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The current Gold Cup favourite is a bit of an enigma in the racing world. His preparation for the biggest race of the year is just the one outing – a gallop around Tramore on New Year’s Day in a Grade three. Now, Tramore is a lovely part of the world, but this isn’t a taxing race for Al Boum Photo and doesn’t tell us an awful lot about him before he is hidden away again until Gold Cup day.
That’s the way it was in 2019 when he won, and again in 2020 when he won. On both of those occasions he won the Tramore race by six lengths. This year he won it by 19. That could be an ominous sign.
All the talk will be about Rachael Blackmore if she was to win here and follow up her Champion Hurdle success – but let’s not forget the fella she is sitting on is a dual Grade one winner who is the only horse in the UK or Ireland to have beaten Chacun Pour Soi.
They make a fascinating team who come into this race having taken a huge step up in trip to win at Leopardstown over Christmas, beating Melon and Kemboy along with the rest.
Champ was involved in arguably one of the best RSA Chases 12 months ago as he came out on top to beat Minella Indo and Allaho in a thrilling battle up the hill. That run will have likely taken a hell of a lot out of him – he was eight or nine lengths down taking the final fence and powered up to the line – and he took almost a full year off to recover.
He had a wind op during the break and came back last month in the Game Spirit Chase. He finished second over a distance of two miles which wouldn’t have been ideal, and he may have won had he not leapt over the final fence with as much grace as David Seaman on Dancing With Ice. Back up in distance Champ returns to take on the hill again.
It’s been a somewhat disappointing campaign for Minella Indo so far this season as he’s been turned over twice when favourite. He pulled up in the Leopardstown Grade one at Christmas which A Plus Tard won and then in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival his jumping let him down again as he finished four of five.
Those two Grade one efforts have poured cold water on his chances here.
Fortune favours the brave and that is exactly what Mr Rich Ricci is hoping for as he opted to send Royale Pagaille to the Gold Cup. The Novice Chaser will need a decent chunk of luck to buck the Gold Cup trends – only one novice has won this race in the last 47 years – but his 16-length victory in a Grade two at Haydock last time out looked as easy as taking candy from a wee child.
Kemboy never got going in the 2019 Gold Cup, running out of room and putting David Mullins on the turf at the very first fence. He got his own back against the winner of that race Al Boum Photo by beating him two months later in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
The Cheltenham rematch happened last year and Kemboy stayed on to finish seventh, but never any closer to Al Boum Photo as Willie Mullins’ star made it two on the spin. This year Kemboy got within a length of A Plus Tard in Leopardstown and then won the Irish Gold Cup – jumping better than he ever has. Could he bring that form to Cheltenham?
Frodon and top jock Bryony Frost made history when they hit the front and won the Ryanair Chase two years ago. Since then the fairytale has been as up-and-down as Britney Spears’ moods, including a disappointing 15 length defeat to Min in last year’s Ryanair but a mighty success in the King George VI at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.
That was a hugely impressive run and Frodon is a six-time Cheltenham winner who loves nothing more than running round Prestbury Park.
Santini’s chance to win a Gold Cup may have come and gone after he was beaten a neck by Al Boum Photo 12 months ago. His jumping has been far from flawless since and he was 10 lengths behind Frodon in the King George and 17 lengths behind Native River in the Cotswold Chase at Sandown last month.
Trainer Nicky Henderson is confident better ground will bring more out of Santini but he’ll be in danger of making friends with the turf if he doesn’t improve his jumping.
The sight of Native River going toe-to-toe with Might Bite in the 2018 Gold Cup remains one of the most impressive displays in recent memory in this race and now the lovable pensioner is back for more.
He turned 11 earlier this year but showed he had lost none of his spark by winning that Sandown Grade two in which Santini was well beaten. A superstar on his day, Native River may be past his best but he will have a sea of supporters willing him home in this one.
Lostintranslation made the frame in this race last year but it has been anything but smooth sailing since then. He was sent off the 7/4 favourite for the Betfair Chase at Haydock but ended up finishing 47 lengths behind Bristol De Mai in an absolute bog, with Nicky Henderson confirming Lostintranslation hated the muck.
He was then pulled up on far better ground in the King George after bursting a blood vessel and he took a couple of months off to have a wind op. He returned in the Grade two Denman Chase and despite being up with the leaders four out, his challenge disappeared rapidly, and he was beaten 26 lengths finishing fifth of seven.
Aso makes his sixth Festival appearance hoping that this is the one where he gets to claim a crown, but that is as likely as Jose Mourinho accepting responsibility for Tottenham’s latest crumbling. Well beaten in a Listed Chase last time out when sent off favourite, it’s been more than two years since Aso last won a race.
Black Op’s novice chasing season showed plenty of shoots of promise as he was beaten by less than two lengths by Champ in a Newbury Grade two, and then went within another couple of lengths of winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on St Stephen’s Day.
This season though that hype has been set on fire and thrown off a cliff. In a Newbury Grade three he finished ninth of 18, 30 lengths behind the winner Cloth Cap, and then in the King George he was sixth of nine, almost 18 lengths behind Frodon.
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