2020 Gold Cup ante-post preview – The one to beat, the big danger and the dark horse in Cheltenham Festival showpiece
Our expert casts his eye through the early betting for the feature championship race on day four of the Cheltenham Festival, picking out who he feels is the main contender, the big danger and an overlooked dark horse in the biggest race in National Hunt racing.
Willie Mullins has travelled to Cheltenham with many a prime contender in the Gold Cup down the years, and National Hunt racing’s most prestigious prize continually eluded Ireland’s Champion Trainer. 12 months ago, Mullins’ dream of a first Gold Cup victory finally came true, thanks to – what even Willie would admit to being – one of his most unlikely champions.
On the back of a solitary seasonal outing at Tramore in January, Al Boum Photo fulfilled his potential with a sparkling performance. Seven remained in contention as the Gold Cup field rounded the turn at the bottom of Cleeve Hill, but it was Paul Townend who forged ahead on Al Boum Photo, pinging the last before seeing off spirited efforts from Anibale Fly and Bristol De Mai to ensure the jubilant Mullins got his hands on the famous trophy for the very first time.
Any discussion about the Cheltenham Festival will inevitably revolve around the Gold Cup, and a large field full of National Hunt racing’s biggest and brightest talents will gather at Prestbury Park in March to battle for supremacy in 2020. Here’s our guide to this season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
2020 Gold Cup Ante-Post Tips
THE ONE TO BEAT
Al Boum Photo will likely have another light campaign and it wouldn’t surprise me if Mullins decided to go down the same route, getting just one run into his defending champion before returning to Cheltenham. However, the history of the Gold Cup is squarely against Al Boum Photo. Only L’Escargot and Best Mate have successfully defended their Cheltenham crowns since the great Arkle in ’65 and ’66 and, as courageous as his victory was, I don’t think Al Boum Photo will be mentioned in the same breath as those legends in ten year’s time.
On his final outing of last season, Willie Mullins’ newly crowned Gold Cup winner was comfortably beaten by stablemate KEMBOY at Punchestown. Kemboy unseated Danny Mullins after just one jump in the Gold Cup, but recovered from that mishap to secure two further Grade Ones and end the 2018/19 campaign as the top staying chaser in the sport.
Kemboy burst onto the staying chasing scene at Leopardstown over Christmas, bounding clear of his rivals after an excellent front-running ride by Danny Mullins to secure victory in what used to be known as the Savills Chase. Many shrewdies then fancied Kemboy to run well at Cheltenham, but a poor leap at the first fence lead to a stumble, a slip and Danny Mullins was hurled to the ground.
Ruby Walsh then took over in the saddle at Aintree, as Kemboy trounced his rivals from the front to win the Bowl, beating Clan Des Obeaux by nine lengths. Walsh and Kemboy then got the better of Al Boum Photo at Punchestown, and ended the campaign on a stunning rating of 177.
A flaw in the plan arose earlier this week, when news broke that Kemboy – and all of the Supreme Racing Club’s horses – has been banned from racing until further notice, as the syndicate faces allegations of financial misdemeanors.
Despite this fairly hefty stumbling block, I’m sure the powers that be will get this mess sorted out and we’ll see Kemboy back on a racetrack before too long and all roads will lead to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If he can maintain his form and verve during his third campaign as a chaser, then Kemboy will be the one they all have to beat.
THE BIG DANGER
As mentioned, Al Boum Photo could be a big player when he tries to win a second Gold Cup in March. Usually though, a promising, second-season chaser is the one experts and punters usually side with and LOSTINTRANSLATION’S performance at Aintree at the end of his novice campaign ensured he was involved in any Gold Cup conversation during 2019/20.
Colin Tizzard’s charge spent most of last season butting heads with Defi Du Seuil and their rivalry produced three fantastic races. First, Lostintranslation got the better of Philip Hobbs’ chaser in the Dipper here at Cheltenham, before Defi Du Seuil turned the tables on his rival in both the Scily Isles Novices’ Chase and the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival.
Robbie Power then guided Lostintranslation into battle with RSA winner, Topofthegame in then Mildmay at Aintree and Tizzards’ seven-year-old took to three miles like a duck to water. Power’s mount travelled smoothly throughout, cruising clear of the pace-setting Top Ville Ben entering the home straight before staying on comfortably to win by six lengths.
Tizzard, who had mentioned the Gold Cup as a target for Lostintranslation after he won the Dipper back in January, moved his Mildmay winner into the stable vacated by former stalwart Cue Card during the off-season, so he clearly holds Lostintranslation in very high regard. If he can progress again during his second season over fences, then Lostintranslation will enter next year’s Gold Cup as one of the market leaders.
THE DARK HORSE
Presenting Percy began last season as the ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup and remained at the head of the betting right up until the off, despite enduring an injury-hit campaign which meant Pat Kelly could only get one hurdles run into his stable star. The 2018 RSA winner was clearly under-prepared and was reported lame following a 33-length defeat. Hopefully, he will enjoy an uninterrupted season and could return to Cheltenham as a Gold Cup challenger once again.
2018 Gold Cup winner, Native River managed to place in three Grade Ones last season, running mainly on good ground which was never going to be to his liking. Richard Johnson niggled his mount along for much of last year’s Gold Cup and the defending champion plugged on right until the end, crossed the line very creditable fourth. Tizzard’s nine-year-old had his rating dropped by six-pounds following that defeat, but Native River is ten pounds better than his current mark on soft going and remains a stayer to be feared.
Santini and Delta Work may have lost out to Topofthegame in the RSA at Cheltenham, but both impressed in defeat and have already been tipped to mount serious Gold Cup challenges by some knowledgeable experts. However, a dark horse really needs to be sitting outside the top five or six in the market and the one who catches my eye at a crazy price, considering what he’s achieved, is ANIBALE FLY.
In 2018, Tony Martin’s stable star followed a strong, staying-on third in the Gold Cup with an impressive fourth-place finish under 11-08 in the Grand National. After just two runs during the regular season, Anibale Fly returned to Cheltenham as a 22/1 outsider for the Gold Cup. Yet, Barry Geraghty’s mount powered up Cleeve Hill to finish just two-and-a-half lengths behind Al Boum Photo in second, before running another screamer to carry top-weight into the places in Aintree’s most famous handicap.
Now, there is a chance the monumental efforts Anibale Fly has registered in two of National Hunt racing’s most grueling races will catch up with him as he hits the ripe-old age of ten. Yet, Martin’s charge looked better than ever last season and another quiet season tailored around a Gold Cup return could help Anibale Fly run well beyond his lengthy odds once again.