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Al Boum Photo goes for Gold at Punchestown

Al Boum Photo has an enhanced opportunity to add the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup to his two famous Cheltenham titles.

Willie Mullins’ dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero had to settle for third behind Minella Indo last month in his quest to join the most select group of racing greats as a three-time winner.

There will be no Minella Indo in his way on Wednesday, though, after trainer Henry de Bromhead ruled the eight-year-old out of his scheduled final run of the season because of a bruised foot.

Kemboy beat Al Boum Photo in the race two years ago - after which Ruby Walsh promptly retired
Kemboy beat Al Boum Photo in the Punchestown Gold Cup two years ago – after which winning jockey Ruby Walsh promptly retired (Brian Lawless/PA)

While Minella Indo is fully expected to be back to defend his Cheltenham crown next year, his Punchestown absence leaves a field of just six.

Al Boum Photo will be ridden by Paul Townend following his Gold Cup-winning jockey’s return to fitness from a foot injury.

They are the new favourites to gain revenge on stablemate Kemboy, who beat them in this race in 2019 and is therefore the most recent winner.

Paul Nicholls’ dual King George VI hero Clan Des Obeaux is a major contender too, travelling over to uphold British honour after the home team’s eclipse in so many races at Cheltenham.

Mullins senses Al Boum Photo was possibly not quite firing on all cylinders in his Cheltenham hat-trick bid.

“People could say that Al Boum Photo’s run might have been good enough to win the last two Gold Cups, and he just met two good horses on the day,” he said.

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“I’m not saying he’d have won the Gold Cup, but I thought he could have run better – maybe he didn’t fire as well as he has (in the past).

“Certainly the last five jumps weren’t as strong as they were last year. He has worked well in the meantime, and I’m happy with him where he is at the moment.”

Kemboy’s two-length victory from Al Boum Photo two years ago was a result which sparked pandemonium as the winner’s jockey Ruby Walsh announced his immediate retirement after the race.

Mullins – who also runs Melon, in the Al Boum Photo colours, and Easy Game – added: “Kemboy worked very well the other morning; I was very pleased with him.”

Clan Des Obeaux, the sole British challenger, certainly has the right credentials to mix it with the best of the Irish – and was right back to his very best when winning by 26 lengths at Aintree this month.

However, he will face a completely different test to the one he passed that day.

“He won well at Aintree the other day, but he has obviously won the King George twice – and going right-handed seems to suit him better,” said Nicholls.

“He’s a much more mature horse now. Cheltenham doesn’t suit him at all – that race and the ground at the time. This is much better for him.

“He does seem to like this time of year when the sun is shining and looks great.

“If he performs like he did at Aintree the other day, he’s going to be right in the mix.”

Clan Des Obeaux and Sam Twiston-Davies after winning the King George
Clan Des Obeaux and Sam Twiston-Davies after winning the King George (Steven Paston/PA)

Sam Twiston-Davies, on board for the second of Clan Des Obeaux’s King George victories in 2019, is reunited with the nine-year-old – in place of Harry Cobden, who suffered a season-ending injury shortly after their victory together at Aintree.

Twiston-Davies said in his William Hill blog: “I’m very pleased to be asked to step in and ride Clan Des Obeaux while Harry is out on the sidelines.

“He felt brilliant in the early part of the season when I rode him at Haydock, finishing second on heavy ground, but then things didn’t quite work out for us in the King George at Kempton.

“It was a funny race – we didn’t get a very smooth run around, and he made a couple of mistakes down the back, but there’s no hiding what he did at Aintree last time out – he was very impressive.”

After Clan Des Obeaux’s three placed runs at Haydock, Kempton and then Newbury in February, Nicholls took Cobden’s advice to fit him with cheekpieces for the first time at Aintree – and the result was an emphatic win in the Grade One Betway Bowl.

Twiston-Davies added: “He jumped nicely, got himself into a good rhythm – and if he’s able to do that on Wednesday, then we should be in for a massive run.

“He’s at a nice age as a nine-year-old. Physically and mentally he looks the complete package, and he should be right near his peak now.

“Punchestown is a beautiful, right-handed track that should suit him well – although he’s just as good going the other way round.

“I’ve only ridden the track a handful of times and will always remember winning the Champion Hunters Chase there back in 2009 on Baby Run.

“This is obviously a bit of a different task to that, but I’ll have a good walk of the track, get all the information I can and make sure we’re fully prepared for whatever it throws at us.

“He’s a very classy horse that still manages to get through the heavy ground, but it doesn’t see him at his best, so the expected good, good to soft ground will be ideal for him.”

The field is completed by Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies, another winner from Aintree who steps up to three miles for just the second time in his career.

Cheltenham Festival day four – Another Photo-finish just what Mullins is looking for

Friday is the fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival – and the day when the sport’s best steeplechasers line-up for the most revered race of the jumps calendar, the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Al Boum Photo is the star attraction as he bids to win the race for the third successive season for his trainer Willie Mullins, potentially emulating greats such as Best Mate and Arkle in the process.

The most precocious four-year-olds in the hurdling sphere will battle it out in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with the Denise Foster-trained Zanahiyr undoubtedly the one to beat on what he has done so far.

Mullins is again responsible for a leading fancy in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle as Stattler represents the yard in the race won by Monkfish last season.

The final afternoon also means the leading trainer and jockey titles can be awarded as the sun sets on what is hopefully the first and last Cheltenham Festival held behind closed doors.

Three in a row for Al Boum Photo?

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Paul Townend celebrates with Al Boum Photo after winning the Gold Cup
Paul Townend celebrates with Al Boum Photo after winning the Gold Cup (Jacob King/PA)

Al Boum Photo has a chance to become one of only five horses to win three Gold Cups as he lines up in the race that is the pinnacle of the jumps season. His preparation has run along similar lines to previous years with an easy win at Tramore on New Year’s Day, giving little away with regards to his chance against the likes of Champ, last season’s Ryanair winner, and Grade One Savills Chase champion A Plus Tard. The latter is the mount of Champion Hurdle heroine Rachael Blackmore – and do not discount Bryony Frost on Frodon, either.

Will Zanahiyr be triumphant?

