Sky Sports Racing’s Jamie Lynch takes a look at the main contenders for National Hunt Racing’s Blue Riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Come back to mid-October and the start of the jump season, and a snapshot of the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup was about the same then as it is now.
Okay, so a few names have changed and interchanged, but the shape of the market is surprisingly similar, with Al Boom Photo’s favorite at around 3/1 and a deviation from the mundane rest.
The level might not be that high, but the stakes couldn’t be higher, all because it’s the Gold Cup. Let’s do some introductions to the main players:
See you later
There is more than a fleeting resemblance to 2017 Gold Cup winner Sizing John, who has also spent much of his career chasing a two-mile, and A Plus Tard still has the distinction of being the only horse to have beaten Each For Self in its time with Willie Mullins.
He’s a big punch to pack to stay on the stage, and when he went 3m for the Savills Chase over Christmas, it wasn’t that he escaped with the trip but he got it. relished, needing everything, in fact, to catch Kemboy, who went on to win the Irish Gold Cup.
A Plus Tard is establishing itself as the “hot” horse in this year’s Gold Cup, for its age, approach and ammunition, a mix that none of the others can appeal to, not even Al Boom Photo. Cheltenham is another 510 yards, but on good ground that would translate to only about 10 seconds of extra running over Leopardstown (6: 25.70), or 20 odd seconds on good to soft. He is one of the rare horses to have the courage to surpass the standard of Al Boum Photo.
Photo by Al Boum
The answer to the specious question of why Al Boom Photo doesn’t have the adulation you might expect is that it’s in a sub-standard era, and it’s nothing special itself; besides which it does not really matter. History, as always, will do the best job of judging Al Boom Photo. All we need to worry about right now is that horse in this Gold Cup.
Al Boom Photo gets all the credit and respect it deserves, expressed in our sport in scoring and ratings. We have a two-time Gold Cup winner available to the tune of 3/1, despite the opposition looking little or no better than the previous two years, which has to do with his level and status being lighter than his CV.
We know what Al Boum Photo can do in a Gold Cup, and how it gets there, this time following the proven path again, via a stop in Tramore. As such, for all intents and purposes, the 2021 Gold Cup focuses less on Al Boom Photo and more on the others, it behooves them to beat him at his own game, at which he is very good, but not unsurpassed, in being. recalling how close Santini and Lostintranslation approached him last year.
It’s a strange state of affairs where a horse that had the Gold Cup written on it with such great success in RSA had 1-2-3 preparation for the big race: 1 race, over 2m, only three weeks. of Cheltenham. Although running well, and indeed jumping well, in the spirit of the game, we must not forget that it is an ill-suited preparation for a Gold Cup.
The enthusiasm that propelled his performance at Newbury will need to be verified and, in turn, there will be different pressure points on his jump. In short, Newbury did a job for Champ, but it was hardly a diploma for a Gold Cup.
On the plus side, it was at least a late connection point with the novice champion, who looked full of endurance and potential when he climbed Cheltenham Hill last March. It’s all a balancing act, for Champ, for Nicky, for Nico and for the punters, but the fact that it’s a balancing act should sound a warning for a horse that is now the second favorite in the game. most listings for the pursuit of the biggest prize.
Just a brilliant racehorse, above all. However, aside from his pace and the way the race went, what Frodo had in his favor in the King George was the element of surprise, allied to the rest rather underestimating him, and that won’t happen in a Gold Cup.
He made Cheltenham his second home, compiling a remarkable record on the fences there, with 6 wins in 11 starts, but there’s a reason he’s never been to the Gold Cup, because it’s always been looked a bit beyond his means, and what happened in Kempton over Christmas doesn’t change that.
In short, the more Frodo can control a race the more powerful he is, but a Gold Cup will be out of his comfort zone and therefore out of his control.
The only horse to have beaten Al Boom Photo in the past two years is Kemboy, an important statistic that still goes a bit under the radar as the memory around this Punchestown race remains Ruby Walsh’s instant retirement.
In terms of ability, Kemboy is probably primarily chasers in today’s culture, but the phrase horses for courses – or horses not for courses in this case – applies to Kemboy, who just doesn’t seem compatible. with the Cheltenham chase track, as evidenced by three clumsy attempts around there, in a JLT and two Gold Cups.
He is more assured when he can intimidate the smaller pitches, highlighted by the 5-rider Irish Gold Cup on his last start, a world away from what to expect at Cheltenham, and an alternate entry into the Stayers’ Hurdle is in itself an admission of incompatibility.
It’s all about price with Minella Indo, as there were good reasons he was favorites for the races won by A Plus Tard and Kemboy, in which he cleared his notebook not once but twice, but are his odds realigned for the Gold Cup – as big as 16/1 – an over-reaction? This is the burning question.
Think back to RSA, when Minella Indo looked like a better horse than Champ for 99% of the race (although Allaho sure does), before starting this season with so much determination with back-to-back wins that he did. place at the top. of the best bets on the Gold Cup.
You have to forgive about Leopardstown the last time, but the first was an unusual drop and the second was dancing to Kemboy’s tune; and all the reasons Kemboy isn’t so good for the Gold Cup are the same reasons Minella Indo might still be.
The winner of the 2018 Gold Cup who still has fire in his stomach. In fact, in terms of weights and measures, Native River’s victory in the Cotswold Chase (rearranged at Sandown) was about as good a performance as we’ve seen in the remaining division this season, fielding Bristol De Mai and Santini among others. .
However, this scenario – of heavy ground in Sandown and halfway pickup – was the perfect playground for Native River, and to have a chance at Cheltenham it will need rain and a lot of rain, which is very unlikely according to forecasts.
He’ll be in the line of fire from the start, but his role is more of kingmaker than king himself, against young legs, under likely conditions.
To retrace the steps that brought him to the edge of the blue ribbon to hunt, you have to go left, then left again, and another left at the end. To say Royale Pagaille came from left field is an understatement.
But there is no accident about it. After finishing last in a pair of small field novices last season, Royal Pagaille didn’t look back, rolling through a novice and two handicaps in a striking, increasingly impressive style, although two of those victories came on Haydock’s heavy ground which may be a law in itself.
In the Gold Cup realm, he is the most difficult horse to weigh, and therefore the price on the rise, but there are only three horses ahead of him in betting, so there is a price to pay for whether he belongs to that upper class, on top of the question of the best terrain for a horse that moves so well in mud.
Granted, none of Santini’s runs this campaign connected to his strengths, but there was hardly a flash of the beast within, making it a leap of faith to expect. a transformation of the Gold Cup, even at exaggerated odds compared to its position. on the market for much of the season.
Coming back to Cheltenham might just give him a boost, and there’s some tougher headgear to roll out (other than his usual cheeks), but it’s all about hope, now that the hype has died down.
JAMIE LYNCH VERDICT
The status quo is the Gold Cup slogan as things haven’t changed much throughout the season and as such Al Boom Photo is still in pole position for a ‘hat-trick’. But his level is not that high, and the two young contenders who at the start of the season seemed most likely to outdo him were Champ and Minella Indo, who are both still on the scene, with no things going on. went well for one or the other. . Some failures reduce rather than eliminate the risk of MINELLA INDO reach new heights in the Gold Cup, and therefore it is the most attractive at the prices.