills Chase deprived us of the opportunity to see how one of last season’s leading novices compared to the more established chasers. Henry De Bromhead’s RSA Chase runner-up is likely to line up in the Irish Gold Cup on February 7th where he could clash with A Plus Tard.
Nicky Henderson surprised many by supplementing Santini for the King George VI Chase at Christmas. The three miles around Kempton was never going to suit the horse who finished a one-paced fifth behind Frodon. Stable companion and RSA Chase winner Champ could yet emerge as the biggest threat to Al Boum Photo. Henderson has been looking for an opportunity to get a run into the horse before Cheltenham for which he is a 12-1 shot.
One horse who is committed to the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year is King George winner Frodon. He sprang a 20-1 surprise under an enterprising ride from Bryony Frost, eclipsing better-fancied stablemates Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux in the process. He thrilled the Cheltenham crowd in 2019 by winning the Ryanair Chase and was fourth in the same event in 2020. Nicholls feels that he is entitled to take his chance in the Gold Cup this year.