Zanahiyr has been hugely impressive so far
Zanahiyr has been hugely impressive so far (PA)

The young stars of the hurdling division assemble for the Triumph Hurdle, with Zanahiyr the leading light. The gelding is now campaigned by Denise Foster and will face stiff competition from Alan King’s Tritonic, who was impressive when taking the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton. Henry de Bromhead also has a live chance with the undefeated Quilixios, who won the Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle before leaving Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra yard.

Stattler set for Albert Bartlett stardom

Stattler is yet another leading chance for Willie Mullins
Stattler is yet another leading chance for Willie Mullins (PA)

The line-up for the three-mile Albert Bartlett Hurdle is led by Stattler, but Foster’s Fakiera is also a well-fancied runner despite finishing two lengths behind the former when both horses were beaten at Leopardstown by Gaillard Du Mesnil. Bringing less prestigious but more consistent form to the table Paul Nicholls’ Barbados Buck’s, who has triumphed in three successive novice hurdles in the run-up to the Festival.

Bonus chasing

Harry Skelton and Langer Dan (left) at Sandown
Harry Skelton and Langer Dan (left) at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Saturday’s easy Paddy Power Imperial Cup winner Langer Dan will bid for the £50,000 bonus which has only ever been won three times after making the cut for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle with two to spare. The participation of Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was in the balance until the 48-hour declaration stage, as despite picking up a 5lb penalty he still needed around 20 of those above him to come out. However, he gets into the race close to the foot of the handicap and will be 5lb ‘well in’, having been raised 10lb since his Sandown win.

Al Boum Photo all set for Gold Cup hat-trick bid

Willie Mullins is confident Al Boum Photo is in the form of his life ahead of his bid to join the titans of the jumping scene with a third victory in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Mullins appeared destined never to win the blue riband after saddling the runner-up on six occasions, but the largely unheralded Al Boum Photo broke his duck in 2019 and repeated the dose 12 months ago.

Just as he has in each of the past two seasons, the nine-year-old will line up in the Cotswolds on the back of a solitary low-key run at Tramore on New Year’s Day – and Mullins is hoping for the same result on the day that matters most

“We think he’s in a good position,” said the Closutton handler.

Al Boum Photo at Willie Mullins' yard
Al Boum Photo at Willie Mullins’ yard (Niall Carson/PA)

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“Any time Paul (Townend) has ridden him work, he’s been happy with him and I’ve been happy with what I’m seeing as well.

“We don’t have any negatives at this point, we didn’t have any setbacks.”

Al Boum Photo is the clear favourite to become only the fifth triple Gold Cup winner after five-times scorer Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate.

He did not impress everyone during what was a slightly laboured latest effort at Tramore, but Mullins expects considerable improvement.

“I thought I had him straighter,” Mullins admitted.

“He had such a long break from his Gold Cup last year, had no spring campaign as such and it was a long time back around to Tramore.

“He probably should have done one more bit of work beforehand, but we got through it and we learnt from that and I think he’s in great shape going to Cheltenham this season.”

Mullins, who also saddles Irish Gold Cup winner Kemboy, views A Plus Tard and Champ as the biggest threats to his reigning champion.

A Plus Tard denied Kemboy a second Savills Chase win with a last-gasp Leopardstown success over the Christmas period, while Champ warmed up for his Gold Cup tilt by finishing second over two miles in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month.

Mullins said: “I think you have to take both A Plus Tard and Champ seriously – both are stayers.

“A Plus Tard is bred to stay and Champ proved that he stayed all day last year.

“The two have both put in huge performances as their prep run.”

Al Boum Photo faces 11 rivals as he chases Gold Cup hat-trick

Al Boum Photo is among a field of 12 as he seeks to join an elite list as a three-time winner of the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Only Golden Miller (five times), Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate have won chasing’s blue riband event three years in a row – and Willie Mullins’ charge is favourite to join them on Friday.

Ireland’s champion trainer also runs Kemboy, a multiple Grade One winner in his own right who is having his third run in the race, having unseated his rider in 2019 and finished seventh last year.

Perhaps an even bigger story, though, would be if Champion Hurdle victor Rachael Blackmore were to complete a historic double on Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard, who came from the clouds to win the Savills Chase at Christmas.

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He is owned by Cheveley Park Stud, and their managing director Chris Richardson said: “He travelled well, and Henry seems very happy with him.

“He was very impressive in the Savills. He didn’t look the winner there as he turned for home, but we were delighted that he won in the last stride and got the trip so well.

“It’s a dream to have a runner in the Gold Cup.”

Rachael Blackmore with A Plus Tard on the gallops on Wednesday morning
Rachael Blackmore with A Plus Tard on the gallops on Wednesday morning (David Davies/Jockey Club)

De Bromhead also has a decent second string in Minella Indo, who went close to winning for a second time at the meeting last year when second to the fast-finishing Champ in the race now known as the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Nicky Henderson’s Champ has not had the ideal preparation, but he did finally reappear in the rearranged Game Spirit 26 days ago over two miles, and he takes his chance in the Festival feature.

He is the mount of Nico de Boinville, meaning the ride on last year’s runner-up and stablemate Santini goes to Aidan Coleman.

Just behind Santini and Al Boum Photo 12 months ago was Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, but he has failed to run to form three times this season and needs to bounce back.

Native River is having a fourth run in the race for Colin Tizzard
Native River is having a fourth run in the race for Colin Tizzard (David Davies/PA)

Tizzard’s veteran Native River is also back for another run in the race – having finished third, first and fourth previously.

The King George VI Chase winner Frodon and Bryony Frost would also be popular winners.

Having won the Ryanair Chase two years ago, Frodon needs to prove his stamina for this trip, but a victory would mean Paul Nicholls joins Tom Dreaper on five wins in the great race.

Venetia Williams runs two in Aso and the novice Royale Pagaille, with Tom George’s Black Op also declared.

Hat-trick seeking Al Boum Photo tops 13 in Gold Cup

Al Boum Photo will face a maximum of 12 rivals as he shoots for a third successive victory in Friday’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Willie Mullins’ runner will join a select band of three-times winners if he can triumph again in the Festival showpiece, becoming the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to complete the feat.

The nine-year-old has won his only start so far this term and could be joined by fellow Mullins runners Kemboy and Melon, although the latter is still in the Ryanair.

Native River won the Gold Cup in 2018
Native River won the Gold Cup in 2018 (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He faces another previous winner in 2018 hero Native River, who is one of two for Colin Tizzard along with last year’s third Lostintranslation.

