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Sam Rideout’s Gold Cup Preview

The Gold Cup Preview

The betting for the 2021 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup would suggest we might be about to witness history. To run in three Gold Cups is a grand achievement in itself, but Al Boum Photo is set to try and win his third Gold Cup in a row, emulating the legendary Best Mate. Last year’s novice form is well represented by the exciting Champ and Minella Indo, whilst Cheveley Park Stud have impressive Savills Chase winner, A Plus Tard. King George Hero, Frodon, would be one of the stories of the week for Bryony Frost and Paul Nicholls whilst novice Royal Pagaille is a fascinating runner for Rich Ricci. 2018 winner Native River is back for more and last year’s runner up Santini looks to go one better. In my opinion The Gold Cup is National Hunt Racing’s biggest crown and despite maybe not being the highest quality renewal, it certainly represents an extremely exciting one!

The Contenders

AL BOUM PHOTO

Trainer: Willie Mullins

Form: /211-1

Current Odds: 5/2

Two-time defending Champion, Al Boum Photo, is set to try and make history. Only three horses have won the Gold Cup three times, Cottage Rake 1948-50, Arkle 1963-65 and Best Mate 2002-2004. Al Boum Photo looks to have a favourites chance of adding his name to that illustrious list and going into the history books. For a dual Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo isn’t exactly a fans favourite and that is largely due to his season prior to Cheltenham. On both occasions he has won Cheltenham’s gold ribboned event, he has had just the one prep race in the Grade 3 Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year’s Day. As a result, racing fans haven’t grown a connection with the horse as we don’t get to see him very often. The proof is in the pudding though and Willie went back to Tramore with Al Boum Photo once again this year. He duly got the job done at long odds on, but some weren’t overly impressed. Willie did hint at possibly another run but in true Willie Mullins fashion he is sticking to the tried and tested route. For all he’s not yet a fan’s favourite, Al Boum Photo has demonstrated his ability to win the Gold Cup off both a strong pace in 2019 and a slow pace in 2020. There really aren’t many chinks in his armoury. He is a tidy jumper, a sweet traveller and he finds plenty for pressure. Officially rated 178 after his 2019 win, he was rated 174 after last year’s win and currently sits at 175. We know he can run to a good number and chances are he probably will again. I can’t see him improving though and as a result his one area for concern would be one of the younger horses improving past him.  

A PLUS TARD

Trainer: Henry De Bromhead

Form: 213-21

Current Odds: 13/2

A Plus Tard burst onto the scene with a demolition job in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. The following season he defeated Chacun Pour Soi over two miles and to this date remains the only horse to beat him. Sent off the 7/4 favourite for last year’s Ryanair, he disappointed slightly finishing third to Min, but he was beaten under two lengths and plugged on up the hill. Reappearing at Navan over the minimum trip, A Plus Tard was beaten by Castlegrace Paddy which looking back on it now represents good form considering we now know he wants much further! Stepped up to three miles for the Grade 1 Savills Chase on his next start, A Plus Tard relished every inch of the trip to wear down both Melon and Kemboy late on. Kemboy went on to frank the form in the Irish Gold Cup and the way A Plus Tard won would suggest he may improve further for the Gold Cup trip. His profile and form over the last few seasons show his talent and class but it may also be what has been getting him through his races. Unexposed as a staying chaser, there may be further improvement to come and he simply cannot be ignored. Rachel Blackmore seems to agree as she has opted to ride him over stable mate, Minella Indo.

