Trainers gunning for Gold Cup glory at Cheltenham

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Excitement is building ahead of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, and this time next week, it will be the fourth and final day – Gold Cup Day. Of course, the pinnacle of the festival is the blue riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and this year’s renewal is set to be full of top-class talent. With the betting exchange releasing their odds – will the favourite prevail, or could we see a shock at Prestbury Park?

Al Boum Photo is looking to make history, and become the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to land a hat-trick of successive Gold Cup wins. The nine-year-old gelding’s race routine has been much the same as the previous years, with just the one outing at Tramore in the New Year’s Day Chase – which of course, he won.

Willie Mullins is already the festival’s most successful trainer, but should he land that third successive triumph, his name will be added to a very elite list. Of course, prior to Al Boum’s debut win in 2019, the Irishman had never won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and ahead of next week’s race, he told RTE:

“It would be extraordinary – we never dreamed of it. Two years ago, I had given up on the dream (of winning one Gold Cup) and now it’s unbelievable to be on the brink of doing an Arkle.”

While Al Boum Photo is the current favourite with bookmakers, Champ is also highly fancied. The Nicky Henderson-trained horse moved up in the predictions, following a decent showing at Newbury just last month. It was the nine-year-old’s first race since last year’s festival, in which he won the RSA Novices’ Chase, in a remarkable comeback – finishing one length ahead of Minella Indo, after being some eight lengths behind coming into the last.

Henderson will be hoping for a first Gold Cup win since 2013, when Bobs Worth won the centrepiece – and he was brimming with confidence after that showing at Newbury.

And Al Boum isn’t the only former winner coming back for another crack. Native River who won the blue riband event back in 2018 is returning. While the Colin Tizzard-trained horse missed out at last year’s festival, after suffering a tendon injury late on, the 11-year-old won convincingly in the Cotswold Chase last month.

Jockey Richard Johnson fancies his chances, as he prepares to ride at his 26th Cheltenham Festival. After the recent victory at Sandown, the four-time champion jockey said:

“As long as the ground’s on the slower side, I think he goes there with a huge chance. I wouldn’t swap him for another one. Al Boum Photo is the one to beat and we don’t quite know how good Champ is, but they’ll have to put a good performance in to beat Native River.”

Whisper it quietly, but Paul Nicholls fancies Frodon’s chances. In 2019, Bryony Frost became the first female jockey to win a Grade One race at the Cheltenham Festival – riding Frodon to the winner’s enclosure in the Ryanair Chase. The pair made it a second success in a Grade 1 race last December, winning the King George VI at Kempton.

The six-time winner over 11 starts at Cheltenham is currently an outsider in the betting markets – and best-priced at 14/1 – but Nicholls is convinced. He recently said during a Cheltenham preview:

“Frodon loves Cheltenham, loves going left-handed and King George winners have a habit of winning the Gold Cup.”

Before continuing:

“I’m convinced he’s got a chance. Al Boum Photo is obviously the one to beat but there’s not a standout alternative and I think Frodon is a great each-way price.”

 

 

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