Santini was beaten just a neck by Al Boum Photo in 2020 and he is set to be one of two for Nicky Henderson, along with last year’s last-gasp RSA winner Champ, who made a satisfactory return when second in the Game Spirit last month.

Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost are set to team up with Frodon, winner of the 2019 Ryanair Chase and successful over three miles in the King George VI Chase when last seen while Royal Pagaille stands his ground for Venetia Williams, although he also remains in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase and the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

A Plus Tard after winning the Savills Chase
A Plus Tard after winning the Savills Chase (Niall Carson/PA)

Williams also has Aso in the mix, with Tom George’s Black Op completing the home team.

In addition to Mullins’ trio, Henry de Bromhead has two Irish-trained contenders in A Plus Tard and Minella Indo.

A Plus Tard impressed when beating Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Christmas, while Minella Indo was well beaten by that Mullins runner when last seen in the Irish Gold Cup.

All-conquering Mullins has Gold-en chance to join Cheltenham elite

He is already the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history – and should Al Boum Photo provide Willie Mullins with a third successive Gold Cup, his name will be added to an even more elite list.

The Clossuton trainer admits he had almost given up his quest of winning a Gold Cup, given he had provided the runner-up on six separate occasions.

But then along came the “unremarkable” Al Boum Photo.

Nothing flash over hurdles, he was a smart novice chaser but fell in the RSA Chase of 2018 when still holding every chance, breaking Ruby Walsh’s leg, before winning the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse a few weeks later.

Al Boum Photo would not catch any pigeons on the gallops
Al Boum Photo would not catch any pigeons on the gallops (Niall Carson/PA)

Before the season was out, though, he became much more famous for a race he did not win at Punchestown – the Growise Champion Novice Chase. With another Grade One at his mercy, Paul Townend was approaching the final fence and mistakenly thought he had heard a shout that it should be bypassed.

In moving to his right to miss the obstacle, he dramatically carried Finian’s Oscar out and crashed into the white rail before the wing of the fence.

It is to the credit of all involved that on Walsh’s retirement there was never any question of another jockey being sought.

“I think it’s a great three-way partnership. There’s Paul, the Donnellys, and the horse. They stuck by Paul after Punchestown and they got their reward,” said Mullins.

Three-time Gold Cup winners are a rare thing. There was Golden Miller in the 1930s who won five, Cottage Rake in the 1940, Arkle – known simply in Ireland as ‘Himself’ – in the 1960s and Henrietta Knight’s Best Mate at the turn of the century.

Arkle holds legendary status in National Hunt Racing
Arkle holds legendary status in National Hunt Racing (PA Wire)

“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,” said Mullins.

“He is easy to train, that’s the thing about him. When you see him in a field he’s unremarkable, but he stands out when he’s on his own. He’s always looking over a hedge to see what’s going on but when amongst the horses he’s just ‘Ordinary Joe’.”

Mullins had fired almost everything at the race and previously come up blank. Multiple Grade One winners like Florida Pearl, Sir Des Champs and Djakadam all fell just short, while even Grand National winner Hedgehunter had a go and came second once.

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Florida Pearl was Willie Mullins' first truly great racehorse
Florida Pearl was Willie Mullins’ first truly great racehorse (Chris Bacon/PA)

“I think you need a horse that settles. Florida Pearl was probably too forward going, he always wanted to get on with the job, but we were always trying to settle him,” said Mullins

“Martin Molony told me we maybe shouldn’t be trying to settle him and just let him go and jump. I often kick myself wondering if one of the greatest jockeys of all time told you that, should we have done it.

“You learn from it, though. A horse with a more laid-back approach certainly makes it easier to win these races – it’s the same with the Grand National, you need a horse to go around in fourth gear before he needs to go up a gear.

“It’s taken a while, but I think we’re learning!”

Critics of Al Boum Photo point to the fact that Mullins has chosen to only run him once before each of his Gold Cups. But the champion trainer explains that was brought about by circumstance first time around and as it worked he did not want to alter the routine.

“He doesn’t advertise himself during the year, but that is by design. Because he missed Leopardstown (Dublin Racing Festival) two years ago because of the ground he went straight from Tramore and I stuck with that plan,” said Mullins.

“The fact is he could be going for his fourth win at Cheltenham because he fell late on in the RSA with Ruby when he still had a shout so he’s a real Cheltenham horse.

“He obviously has an engine and if he’s able to go back and do it three times then I think he’s able to sit up there with any of them (previous winners).”

As tends to happen in racing, people are already looking forward to next year’s Gold Cup and a possible clash between Al Boum Photo and Monkfish, a red-hot favourite in the novice division this season.

“Al Boum Photo doesn’t stand out, he’s just an ordinary horse in a field. He’ll just sit anywhere you put him in a race,” explained Mullins.

“Monkfish appears to have huge natural ability for instance, he’s not showing off, he’s just doing it as he sees it. But Al Boum Photo keeps it all hidden under the bonnet and only uses it when he’s asked to produce it.

“I’d love it if they took each other on as that would mean they are both sound this time next year!”

Mullins is on the cusp of taking his strongest ever team to Prestbury Park from his County Carlow powerbase, and has favourites for almost half the races.

When asked what he thinks the secret to his success is, he replied: “When I read how many favourites I had I couldn’t believe it. I was as astounded as anyone else. I think recruitment must be the key. I’m always looking all the time, at the moment I’m looking for ones that will be racing for me in two years, we’re always on the lookout.

“That’s how you create the base, and of course you need the people to invest – we’re lucky to have owners like that who want nice horses, it doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s very hard for your younger trainers to come in and expect to compete because they have to build their clients up and then gain trust between each other. It’s a combination of staff, jockeys and everything.

“Look at the people who help me Ruby, David Casey, Patrick (Mullins), Jackie (wife), Dick Dowling (head lad) – they’ve all been here almost as long as I have. That’s a lot of experience in the yard and maybe that is all coming to fruition now.”

Chacun Pour Soi is on the verge of providing Willie Mullins with a clean sweep of championship events
Chacun Pour Soi is on the verge of providing Willie Mullins with a clean sweep of championship events (Niall Carson/PA)

With the Gold Cup ticked off and victories in the Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle long since secured, Mullins only needs to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase to have the full set of the Festival’s major races.