CHAMP

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Form: /11F1-

Current Odds: 6/1

Running just once in a two-mile Grade 2, three weeks before The Festival isn’t everyone’s idea of a normal Gold Cup prep, but Champ isn’t a normal horse! With a name like Champ and given his connections, the racing world has long hoped Champ would turn into a Gold Cup contender and low and behold the horse has delivered, but not without some thrills along the way. Extremely keen and unprofessional as a novice hurdler, Champ won the Challow before finishing second in the Ballymore. Sent novice chasing, he didn’t convince everyone in the jumping department and nearly ran out on the run in at Newbury, before taking a crashing fall in the Dipper at Cheltenham. Sent for his first crack at 3 miles over fences in the RSA, Champ looked beat but absolutely stormed home to win by a length from Minella Indo and Allaho. That form has taken a few hits this season but with a few excuses. Champ on the other hand only just reappeared in the 2-mile Game Spirit Chase. Thought to be a mental move by Henderson it now looks somewhat of a master stroke. Champ jumped electrically and looked the winner coming down to the last. A slight mistake gave Sceau Royal the advantage, but he just reminded me that the real top-notchers can perform regardless of trip. He seemed in fine form and should only improve for the match practice. The Gold Cup, does however, represent an entirely different challenge and one concern would be getting Champ to settle having just run him over two miles. Nico appears to get on well with him and with Native River and Frodon upfront they’re not exactly going to go slow! We know he loves Cheltenham and should have no problems staying the trip. Novices stepping into open company have an excellent record in the race and I think he has a huge chance.     

ROYAL PAGAILLE

Trainer: Venetia Williams

Form: 23-111

Current Odds: 10/1

Without a doubt the surprise package in this year’s Gold Cup is Royal Pagaille. It is unusual for Rich Ricci to have horses outside the Mullins yard, but it must be said Venetia Williams has done a cracking job with this lad. Officially rated 137 at the start of the season, three wins later his rating has risen to 166, which firmly puts him in the picture. Unsurprisingly all three wins to date this season have been in ultra-impressive fashion and as a result we don’t really know the ceiling to this lad’s ability. The form of his wins has however taken a few dents with placed horses being well beaten on their next starts. Royal Pagaille has also never run at Cheltenham which for any race at The Festival can cause concern but especially when pitched into The Gold Cup. At the time of writing, connections are yet to decide between The National Hunt Chase or coming here and I must say if he were mine, I’d be heading for The National Hunt Chase. He can gain Cheltenham experience there, hopefully pick up a festival win and come back for the big one next year.

MINELLA INDO

Trainer: Henry De Bromhead

Form: 2-11F4

Current Odds: 11/1

2019 Albert Bartlett winner and 2020 RSA runner up, Minella Indo seems to produce the goods at Cheltenham and had shortened up considerably for The Gold Cup after two impressive wins to start the season. Sent off 5/2 favourite for this season’s Savills Chase, he took a tumble at the eighth and his confidence was seemingly knocked when he was sent off 13/8 favourite for The Irish Gold Cup. He didn’t jump with his previous sort of fluency and made a couple off fiddly mistakes. His effort ultimately petered out and a large part of that was down to his jumping. I believe he will improve for a return to Cheltenham but his jumping at Gold Cup pace for the first mile would be a major worry. Rachel Blackmore has also jumped ship to ride A Plus Tard which may be a clue in itself.

SANTINI

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Form: 12-253

Current Odds: 11/1

Santini has long been a horse that divides opinion in the racing world and even as a fan of his, his season to date has been slightly frustrating. I do think he has had excuses though. His run first time out essentially became a flat race up the straight with fences taken out and I thought he ran creditably to finish second behind Lakeview Lad, but ahead of both Native River and Frodon. The King George was never going to suit at Christmas and again I’d argue he ran a respectable enough race. I was however disappointed with his run in the rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown where he looked slower than ever. Fences come thick and fast at Sandown which wouldn’t have suited but he still just looked extremely slow. A return to better ground and Cheltenham will certainly see improvement, but Nico has jumped ship, favouring the chances of stablemate Champ and you would have to worry whether Santini is running to the same level as his runner up effort last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him staying on for a place.

FRODON

Trainer: Paul Nicholls

Form: 14-141

Current Odds: 14/1

Officially rated 169, 6-time course winner and this year’s King George champion, Frodon seems to be a horse criminally underrated. I’ve no doubt he’s an extremely talented horse but I do believe he needs a few things to fall his way to be seen at his absolute best. Over the years Frodon has thrived off an uncontested lead and he did so once again in this year’s King George. 2018 winner, Native River, poses a big problem for Frodon who may be pushed out of his comfort zone early on. When hassled for the lead in the past, his jumping has suffered and he’s run way below par. Nicholls has been quite vocal about Frodon taking a lead if Native River goes on, but I’d personally have my doubts if that is the case. I am also not entirely convinced about Frodon at the trip. A former Ryanair and King George winner, he clear possesses plenty of tow and I’d just wonder whether he’s got the same staying power as some of rivals. For all I believe he’s an underrated horse, I am not a fan of his for this.

