2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips – Al Boum Photo Can Join The Greats With Third Victory

2021 Gold Cup Tips

It’s time for the big one as Lewis Tomlinson takes a look at who will win the big race of the meeting. Can Al Boum Photo record a hat-trick on day 4 of the Cheltenham Festival or will one of the young guns wrestle his crown away?

Gold Cup Overview

Golden Miller. Cottage Rake. Arkle. Best Mate. Al Boum Photo? Only four horses have completed Gold Cup hat-tricks in the race’s ninety-seven year history, and Willie Mullins’ two-time champion looks certain to be sent off favourite in his bid for a fabulous third victory in National Hunt racing’s greatest prize.

2021 Gold Cup Contenders – Al Boum Photo

Al Boum Photo’s tried-and-trusted annual pre-Cheltenham outing at Tramore on New Years’ Day was as simple as would’ve been expected. His sparing campaigns may mean Al Boum Photo lacks the popularity and public profile of a horse with such an impressive CV, but he’s unusually well suited by the test the Gold Cup provides and Willie Mullins has found a method that works exceptionally well in ensuring his charge peaks at the Festival.

There really is nothing left for Al Boum Photo to prove in terms of his Gold Cup credentials, last year showing he was as capable of winning a Gold Cup that turned into a relative sprint as he was one that placed an emphasis on stamina as he did in 2019.

He’s rock solid, and looks impossible to knock out of the frame and in all honesty, I’d be shocked if Willie Mullins had missed a second of sleep over anything else seen in the division this season.

Frodon

It’s hard to take an overly positive view form-wise of the King George. This will be the first time the winner, Frodon, is asked to compete over a trip this far against bona-fide top class staying chasers.

The former Ryanair hero obviously adores his visits to Prestbury Park, and won a decent handicap off a mark off 164 here first time this season, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s unlikely to have as much go his way in the Gold Cup as he did in the King George, when he was gifted a relatively easy lead and his better fancied rivals failed to show their form.

That being said, he’ll certainly jump round here for as long as he has petrol in the tank, but the stars aligned at Kempton and it’s hard to envisage circumstances being as ideal for Frodon once again here.

Lostintranslation

Lostintranslation (22-1) pulled up in the King George for the second year running, this time having bled, and it’s hard to have much confidence in a horse who has looked hard to catch right over the past year. Of course, he did bounce back from a poor performance when a fine third in last season’s Gold Cup, but that disappointing isn’t an one off anymore, and he looks a risky proposition.

Santini

Was also placed in last season’s Gold Cup, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic about anything he’s done so far this campaign. I really liked his effort in last year’s renewal, and was somewhat surprised at how well he managed to hold his position when the race developed into a bit of a dash given that he’s always looked as if lack of pace was his Achilles’ heel.

Whilst his first two performances of the season were reasonable enough in the circumstances, the lack of jumping at Aintree and the tightness of Kempton always likely to see him to less than best effect, his weaknesses looked more severe at Sandown than ever before. Anyone hoping Santini can better last season’s narrow second will be relying solely on the idea that the return to Cheltenham may help spark a bit of life into him, and on paper, the Gold Cup will suit him better than any other race he’s contested this season.

After having looked increasingly slow this year, this may be the last-chance saloon for Santini at the top level and he can’t afford to race as lazily as he has been doing.

Native River

2018 Gold Cup hero Native River (14-1) beat Santini 17 lengths when triumphant in the Cotswold Chase and it would be foolish to discount the old warrior if he’s able to reproduce that performance. A model of consistency throughout his career, Colin Tizzard’s eleven-year-old has little to prove now in terms of his wellbeing or suitably for the test provided by the Gold Cup.

It’s even possible his Cotswold victory could be described as the strongest piece of staying chase for in Britain, with Grand National-bound Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai seemingly running to form in a comfortably beaten second. Bad ground might enhance Native River’s chances, but he’s far from reliant on the mud, and with all his ability seemingly intact, I think the elder statesman is slightly disrespected at the prices.

Kemboy

It would probably be fair to say Mullins’ other high-profile staying chaser, Kemboy (16-1), has enjoyed the best season of any horse in this division so far, with a fine second in the Savills Chase followed up by going one better in the Irish Gold Cup.

Kemboy fans surely wouldn’t have been too pleased to hear Mullins’ comments last week insinuating the Stayers’ Hurdle could be a possibility for Kemboy due to his poor record at Cheltenham over fences, his fourth in 2018 Marsh still the best he’s managed at the Festival.

He’s still the only horse to beat Al Boum Photo across the past three seasons, and he’d surely pose a major threat if able to replicate his Irish form in the Gold Cup. He’s never managed that before, though.

A Plus Tard

Kemboy was outstayed by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase, his first foray over three miles since looking a non-stayer himself when beaten by Delta Work at Punchestown Festival.

He was a young horse then, though, and it’s easy to see why A Plus Tard has his supporters for the Gold Cup as his overall body of form is impressive and he boasts a good record at the Festival. Another two furlongs over the undulations of Cheltenham will test his stamina further, but not many horses are seemingly arriving here at the peak of their powers and he’ll be in the frame if he gets home.

Minella Indo

Minella Indo (14-1) was a faller in the Savills, and hasn’t built upon his impressive early season victories at Wexford and Navan. A retrieval mission in the Irish Gold Cup last time out failed to pay dividends, his jumping alternating between clumsy and tentative. He’s now gone from looking a likely candidate to a horse with something to prove, though, it is worth stating that he too boasts a fine Cheltenham record.

Champ

Minella Indo was nabbed by Champ (10-1) in the RSA last season, and Nicky Henderson’s hope is due to belatedly begin his campaign in the Denman Chase at the weekend. I actually thought that Champ’s jumping frailties had generally been overexaggerated in the build-up to the RSA, but I must admit, I was less impressed by him then than I had been previous.

Rather than taking liberties with his jumping, Champ looked cautious to me, slowing himself into his fences rather than meeting them on good strides and losing half-lengths here and there. He’s blessed with a ridiculously powerful engine, though, and had no right to win here last season given the position he’d gotten himself into. I’d be confident he’ll appreciate another two furlongs, and even if his biggest flaw isn’t fully ironed out, I think Champ may end up being the most meaningful challenger to Al Boum Photo.

Royale Pagaille

And what about the novice, Royale Pagaille (8-1), who has this as an option alongside the National Hunt Chase. First of all, his novice status is somewhat misleading with regards to his experience for a test like this; he’s had 11 runs over fences, which is only one less than Al Boum Photo, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be battle-hardened enough to compete here.

His improvement, to the tune of 31lb this season, means he’s certainly worth a place in the Gold Cup, but his form is surely the hardest to put an accurate figure on. Whilst he’s obliterated his opposition on all three starts this campaign, how exactly does roughing-up exposed veteran chasers on the Haydock slop correlate to the level shown by horses consistently performing at the top level for a number of years.

As impressive as he has been, I’d always be inclined to take slightly sceptical views of horses pitched to races of this depth off the back of visually impressive thrashings of inferior animals. He is the joker in the pack, though.

Gold Cup Big-Race verdict

With nothing yet to stake a huge claim from amongst the challengers, AL BOUM PHOTO still looks the most sensible option and I’ll be siding with to retain his title once again. Native River is overpriced, and makes each-way appeal, whilst Champ isn’t off the shortlist yet and I’d hope for a positive showing from him on Saturday.