Excitement is building here at Paddy Power News for this year’s Cheltenham Festival. We’re 48 hours away from the great and the good of the National Hunt world descending on Prestbury Park for four days of glorious racing. Rejoice!
The Gold Cup is always a highlight and this year’s renewal looks set to be a blockbuster with a host of top chasers eager to dethrone back-to-back winner Al Boum Photo. The reigning champ is the antepost favourite in his quest to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to win the race three years on the spin.
But Al Boum Photo is not the only race winner among the potential runners, with 2018 victor Native River showing his class by comfortably winning the Cotswold Chase at Sandown. He could also face a challenge from Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup winner Kemboy, who comfortably beat Delta Work and Minella Indo at the Dublin Racing Festival. 2020 RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase winner Champ is another potential runner prominent in the betting after an impressive seasonal reappearance in the Game Spirit Chase.
An initial 41 horses were entered for the 2021 Gold Cup, but the field will be whittled down before the big day. Thanks to Paddy’s non-runner money back offer, there’s no risk of losing out if your pick pulls out!
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GOLD CUP POTENTIAL RUNNERS AND LATEST ODDS
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GOLD CUP LATEST NEWS
A total of 13 horses are on course for the Gold Cup after the latest round of scratchings.
Kim Bailey’s duo Imperial Aura and Vinndication plus mares Magic of Light and Shattered Love were among those to pull out.
Royal Pagaille remains in contention to run in the Gold Cup, with an entry also held for Wednesday’s Festival Novices’ Chase at the time of writing.
Native River given a positive plug
Jockey Richard Johnson believes his mount Native River has a “huge chance” in turning the tables on Al Boum Photo.
The 2018 Gold Cup winner finished a disappointed fourth in the 2019 renewal – and the 11-year-old is a 14/1 shot for this year’s race.
Johnson said: “He won the Gold Cup and the following season – whether that hard season took it out of him I don’t know – but he definitely didn’t quite show his true form and he was nine lengths behind Al Boum Photo, when he was fourth in it, and he definitely didn’t feel himself that day, so I don’t think there’s a huge gap to bridge.
“After Sandown the other day, the way he travelled, the way he jumped, his enthusiasm. As long as the ground is on the slower side, I think he goes there with a huge chance and I wouldn’t swop him for another one.
“Obviously Al Boum Photo is the one to beat and you don’t quite know how good Champ is because he’s relatively inexperienced but they’ll have to put a good performance in to beat Native River.”
Paul Nicholls talks up Frodon
Trainer Paul Nicholls is excited about Frodon’s chances in the Gold Cup.
The King George VI Chase winner is a 12/1 shot for the big race and Nicholls believes his runner “absolutely loves Cheltenham”.
The Ditcheat handler said: “His performances in the King George just made it obvious to us that we had to enter him in the Gold Cup. He won cosily in the King George, despite being given a nice lead by the others. We won’t want testing ground, but he loves Cheltenham and Bryony is very much up for the challenge. What a story it would be if Frodon was to win the Gold Cup, right?
“He retains his enthusiasm so well and his jumping has been impeccable this season. I’m convinced he’s got a strong chance. Away from the favourite, it’s very much a level playing field. I couldn’t see him winning the King George, but he went on and did it. So he has every chance and I’m very excited about him.
“It’s unfortunate there isn’t a crowd as that always helps him. He loves playing up to the crowd and is certainly a show boater.”
Rachael Blackmore to ride A Plus Tard
Rachael Blackmore will ride A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup, while Jack Kennedy is set to partner Minella Indo.
Blackmore has ridden Minella Indo for the eight-year-old’s last 10 starts. She was on board when Minella Indo fell in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December – as Darragh O’Keeffe partnered A Plus Tard to victory.
De Bromhead said: “A Plus Tard was really good in the Savills Chase at Christmas. I am delighted with him. He had a hard enough race there so we decided to put him away for this.
“At the moment, Rachel is going to ride A Plus Tard and Jack Kennedy is going to ride Minella Indo.”
Lostintranslation and Native River latest
The Colin Tizzard yard are confident Lostintranslation will return to form after three disappointing runs this season.
The nine-year-old finished third in last year’s Gold Cup but pulled up in December’s King George VI Chase after suffering a burst blood vessel.
He could only finish fifth in last weekend’s Denman Chase at Newbury but a lack of racing fitness was ascribed for the poor performance.
Assistant Joe Tizzard said: “Nothing came to light whatsoever with Lostintranslation after Newbury – I think it was purely down to fitness.
“We had a check that he hadn’t bled again. Earlier this season, he went to Haydock on ground he hated and didn’t really have a race as such. In the King George, he bled after two miles and didn’t have a proper race there either.
“He is a big horse and I thought there were a lot of positives to take out of Newbury. He travelled into it and looked like he had every chance throughout. Although he stopped very quickly, he blew hard and hopefully that will knock the cobwebs off him.
“Obviously, it is not the ideal prep going to Cheltenham, but it wasn’t last year either and he managed to bounce back. He’s had his run now, has bounced out of it and will have a hard couple of weeks of work at home and that will hopefully put him straight for it.