NATIVE RIVER

Trainer: Colin Tizzard

Form: /11-31

Current Odds: 12/1

I’ve already described Native River as a big danger to Frodon’s chances, but the 2018 winner is a big threat to all if reproducing his Cotswold Chase win on his last start. Age doesn’t seem to be catching up with him and he galloped the likes of Bristol De Mai and Santini into the ground at Sandown. He has however been beaten by Al Boum Photo back in 2019 and is obviously susceptible to a younger, improving horse. He looks sure to run his race though and is the likely pace angle to this year’s renewal. Should we have a downpour and the going come up very soft he has to enter calculations, but on better Spring ground he may just get caught for tow coming down the hill. I’d be disappointed if a few of these couldn’t go past him on good to soft ground.

The Outsiders

Looking at the entries, I’d say The Gold Cup could cut up quite a but this year. Kim Bailey’s Vinndication would certainly have a chance if he came here but I get the feeling connections may have a crack at The Stayers Hurdle. Sixth in last year’s race, Reel Steel, could be a runner for new trainer Paul Nicholls but like last year I would expect the trip to stretch him. Kemboy could be a potential runner for team Mullins and he comes here in fine form having won The Irish Gold Cup last time out. He thrives around Leopardstown though and form would suggest he doesn’t have the same affection for Cheltenham, recording form figures of 7UR45 in four visits to the track. I personally don’t think he jumps well enough to win a Gold Cup. Third in last year’s renewal, many would’ve taken Lostintranslation from the race with an eye to this year’s contest. He has had a torrid time of things this season though and despite showing a bit more last time out, he still has far too much to prove.

Crunching the Numbers

  • 23 of the last 25 winners were aged 7, 8 or 9
  • 22 of the previous 25 winners recorded an RPR of 167 or more
  • 22 of the last 25 winners won a race that season
  • 20 of the previous 25 winners were priced 8/1 or lower
  • The last 20 winners had Cheltenham experience
  • 18 of the last 25 winners had a top 3 Cheltenham Festival run to their name

Of the contenders, market leaders, Al Boum Photo and A Plus Tard complete the full house on trends, whilst Champ hasn’t won a race this season so managed 5/6. Minella Indo and Frodon join Champ, scoring 5/6, but Royal Pagaille and Native River scored just 4/6. Native River failed on the age and price trend, but course form counted against Royal Pagaille having no festival form and no Cheltenham form either.

The Verdict

King George winner, Frodon and 2018 Gold Cup winner, Native River, look set to make this year’s race a strongly run one. Should Kemboy come here, he is another who could add to the pace upfront. I would expect Santini to be bustled along in an attempt to sit off them whilst market leaders, Al Boum Photo, Champ and A Plus Tard may look to sit in midfield. Champ’s chances may hinge on whether he settles or not, and I believe he will in behind plenty of good jumpers and horses looking to get on with things. Of the leaders I believe Frodon and Kemboy will crack first. Bryony has been lethal on Frodon when getting an uncontested lead and I think fellow Jockeys will attempt to apply pressure early on and not let him get his own way. Kemboy doesn’t jump well enough for me and I can’t see him being there at the finish. Native River strikes me as the horse to swing for home with the lead. Santini may be slightly outpaced at this stage with Al Boum Photo, A Plus Tard and Champ all looking to pounce. Of the three mentioned I would expect to see Champ come off the bridle first but do think he’ll come home the strongest. They all have to get past Native River and I think one or two will! Al Boum Photo has the ability to win off a slow pace or relentless gallop but may lack the staying power of a certain Champ! Those famous green and gold silks will be a blur up the Cheltenham Hill, and I believe Champ will lift the Gold Cup for Henderson, De Boinville and owner JP McManus.

My Idea of the Winner

  • Champ 5/1

Each Way Play

  • Native River 12/1

The Tricast

  1. Champ
  2. Al Boum Photo
  3. Native River

By Sam Rideout

Follow me on Twitter- @TheTr17pleP

OLPT

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