In Chacun Pour Soi he looks to have the answer this year – but after the same horse was ruled out on the morning of the race 12 months ago he is taking nothing for granted.

“It will be huge for the stable and everyone here to get that – all the championship races at Cheltenham,” Mullins said.

“When we started off the aim was to just have a runner and then after that it was to have a winner. I remember our first with Tourist Attraction, I was delighted but I wasn’t dreaming I’d be in the position I’m in today looking to fill the championship hand. I’d love to do it.”

Of course, this year’s Festival will be completely different taking place in front of almost empty stands and post-Brexit. But Mullins is looking on the bright side.

“All we can do is treat it as normal, we need a team at home, we need a team at Cheltenham. It’s a lot more work and it will cost more, but that’s because of Brexit anyhow. You just have to do what needs to be done,” he said.

“Two years ago when we had to vaccinate all the horses I thought Brexit would be a doddle compared to that and it probably still is, unfortunately it will just cost more.

“Hopefully health issues both sides of the Irish Sea keep getting better.”

All set for clash of the titans at Cheltenham

For decades the Cheltenham Festival has been considered the ultimate battleground for British and Irish-trained National Hunt stars – and while it did not look likely for a while, that rivalry will resume in the Cotswolds.

There will be no packed grandstands or Guinness Village overflowing with revellers, but the action on the track promises to be as fiercely competitive as ever, with the Prestbury Cup going to the victors of the Anglo-Irish turf war.

The Prestbury Cup stayed in Britain in the first two years it was contested in 2014 and 2015, but Ireland has triumphed every year since, bar 2019, when the two nations won 14 races each.

Ahead of this year’s meeting, we assess five of the chief hopes for the home team, and five horses likely to ensure Irish eyes are smiling once again:

THE BRITISH

Shishkin – Nicky Henderson – Arkle Trophy

Shishkin is Britain's leading novice chaser
Shishkin is Britain’s leading novice chaser (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hot on the hooves of Sprinter Sacre and Altior, Shishkin emerged as the latest two-mile superstar on the Seven Barrows conveyer belt when producing a remarkable performance to win last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. While the margin of victory over Abacadabras was small, Henderson’s ace came from a seriously uncompromising position to grab victory, which is testament to both his talent and tenacity. He has made a near-flawless transition to the chasing game this term, with a pair of wins at Kempton and a recent Doncaster domination setting him up perfectly for his Festival return. The withdrawal of Energumene makes Shishkin’s task easier, although it should still be a cracker with Allmankind blazing a trail in front.

Epatante – Nicky Henderson – Champion Hurdle

Epatante was brilliant in last year's Champion Hurdle
Epatante was brilliant in last year’s Champion Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

The JP McManus-owned Epatante progressed from high-class handicapper to the best around in the two-mile hurdling division last season, with success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton followed by a dominant display at Cheltenham. She looked as good as ever when barely coming off the bridle in winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on her reappearance, but blotted her copybook with a lethargic effort when defending her Christmas Hurdle crown. However, Henderson believes he has valid excuses for that defeat and if she can bounce back to her best in the Cotswolds, even the brilliant Irish mare Honeysuckle may be powerless to resist her electric turn of foot.

Royale Pagaille – Venetia Williams – National Hunt Chase

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Royale Pagaille bolts up in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock
Royale Pagaille bolts up in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock (David Davies/PA)

This French recruit failed to beat a single rival home in his first two starts for Venetia Williams and prominent owner Rich Ricci last season, but has seemingly been turned inside out since a summer break. After making a successful start to the current campaign in novice company at Haydock, Royal Pagaille made a mockery of an opening handicap mark of 140 at Kempton over Christmas, and was even more impressive when routing his rivals in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase under top-weight in January. On his revised mark of 166, connections would have been fully entitled to consider a Gold Cup bid, particularly in what looks an open renewal. However, the Riccis love nothing more than success at Cheltenham and the long-distance novice slot looks Royale Pagaille’s best opportunity to continue his winning run.

Bravemansgame – Paul Nicholls – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Bravemansgame on his way to winning the Challow Hurdle
Bravemansgame on his way to winning the Challow Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The day-two opener has been dominated by Ireland in recent years, but while a strong raiding party assembled once more, Bravemansgame might just ensure this year’s renewal stays at home. An expensive purchase at £370,000, the Irish point-to-point graduate was actually beaten on his hurdling debut, but has since rattled off a hat-trick of wide-margin wins. Trainer Paul Nicholls, who has compared this five-year-old to the great Denman in terms of physique and potential, has elected to keep his charge fresh for the Festival – giving him plenty of time to recover from his latest triumph in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December. Denman actually suffered a rare defeat in this race, but Bravemansgame is fancied to prevail where the former Nicholls star did not.

Paisley Park – Emma Lavelle – Stayers’ Hurdle

Paisley Park is bidding to regain his Stayers' Hurdle title
Paisley Park is bidding to regain his Stayers’ Hurdle title (Nigel French/PA)

The three-mile hurdling championship is perhaps the only race at this year’s Festival in which the British appear to hold the aces, with the ante-post market having been dominated throughout the winter by familiar foes in Paisley Park and Thyme Hill. Paisley Park looked set to rule the division for years to come after winning this race a couple of years ago, but was found to be suffering from a heart problem when attempting to defend his crown. Such an issue may have finished lesser horses, but Lavelle’s stable star has bounced back to at least somewhere near his best this season – going down narrowly to Thyme Hill at Newbury before reversing the form in a thrilling Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Thyme Hill sadly misses out, so while there are a couple of interesting Irish runners lurking, Paisley Park should be very hard to beat.

THE IRISH

Appreciate It – Willie Mullins – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Appreciate It after his latest victory at Leopardstown
Appreciate It after his latest victory at Leopardstown (Niall Carson/PA)

Willie Mullins has saddled four of the last eight winners of the Festival curtain-raiser and houses this year’s hot favourite in Appreciate It. Runner-up to stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, the imposing son of Jeremy is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this season including a pair of Grade One wins at Leopardstown. There is a suspicion the seven-year-old will want further than two miles in time, but he has proved he has enough speed to compete at the minimum distance at the top level and if the ground is on the soft side, there is every chance Appreciate It will get punters off to the perfect start.

