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Ruby Walsh believes Al Boum Photo shares a key trait with all the great Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, despite being a far-from-spectacular jumper.
The nine-year-old is seeking to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to win the big race three years in a row, but it’s fair to say he has failed to capture the public imagination.
Speaking on the latest episode of our ‘Countdown to Cheltenham’ podcast ahead of this year’s Festival, Ruby explains what makes Al Boum Photo so great and why he has struggled to connect with racing fans.
I got him beaten in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse on his first start, and then we won at Thurles after that. Paul Townend then won on him at Fairyhouse but even standing in the yard, Patrick Mullins often says if someone pointed to Al Boum Photo and said “that’s a dual Gold Cup winner” you would be thinking “how?” He’s not that imposing, he doesn’t stand out from the string, he’s just a normal horse and he has terrific stamina.
He has a great cruising speed, he’s very sound and his jumping is fine but it wouldn’t be his strongest point. He fell at Limerick with David Mullins, he fell at the second last in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase with me, he was lucky at the first down the back in his first Gold Cup, and he was lucky at the second last at Punchestown when Kemboy beat him.
He has learnt to get himself from A to B but jumping is not his strongest point. However, he can stay incredibly well and that’s what Gold Cup winners do. It’s a massive deal that he’s going for three in a row.
People will bemoan the fact we only see him three times a year and say that there’s too many races for these horses to split up and divide. But if you’re running a business and someone comes to you with a request to buy a horse to win the Gold Cup and you fulfil that request you’ve been given, as a trainer that’s pretty good business.
Willie Mullins has found a path that works for Al Boum Photo and his owners want to win the Gold Cup. Why is he going to change? His responsibility is to his owners and clients to fulfil what they have asked him to do. By doing that and going from Tramore to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I suppose people don’t see as much of Al Boum Photo so he doesn’t ingrain in their mind like horses they see more of so they don’t have the same affiliation for him. That being said, if he can go back and win a third Gold Cup then what’s to say that he won’t go back and win a fourth?
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He won last year’s race against the run of play – it was a race completely run to not suit him, as well as Santini in second – and I would argue they only finished there because the jockeys on their backs (Paul Townend and Nico de Boinville) realised they had gone too slow for two stayers. They set sail and turned it into a one-mile sprint.
Looking at the make-up of this year’s race with Frodon and Native River, it could suit him more. He could be hard to beat and could potentially join illustrious company and become a triple Gold Cup winner. That’s a hell of training performance, and from the horse and the rider. I hope he does it.
*Paddy will be all over your telly box throughout the Cheltenham Festival sponsoring ITV’s live coverage from Prestbury Park – and you can get free and exclusive tipping columns EVERY DAY from Ruby Walsh, Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald here on PP News.
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