“Lostintranslation doesn’t have many miles on the clock this season and the plan is to run him through the spring. He is good in the spring as well, his best form as a novice came in the spring, so the plan is to crack on him with him.”
Tizzard also confirmed Native River is on track to run after winning the Cotswold Chase at Sandown Park earlier this month.
“Native River is lovely. He has been a brilliant horse for the yard,” he said. “We were having a tough time as a yard and then Native River goes and does what the good horses do for yards.
“He has come out of the race absolutely fine and he would really want some rain going into the race.
“He’s done nothing wrong for the last couple of years he is just a bit more fragile now – all roads lead to Cheltenham with him.”
Nicky Henderson on Champ and Santini
Nicky Henderson has confirmed Nico de Boinville will continue on Champ for the Gold Cup, which means Aidan Coleman will partner up with last year’s runner-up Santini.
Champ is 5/1 with Paddy Power for the Gold Cup after a second-place finish in last weekend’s Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
Speaking about last year’s RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase winner, Henderson said: “He’s an extraordinary horse because a week before the race he was working with On The Blind Side, a three-mile hurdler who isn’t good enough for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s not a good work horse, but it took Champ all day to get to him.
“My assistant, Charlie Morlock, said he didn’t exactly look like a horse to run over two miles, but Champ at home and Champ on a racecourse – you wouldn’t know it was the same horse as he does nothing at home.
“I was hoping we’d see what we saw as my head was on the chopping block for this ridiculous idea if it didn’t work. It worked because he could do it, but I didn’t know where he’d finish. It went well and his jumping at that pace was exceptional. We all came away very happy and he has been fine since.”
Henderson added: “Champ’s run was obviously more eyecatching as he was running over the wrong trip. I’m very happy with Santini as it’s been a difficult winter with him. It’s not as if he’s coming in off three wins, but this is what he’s been waiting for.”
Kemboy set for Gold Cup run
Willie Mullins has indicated that Kemboy is likely to run in the Gold Cup.
Trainer Mullins suggested the nine-year-old could revert to timber for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle after his win in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
But the 10/1 shot is set for a third crack at the big one, despite unseating his rider in 2019 and finishing seventh last year.
Mullins said: “Kemboy hasn’t a great record in Cheltenham and I think that could be down to me and a bit of bad luck. The first year he ran he fell at the first, and last year for some reason I told Patrick (Mullins, jockey) not to make it (the running) as Patrick wanted to make it.
“I can’t remember the reason why I told him but Patrick feels that was the reason he disappointed last year.
“I think he should go for the Gold Cup with different riding instructions – I’ll have to have a word with myself!
“We’ll see about who is going to ride him in the Gold Cup but I think the idea would be to be more forward this year.”
Willie Mullins delivers latest on potential runners
Willie Mullins has revealed Al Boum Photo has a “big bit of work” to do in training before heading to Prestbury Park.
The dual Gold Cup winner is aiming to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to win the race three years in a row.
Mullins said: “He’s in great shape. He worked well last week and he’s a big bit of work coming up this week.
“He’s uncomplicated, he’s very nice to train.”
Of Mullins’ other potential runners, Kemboy has an entry to the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle while Melon could run in the Ryanair Chase.
He added: “Kemboy is there – we haven’t decided or spoken to connections yet – and Melon is there. Looking at the replay last night, we think possibly should he go for the Ryanair? But then we are well represented in the Ryanair, so we will see.
“I’ll have to have a word with connections about where we go. There’s no hard-and-fast rules made at this stage. There’s a few bits of work to do, and who knows what’s going to happen?”
Champ impresses at Newbury
Paddy Power have cut Champ to 6/1 for the Gold Cup after his impressive seasonal reappearance in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
The nine-year-old travelled with a spring in his step and his jumping caught the eye before suffering a 2l defeat to two-mile ace Sceau Royal.
Trainer Nicky Henderson was delighted with Champ’s showing after being switched from the longer Denman Chase.
“He’s enjoyed himself there and he’s clearly not slow,” said Henderson.
“The great thing was his jumping – it was deadly – and that will have done him the world of good.
“We boxed him over to Henrietta Knight’s the other day and he’s gone three times either way in the loose school. That (his jumping) needed ironing out and it clearly worked.
“He’s an exciting horse and much better on a racecourse than at home. You wouldn’t give two and sixpence for him on the grass gallop, but when he gets to the racecourse it’s like flicking a switch and he’s on the case full wallop!
“He’s got so much natural pace and he’s versatile. It was better to give him a kinder race today than go three miles, but on the evidence of the RSA last year, we know he stays.”
Paul Nicholls will check Cyrname’s breathing after pulling up in the Ascot Chase.
“He choked and struggled, which he’s had problems with throughout his career. He’s had plenty of ops,” Trainer Nicholls told the Racing Post.
“We’ll have a little look and see what else we can do before the end of the season, but if he can’t breathe, he can’t win. It’s as simple as that.