Monkfish – Willie Mullins – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

Monkfish looks one of the bankers of this year's Festival
Monkfish looks one of the bankers of this year’s Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

Already a Festival hero having coming out on top in a four-way finish to last season’s Albert Bartlett, Monkfish has taken his game to even greater heights this term with three foot-perfect efforts over fences. Having only narrowly beaten the high-class Latest Exhibition 12 months ago, the chestnut gelding was a more authoritative winner when the pair met at Leopardstown over Christmas and left him trailing in his wake on their most recent meeting last month – a measure of Monkfish’s upward trajectory. He travels well without being keen, has jumped impeccably to date and has already proven his stamina and ability to handle the track. What’s not to like?

Chacun Pour Soi – Willie Mullins – Queen Mother Champion Chase

Chacun Pour Soi is a red-hot favourite for the Champion Chase
Chacun Pour Soi is a red-hot favourite for the Champion Chase (PA)

Day two promises to be a big one for the all-conquering Mullins team, with Chacun Pour Soi bidding to provide the winning-most trainer in Festival history with his first Champion Chase success. A late absentee last season after suffering a minor setback on the morning of the race, the nine-year-old has oozed class in three subsequent starts, most recently winning the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown for the second year in succession. With serious doubts about whether dual winner Altior can rediscover his spark, the way looks clear for Chacun Pour Soi to confirm himself as the new star of one of the most exciting divisions in the sport.

Envoi Allen – Henry de Bromhead – Marsh Novices’ Chase

Envoi Allen is poetry in motion
Envoi Allen is poetry in motion (PA)

If you were to take a poll from National Hunt fans of who they believe is the most exciting horse in training, the majority would go for Envoi Allen. And even more eyes than usual will be on him this year following his switch from Gordon Elliott. The Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding has lived up to his expensive price-tag with 11 straight wins under rules, a run which includes victories in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. So far this season he has blown his rivals away in three starts over fences without making a semblance of a mistake in the jumping department. There is an obvious question mark in terms of how the upheaval of moving yards so close to Cheltenham will affect him, but in short, he looks a class apart.

Al Boum Photo – Willie Mullins – Cheltenham Gold Cup

Al Boum Photo after winning his second Cheltenham Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo after winning his second Cheltenham Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

There is little doubt that for whatever reason, dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo is underappreciated and perhaps underrated by the racing public. He is not an outstanding physical specimen, his owners are not big talkers and he has run only four times since winning his first Gold Cup two years ago. But he has also got the job done on the biggest stage of all on a couple of occasions. Just as he has in the past two seasons, he has run just once prior to the Gold Cup – at Tramore on New Year’s Day, where there was nothing in his latest performance to suggest his powers are on the wane. Only a handful of horses have won three Gold Cups, but very few if any of Al Boum Photo’s rivals have enhanced their reputation in is absence this season. In fact, Champ apart, a few look to have gone backwards. Mullins’ charge appears ground and tactically versatile and has an excellent chance of etching his name into National Hunt folklore.

Al Boum Photo ‘in great shape’ as Gold Cup hat-trick bid looms

Willie Mullins is planning a “big bit of work” for Al Boum Photo this week as the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner continues preparations for his hat-trick bid.

The nine-year-old will attempt to join Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate as a three-time winner of the blue riband, with Golden Miller the most successful in the history of the race thanks to his five victories.

Al Boum Photo will head to Cheltenham on March 19 with just one start under his belt this season, having won the Savills New Year’s Day Chase on his January return – the same route Mullins plotted for his previous victories in the Festival showpiece, which this year will be run as the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The trainer admits he did not expect Al Boum Photo to be a staying star following a novice-chase campaign back in 2018 which included a fall at the Festival and a dramatic run-out at Punchestown.

Al Boum Photo and jockey Paul Roule on the gallops on Monday morning
Al Boum Photo and jockey Paul Roule on the gallops on Monday morning (Niall Carson/PA)

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Mullins said: “He’s in great shape. He worked well last week and he’s a big bit of work coming up this week.

“He’s uncomplicated, he’s very nice to train.

“I didn’t think when we were buying him we’d be in this position, or indeed the day that he ran out in Punchestown, or when he had the mishap with Ruby (Walsh) jumping the last at Cheltenham.

“He’s got a funny back history – but here he is, a double Gold Cup winner going for his third. We’re very privileged to have him.”

Champ returned to action at Newbury on Sunday
Champ returned to action at Newbury on Sunday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While Mullins has plenty of faith in Al Boum Photo, he is alive to the threat posed by Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard – and last year’s top three-mile novice Champ.

A Plus Tard had Mullins’ Kemboy back in second at Leopardstown over Christmas – while Nicky Henderson’s Champ impressed many when second, dropped down to two miles in Sunday’s Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

Mullins said: “I think you have to (take Champ and A Plus Tard seriously). Both are stayers, A Plus Tard is bred to stay; Champ proved that he stays all day last year, and he put in a huge performance yesterday. The two of them have put in huge performances as their prep runs.”

Willie Mullins Stable Visit
Kemboy and jockey Ruth Dudfield following a Monday morning exercise (Niall Carson/PA)

Kemboy went on to win the Irish Gold Cup this month, with stablemate Melon a well-beaten fifth. The pair are among five entries for Mullins at this stage, although neither is certain to run – with Kemboy given an alternative option in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle as well as, like Melon, the Ryanair Chase.

The Closutton trainer added: “Kemboy is there – we haven’t decided or spoken to connections yet – and Melon is there. Looking at the replay last night, we think possibly should he (Melon) go for the Ryanair? But then we are well represented in the Ryanair, so we will see.

“I’ll have to have a word with connections about where we go. There’s no hard-and-fast rules made at this stage. There’s a few bits of work to do, and who knows what’s going to happen?”

2021 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY FOUR (Fri 19th March 2021)

2021 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY FOUR (Fri 19th March 2021)

Each day of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival for you!

Onto 'DAY FOUR' and it's Gold Cup Day - did you know, all of the last 18 Gold Cup winners were aged 9 or younger?

 


Friday 19th March 2021 (New Course)

Cheltenham Festival Trends

 

 1.20 - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 179y ITV

2020 Winner: BURNING VICTORY 12/1
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

Pluses…..

