Al Boum Photo (Paul Townend/Willie Mullins)
Doesn’t see the racetrack that often, but he’s hard to beat when does and arrives here bidding to become only the fifth horse in history to complete a hat-trick of Cheltenham Gold Cups.
Impressive when winning his usual prep at Tramore for the third consecutive season on New Year’s Day, and last season’s Gold Cup performance showed he could win a Gold Cup from a slow pace as well as a strongly run affair, as he did in 2019.
Probably not the greatest horse to ever win two Gold Cups, but he’s unbelievably well suited by the unique test the Gold Cup provides and he’s the one they all have to beat.
A Plus Tard (Rachael Blackmore/Henry De Bromhead)
Looked like a Grade 1 horse when bolting up in the novice handicap here two years ago and that’s exactly what he’s proven to be.
Possessed the pace to turn Chacun Pour Soi over two miles last season and impressed with a strong staying performance to overhaul Kemboy and win a strong renewal of the Savills Chase at Christmas. This will demand more in stains terms, but he’s a genuine contender and is impossible to rule out.
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Aso (Daryl Jacob/Venetia Williams)
Likeable eleven-year-old who finished runner-up in the Ryanair in 2019. Possibly slightly on the downgrade nowadays, needs to prove he stays and is exposed as below this level.
Black Op (Tom Scudamore/Tom George)
Runner-up in the 2018 Ballymore but is no better than a good handicapper over fences and would be likely outclassed here, even if keeping his occasionally scrappy jumps to a minimum.
Champ (Nico de Boinville/Nicky Henderson)
Dual Grade 1 winner as a novice hurdler two seasons ago and has developed into an even better chaser, staying on late in the day to win the RSA last season. Gave some smart two-milers a fright when running a fine race over an inadequate trip in the Game Spirit, and this stamina sort of stamina should be exactly what he wants.
Jumping has been occasionally slow and deliberate, but he was fine at Newbury last time and poses the biggest threat to Al Boum Photo.
Frodon (Bryony Frost/Paul Nicholls)
2019 Ryanair Chase winner with a fine record at Cheltenham, having won the Cotswold Chase two seasons ago, as well as defying a gargantuan mark of 164 to win a handicap here in October.
Arrives here on the back a career-best performance to win the King George last time out, but the stars aligned for him at Kempton, as his main rivals underperformed and he was able to dominate from the front. He won’t get a lead that easy here, and he’ll have to show stamina reserves never seen before to sustain a strong gallop from the front in this.
Kemboy (Danny Mullins/Willie Mullins)
Four-time Grade 1 winner over fences and has been right back to his best this season, finishing a fine second to A Plus Tard in the Savills before winning the Irish Gold Cup on his most recent outing.
The primary issue for him is Cheltenham though, as he’s never looked comfortable at Prestbury Park and was a soundly beaten seventh in the race last year.
Lostintranslation (Robbie Power/Colin Tizzard)
Looked a chaser of immense talent when winning the Betfair Chase last season and bounced back from a poor King George effort to finish a close third in the Gold Cup.
Looked a shadow of his former self this season, with various physical issues holding him back, and he’s impossible to have confidence in now.
Minella Indo (Jack Kennedy/Henry De Bromhead)
Took the Albert Bartlett here as a novice hurdler and was only overhauled late in the day in the RSA last season.
Looked a ready-made Gold Cup horse with two easy wins against inferior opposition early in the season, but fell in the Savills Chase and never looked happy when a disappointing fourth in the Irish Gold Cup. Now has something to prove.
Native River (Richard Johnson/Colin Tizzard)
2018 Gold Cup hero, and has finished third and fourth on his other Gold Cup attempts.
Produced the best staying chase performer of the season when dismantling Bristol De Mai and Santini with an aggressive showing in the Denman Chase. Remains the highest-rated chaser in Britain and he’s impossible to knock out of the frame.
Almost certain to outrun his odds, despite his eleven-year-old legs.
Royale Pagaille (Charlie Deutsch/Venetia Williams)
Huge improver this season, rising 31lbs in the weights with three impressive wins.
Never off the bridle when taking the Peter Marsh last time and is well worth his place in this company. This is by far the best opposition he’s faced, though, and quicker ground is a question mark.
Santini (Nico de Boinville/Nicky Henderson)
Won the Cotswold Chase last season before going onto to finish a narrow second in the Gold Cup. Very few positives to take from his efforts this year, though, and his customary lethargic running style has been more pronounced this season than ever.
This race will suit him more than any of his other outings, and the application of more severe headgear is a sensible move, but he can’t be below his a-game again if he wants to go one better than last season.
GOLD CUP VERDICT
Al Boum Photo is as solid as they come and is likely to be bang there again, but I think there could be even more to come from Champ over this trip and he ran an exceptional race to finish second in the Game Spirit last time out. That was his best ever round of jumping, and if putting in a similar display, may be the one to knock Al Boum Photo off his perch.
Valiant veteran Native River will make the podium once again in third.