“We’ll see what’s affecting him. When he could get away from them, and a couple of years ago the ground was a bit better, he could have a breather.
“But now he’s under a bit of pressure because they know how to beat him and he’s never getting a breather.
“He roars his head off, which is what’s stopping him.”
Delta Work to miss Gold Cup through injury
Delta Work has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Gold Cup after suffering a fracture in the Irish equivalent earlier this month.
The eight-year-old was a 25/1 shot for this year’s race having finished fifth in last year’s renewal.
Trainer Gordon Elliott said: “Delta Work has a tiny fracture and we had to put a screw in his hind leg. He was lame after his run at Leopardstown. It will rule him out of the Gold Cup and probably the rest of the season too. It’s not a big issue, though, and he’ll be back for sure next season.
“I just thought watching him at Leopardstown that he didn’t look himself. He didn’t travel with any real zest and he seemed to be behind the bridle the whole way through the race. I actually said to Jack [Kennedy] afterwards that we would take the hood off him next time, but now we know why he ran the way he did.”
Saint Calvados fine after fall
Harry Whittington has revealed that Saint Calvados is feeling fine after unseating his rider in the Cotswold Chase at Sandown.
The 50/1 shot is one of the leading contenders for the Ryanair Chase but remains among the potential runners for the Gold Cup.
Trainer Whittington said: “He is absolutely A1 and he has come out of that fine. He is back cantering and there is not a bother on him. It was a bit unfortunate but that is the way our luck has been going the last couple of months.
“Gavin (Sheehan) felt like there was plenty of horse underneath him at that stage. He will be kept in the Ascot Chase next Saturday just to give us the option. I think we would be leaning towards going straight to Cheltenham.
“He will be left in the Gold Cup and the Ryanair and that would be the plan and we will keep all options open.”
Popular chaser Yorkhill has been retired. The 11-year-old was a 40-1 shot for the Gold Cup before the decision was taken to bring his racing career to a close. He suffered tendon damage ahead of the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month and is set to spend his retirement in a paddock with a view of the racecourse at Cheltenham, where he won the 2016 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and the 2017 JLT Novices’ Chase.
David Armstrong, who co-owned Yorkhill for his final two runs, said: “He got a tendon injury to his right leg and we’ve taken the decision that rather than try to get him back we’re going to retire him.
“We got one big run out of him and we know how well followed and liked he was around the country and we just want to do right by him. He could have another whole life now doing something different once he’s recovered as even though he’s a bit of a growler in his box, he’s a gentleman when he’s ridden.”
Presenting Percy among 12 to be scratched
Presenting Percy has been scratched from the Gold Cup.
Trainer Gordon Elliott said: “He’s obviously in the Grand National at Aintree. He just got a bit of an infection in a leg and we missed a couple of weeks with him. That meant that Cheltenham was just coming too soon for him.”
A total of 12 horses have been withdrawn including Bristol De Mai, Lake View Lad, Terrefort and Acapella Bourgeois.
Waiting Patiently ruled out
Waiting Patiently will miss the Cheltenham Festival for a run at Aintree, according to trainer Ruth Jefferson.
“I took him out of the Queen Mother ages ago and I’ve now taken him out of the Ryanair and the Gold Cup,” Jefferson said. “Thinking about it, we felt the King George wasn’t the fastest run three-mile race in the world, so maybe the Gold Cup wasn’t the right option. And after his last race, he was going to need a little bit of veterinary attention, so we thought we’d leave him for Aintree. He’s not had an issue as such, but the longer between his Ascot run and his next run the better.”
Richard Johnson hails Native River
2018 Gold Cup champ Native River has been hailed as an ‘unbelievable horse’ by jockey Richard Johnson after romping to victory in the Cotswold Chase at Sandown.
“Native River is just an unbelievable horse,” Johnson said after the race. “To do what he has done over the past four or five years is incredible. He just turns up, gets on with it and does his job. You can’t help but enjoy riding him.
“The Gold Cup is going to be very competitive, and he will have to improve again, but he definitely goes there with a decent chance.”
Willie Mullins casts doubt on Kemboy
Willie Mullins has revealed Kemboy might not run in the Gold Cup after winning the Irish equivalent at the Dublin Racing Festival on Sunday. The nine-year-old is also entered in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but could be held back for the Grand National Festival at Aintree.
Speaking after Kemboy’s win at Leopardstown, tainer Mullins said: “His record over fences at Cheltenham is a little bit average, so the Stayers’ is not out of the question, and skipping Cheltenham and going straight to Aintree is another option. We know he likes it there.”
GOLD CUP WINNERS AT THE LAST FIVE FESTIVALS
2020 – Al Boum Photo (Horse), Paul Townend (Jockey), Willie Mullins (Trainer)
2019 – Al Boum Photo, Paul Townend, Willie Mullins
2018 – Native River, Richard Johnson, Colin Tizzard
2017 – Sizing John, Robbie Power, Jessica Harrington
2016 – Don Cossack, Bryan Cooper, Gordon Elliott
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