  • 21 of the last 27 winners won last time out
  • 8 of the last 12 winners were unbeaten over hurdles
  • Irish have won 5 of the last 8 runnings
  • French-breds have filled 10 of the last 16 places (last 6 runnings)
  • 11 of the last 16 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 13 winners returned 13/2 or shorter in the betting
  • Respect Henderson (7 winners), Nicholls, Hobbs and King-trained runners
  • 7 of the last 17 first ran over hurdles by November (5 of the last 8 by mid-Nov)
  • 10 of the last 15 winners returned 13/2 or shorter
  • The Spring Juvenile Hurdle is a good guide
  • 9 of the last 11 winners ran in the Finesse, Adonis or Spring Juvenile Hurdles last time
  • 7 of the last 12 winners had run in France before
  • Nicky Henderson has trained 7 winners of the race
  • Gordon Elliott has had 2 wins and 2 seconds in the last 7 years

Negatives….

  • Take on horses that have won at 2m2f or further in the past
  • Avoid horses that last ran 56 days or longer ago
  • Avoid horses that had run 3 or more times over hurdles
  • Just 2 of the last 16 winner returned bigger than 12/1
  • Be careful of horses rated 138 or lower – no winner in the last 12
  • Willie Mullins has fairly poor record despite winning the 2020 race – currently 1-from-29

 

 

  1.55 - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 179y ITV

 

2020 Winner: SAINT ROI 11/2 fav
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Barry Geraghty

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 9 of the last 14 runnings
  • The last 6 winners were trained by Willie Mullins or Dan Skelton
  • Willie Mullins has won 5 of the last 11 runnings
  • 16 of the last 20 winners were novices or second season hurdlers
  • 4 of the last 13 winners ran in that season’s Coral.ie Hurdle (Leopardsotwn)
  • 14 of the last 15 winners were rated in the 130’s
  • 7 of the last 13 winners returned 20/1 or bigger
  • 6 of the last 12 winners had run in 6 or less hurdles races
  • 11 of the last 15 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 11 of the last 22 winners aged 5
  • 6 of the last 7 winners had run at Cheltenham before
  • 9 of the last 14 winners Irish-trained
  • 8 of the last 13 winners started their careers in France
  • 12 of the last 15 winners were priced in double-figures
  • 13 of the last 17 winners began their careers on the flat
  • Look for Mullins, Martins & Nicholls-trained runners
  • Respect the Imperial Cup (Sandown Park) winner
  • 9 winners since 2002 ran in the Ladbrokes or Betfair Hurdles that season
  • 11 of the last 20 winners came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 14 of the last 17 winners were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • 11 of the last 14 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • The last 5 winners hadn’t raced in the last 72 days
  • Paul Nicholls is 4 from 30 (+16pts)
  • Willie Mullins is 4 from 38 (+47.5pts)
  • Trainer Dan Skelton has trained 3 of the last 5 renewals (2 of last 3)
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Negatives….

  • Strangely, previous course winners have a bad record
  • Only 2 winners since 2000 winning with a mark of 150+
  • Since 1960 only 5 winners carried more than 11st 2lb
  • Since 1961, only 9 winners had run at the Festival before
  • Since 2005, just one winner rated 140+ (158 runners)
  • Avoid runners that hadn’t raced at least 4 times that season
  • Avoid horses making their handicap debuts, although last year’s winner defied this trend
  • 0 of the last 7 winners ran no more than 4 times that season
  • Just 2 of the last 14 winners returned a single-figure price
  • Nicky Henderson has a poor record (0-from-32) since 2000
  • Gordon Elliott has a poor record (0-from-17) last 10 years

 

 

 2.30 - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y ITV

2020 Winner: MONKFISH 5/1
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

Pluses….

  • 9 of the last 16 winners had run at Cheltenham over hurdles before
  • 14 of the last 16 winners contested a Graded Hurdle last time out
  • 15 of the last 16 winners won or placed in a Graded Novice before
  • 6 of the last 9 winners had won a Point
  • 5 of the last 7 winners trained in Ireland
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had won at least twice over hurdles
  • 8 of the last 10 winners had won or been placed in a bumper
  • 9 of the last 16 came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 16 winner ran 47 days (or more) ago
  • 14 of the last 16 had run in a race over 3m
  • 13 of the last 16 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 13 of the last 16 winners were 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 15 of the last 16 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 11 of the last 16 winners had 4+ runs over hurdles
  • 14 of the last 15 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 4 of the last 15 favourites won
  • Respect Jonjo O’Neill runners (2 wins, from 2 runners!)
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has won 2 of the last 4 runnings

Negatives….

  • Horses that ran in the last 23 days haven’t fared well
  • Avoid horses that DIDN’T finish 1st or 2nd last time out
  • Be wary of horses that have raced less than 3 times over hurdles (1 from 16)
  • Willie Mullins is 2 from 38 in the race, but has won 2 of the last 4
  • Gordon Elliott is 0-from-7
  • 5 year-olds have a poor record
  • Only 4 of the last 16 winners hadn’t raced that calendar year

 

 

3.05 - WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y ITV

 

2020 Winner: AL BOUM PHOTO (12/1)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

Pluses….

  • 17 of the last 21 winners ran in the Savills Chase or King George that season
  • 18 of the last 20 finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 18 of the last 21 winners were 2nd or 3rd season chasers
  • 10 of the last 15 winners had run 9 or less times over fences
  • All of the last 21 winners were Grade 1 winners
  • 16 of the last 20 had won or placed at the Festival before
  • 17 of the last 20 winners hailed from the top 3 in the betting
  • 19 of the last 21 winners had raced no more than 12 times over fences
  • 12 of the last 13 winners ran 3 or less times that season
  • 16 of the last 24 winners were bred in Ireland
  • 16 of the last 20 winners won last time out
  • 6 of the last 15 favourites won
  • 9 of the last 18 winners were favourirtes
  • 12 of the last 16 winners yet to win beyond 3m 1/2f
  • ALL of the last 21 winners were aged 9 or younger
  • 20 of the last 21 winners aged between 7-9 years-old
  • 19 of the last 21 winners were in their first three seasons over fences
  • Horses placed in a previous Supreme Novices’ Hurdle have a good record (6-from-6 this century)

 

Negatives….

