THE stick used to beat Best Mate, the last horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times, with was that he dominated a period of otherwise below par Grade 1 staying steeplechasers. As Al Boum Photo bids to match that achievement in the current National Hunt season, can the same doubts be said of the opposition?
Willie Mullins had six Gold Cup runners-up before the Irish master trainer finally made the breakthrough in 2019. Al Boum Photo was only third best of his four runners then, according to the betting, when returned at 12-1 as Kemboy made it no further than the first fence and Bellshill made mistakes before pulling up.
Light campaigns can be the key to longevity and, in many ways, Mullins has trained this horse for Cheltenham only. At first, the tight turns of Tramore for their New Year’s Day Chase didn’t leap out as the ideal prep, but two Gold Cups after winning that race prove it works for Al Boum Photo.
When defending his Cheltenham crown and sent off favourite, he found enough to hold Nicky Henderson’s highly-regarded Santini with Lostintranslation from the Colin Tizzard yard in third. Bar last season’s Gold Cup one-two, there are double figure prices available in the ante post betting for the 2021 renewal.
That strongly suggests that some of the novices and absentees from last season need to improve or demonstrate they retain ability after a lay-off. Add in that 2019 RSA Chase hero Topofthegame will miss the race through injury.
Henderson has another Gold Cup hope in last season’s RSA scorer Champ whose incredible turn of foot when storming up the famous hill to get up on the line really caught the eye. Given his connections – he’s owned by legendary gambler JP McManus – Champ, a horse you can’t take your eyes off, is sure to be among the big stories ahead of Cheltenham next March.
Champ has something to prove and his jumping is a concern. It was his class and speed in between leaps, rather than fluent clearing of the fences, that brought him home in the RSA.
That race was set up for Champ to close and get up in-between Irish horses as Minella Indo and Allaho both went from the front. The obvious solution for Henderson is further schooling and that should get him to brush up on his jumping.
While these questions remain, Al Boum Photo remains the horse the rest have to beat in the Gold Cup. Mullins, a notorious creature of habit, won’t change such a successful preparation and his rivals must serve it up to him at Cheltenham in 2021.