  • Non-Grade One winners have a poor record
  • No winner older than 10 years-old since 1969 (0 from 71)
  • Just one winning 6 year-old since 1964
  • Horses rated 166 or less are only 5 from last 34
  • Avoid horses that had run on ‘heavy’ ground that season
  • Horses wearing headgear have a bad recent record
  • Willie Mullins has only won the race twice (2020, 2019), 2 from 33 (had 4 of the last 8 seconds and the 2019 & 2020 winner though)
  • Only 2 winners since 2000 returned 9/1 or bigger
  • Just 1 of the last 13 winners had raced more than 3 times that season
  • Horses that were beaten in their first Gold Cup don’t fare well
  • Only 2 winners since 2000 had previously been beaten in the race
  • No winner since 2000 ran in that season’s Cotswold Chase

 

Cheltenham Gold Cup Betting Trends

18/18 – Aged 9 or younger
17/18 – Had raced within the last 3 months
16/18 – Had run over fences at Cheltenham before
16/18 – Finished 1st or 2nd last time out
15/18 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
15/18 – Had won over at least 3m (chase) before
14/18 – Winning distance – 2 lengths or more
14/18 – Won last time out
12/18 – Placed favourites
11/18 – Had won 5 or more times over fences in the UK or Ire before
11/18 – Rated 170 or higher
10/18 – Irish bred
9/18 – Winning favourites
8/18 – Had last raced in the previous calendar year
8/18 – Had won over fences at Cheltenham before
7/18 – Irish-trained winners
5/18 – Last race was in the King George VI Chase (Kempton)
4/18 – Won the Denman Chase (Newbury) last time out
3/18 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
2/18 – Ran in the Lexus Chase last time out
2/18 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
The average winning SP in the last 18 renewals is 11/2

Other Cheltenham Gold Cup Stats

Only one horse (Kauto Star 2009) has ever regained the race
26 of the last 27 winners have been aged 9 or younger
9 of the last 19 winners came here fresh – did not race that same calendar year
17 of the last 20 winners were rated 166 or higher
20 of the last 22 winners had won a race already that current season
14 of the last 20 winners had finished second or better at the Cheltenham Festival before
11 of the last 21 winners had run in that season’s King George VI Chase (Kempton)
All of the previous 21 winners had won a Grade One Chase contest before
The last winner aged older than 10 was in 1969 (What a Myth, 12)

 

Cheltenham Gold Cup – UK v Irish

 

16/23 – British-trained winners
7/23 – Irish-trained winners (3 of last 5 though)
Willie Mullins (Ire) has trained just two winners
Nicky Henderson (UK) has trained 2 of the last 9 winners
Paul Nicholls (UK) has trained 3 of the last 13 winners (4 in total)

 

3.40 - St James's Place Foxhunter Chase 3m 2f 70y ITV

 

2020 Winner: IT CAME TO PASS 66/1
Trainer – Eugene O’Sullivan
Jockey – Miss M O’Sullivan

Pluses…..

  • 26 of the last 30 winners were aged under 11 years-old
  • 25 of the last 35 won last time out
  • 17 of the last 18 winners Irish or French bred
  • The last 14 winners were yet to win over this trip
  • 6 of the last 11 winners finished in the top 5 in the race last year
  • 8 of the last 12 winners came from the first 4 in the betting
  • 28 of the last 32 started out in point-to-point races
  • 11 of the last 15 winners ran 34 days or less ago
  • Respect the Irish runners (won 7 of last 10)
  • 5 of the last 9 winners ran in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters’ Chase
  • 10 of the last 15 winners were aged 8-10 years-old
  • 8 of the last 12 winners returned 15/2 or shorter
  • 11 of the last 13 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 9 of the last 11 winners rated 134 or higher (6 of last 8, rated 138+)

Negatives….

  • Horses that ran in a handicap race that season haven’t got a good record
  • Avoid horses that hadn’t won a race under rules
  • Just 2 winners in the last 44 years aged 12 or older
  • 27 of the last 29 horses aged 11+ (priced in single figures) have lost – but the 2019 winner – Hazel Hill – defied this trend
  • Just 1 6 year-old winner in the last 33 runnings
  • Only 2 winners aged 7 since 2000
  • Avoid ex-handicappers rated 140+ in their careers
  • Avoid horses that raced 35 days or longer ago
  • British bred horses are 0-81 (last 18 runnings)
  • Just 2 winners since 2000 hadn’t run within the last 53 days
  • Horses aged 11+ are just 5 from 245 since 1990
  • Just 4 winners since 2000 didn’t finish in the top 3 last time out

 

 

 4.15 - Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase 2m 4f 127yds ITV

New Race – No Key Trends

 

4.50 - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4f 56y RTV

 

2020 Winner: INDEFATIGABLE 25/1
Trainer – Paul Webber
Jockey – Rex Dingle  

Pluses….

  • 11 of the last 12 winners were 2nd season-hurdlers
  • 9 of the last 10 winners placed in the top 3 last time
  • All of the last 12 winners carried 11-1 or more
  • The last three winners had top-weight
  • All 12 winners aged 7 or younger
  • 7 or the last 9 winners rated 139+
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had 8 or less runs over hurdles
  • 4 of the last 7 winners were Irish-based Novices
  • Irish have won 6 of the last 10 (5 making handicap debuts)
  • 35 of the 37 win and place horses were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • Look for Henderson, Nicholls, Mullins, Elliot-trained horses
  • 10 of the 12 winners were placed in the top 4 last time out
  • 6 of the 12 winners won last time out
  • 6 of the last 7 winners had run over a longer trip that season
  • 7 of the 12 winners were rated 133-139
  • 8 of the 12 winners returned at a double-figure price (9 of the last 12 were 16/1 or less)
  • 5 and 6 year-old have won 10 of last 12 runnings
  • Look for jockeys that have ridden 20+ winners
  • Willie Mullins is 3 from 19 runners in the race (won 3 of the last 10 runnings)
  • Respect any Gigginstown House Stud-owned runners (4 winners, 5 places)
  • Paul Nicholls has won the race twice in the last 8 years
  • Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 4 runnings

Negatives….

  • Despite being named after his father the David Pipe stable has a poor record so far (0 from 20, inc 3 favs)
  • Horses aged 8+ are 0-from 48
  • Just 1 winning fav in the 12-year history (8/11 returned in double-figures)
  • Horses in headgear are currently 1 from 59
  • Only 4 winners have previous Festival experience
  • Horses with 11st or less are currently 0-from-89

 

Al Boum Photo headlines Gold Cup contenders

Dual winner Al Boum Photo heads 41 entries for this year’s Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old enjoyed his usual preparation recently with a straightforward victory at Tramore and will head straight to Prestbury Park in his bid to emulate the likes of Arkle, Best Mate and Golden Miller as a three-time winner of the blue-riband event.

Mullins has a host of other contenders for the showpiece event on March 19, including Kemboy, Melon and Allaho, who were second, third and fourth respectively in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

The winner of that race was Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard, already a Cheltenham Festival winner in the past and who was placed in the Ryanair last year.

However, the betting indicates at the moment De Bromhead has an even better chance with Minella Indo, who was caught close home in the RSA Chase last season but was an early faller in the Savills Chase.

It was Nicky Henderson’s Champ who flew up the hill to catch him in the RSA and although he has not run since, he remains one of the leading contenders for the Gold Cup.

Champ flew up the hill in the RSA to catch Minella Indo and Allaho
Champ flew up the hill in the RSA to catch Minella Indo and Allaho (Andrew Matthews/PA)
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Henderson also has last year’s narrow runner-up Santini, winless in two outings so far this season, while Gordon Elliott is keen to get another run into Delta Work, Samcro and Presenting Percy after they failed to trouble the judge over Christmas.

Frodon booked his spot in the Gold Cup when making all the running in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day under Bryony Frost and has been entered by Paul Nicholls along with Cyrname and Real Steel.

Waiting Patiently ran a fine race for North Yorkshire trainer Ruth Jefferson at Kempton to chase Frodon home, on what was his first racecourse appearance in over a year.

Outlining options for her stable star, Jefferson said: “Waiting Patiently is very well at home and has come out of the King George absolutely bouncing.

“We have decided to enter him in all of the possible targets at the Cheltenham Festival just to keep our options open – at least for now. The Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup are all championship races and it just makes sense at this stage to keep him in all three.

Waiting Patiently will have plenty of options at Cheltenham
Waiting Patiently will have plenty of options at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

“We still don’t know how far he will be dropped back down in trip so the Champion Chase comes into the equation and he has got an entry for that.

“The Ryanair Chase is obviously another race to consider, whilst the Gold Cup, given these uncertain times, could be an interesting race.

“With so much going on, entering in all three races just keeps our options open and then we’re not tied down about having to go for one particular race.

“He will probably run again before Cheltenham, but where we go is something we are still discussing. The Ascot Chase was originally the race I had pencilled him in for, but I don’t know whether that will then be too close to Cheltenham and it therefore becomes difficult to run in both.

“With that in mind, I am not sure where we will go next at the moment, but I would like to get another run into him before Cheltenham.”

Bristol De Mai won his third Betfair Chase in November and may have another crack at a race in which he finished third in 2019 before possibly heading for the Grand National.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “Bristol De Mai is fine, he has just been ticking over since Haydock so he is fresh and well.

“He didn’t win this Betfair Chase by as far as his others, but it was a very classy field he beat and he did it well.

“I don’t know whether he goes to the Cotswold Chase. He could go there or wait. It’s a bit up in the air.

“I would like to look at the Gold Cup, but if all the others turn up we might side-step it and go for the National.

“He was third in it (Gold Cup) before and he is right up there on ratings. He has been to the Gold Cup a few times, but has not won it yet. If he goes there hopefully he can prove them all wrong this year.”

Saint Calvados, Lostintranslation, Native River and Imperial Aura and among a host of other interesting possibles.

Mullins more than happy with Al Boum Photo after Tramore return

Willie Mullins reports dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo to have come out of his traditional season-opener at Tramore in great heart.

The nine-year-old will be bidding to join an elite list of National Hunt greats in March, with Golden Miller (five times), Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate the only horses to have won the blue riband more than twice.

Minutes after he crossed the line on New Year’s Day, Mullins was rather nonplussed with the performance and briefly contemplated another run before March – but on reflection he feels the run was better than it appeared.

“He seems great after his run,” said Mullins, speaking at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

“I think the longer break, with not going to Punchestown, he was a bit more ring-rusty than we expected.

“The first two miles of the race were run at two-mile pace with Djingle cutting out a fast pace.

“When we put it all together I was much happier when I analysed it at home than I was leaving the racetrack.

“He didn’t stop going through the line. He just idled mid-race when he had no company around him. Danny (Mullins) was way ahead on Acapella Bourgeois.

“He just idled, but once he got close to him around the home turn, to beat a 150 horse 19 lengths could be as good as any performance over Christmas.”

Al Boum Photo claims Tramore hat-trick on seasonal bow

All roads lead back to Cheltenham in March for Al Boum Photo after the dual Gold Cup hero registered a third successive victory in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old lined up for the extended two-mile-five-furlong contest almost by accident two years ago, after sidestepping the Savills Chase at Leopardstown and subsequently the Irish Gold Cup on account of unsuitably fast ground.

With Al Boum Photo finally ending his trainer’s long wait for a Gold Cup winner in the Cotswolds a couple months later, Mullins followed the same route again last season, and his charge again produced the goods on the biggest stage of all.

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Making his first competitive appearance since his latest triumph in the blue riband last March, Paul Townend’s mount appeared to face a relatively straightforward task, with just four inferior rivals in opposition.

Djingle set a sound gallop from flag-fall, before giving best with a circuit to run, after which last year’s runner-up Acapella Bourgeois and his stable companion Al Boum Photo were the only two that counted.

Townend never looked entirely happy in the saddle aboard the 2-9 favourite, but he took over the lead from his tiring stablemate rounding the home turn and ultimately passed the post 19 with lengths in hand.

Paddy Power make Al Boum Photo the 100-30 favourite from 9-2 to become the first triple Gold Cup winner since Best Mate – and Mullins confirmed his intention to once again head to Prestbury Park without another run.

He said: “It’s a big relief. It was nerve-wracking watching him going around there. The sun was a worry and it probably cost Brahma Bull (unseated rider at second fence).

“He jumped very well and Paul said he was just so idle on his own in the middle of the race, he didn’t even think he was in race. He had to roust him up down the back, but once he got racing he was fine. Lack of company was a bigger worry for Paul than anything else.

“The ground is very, very testing out there. We are happy with his performance, he did what he was asked to do. We just hope now that he comes out of it sound and well and we will plan for the Festival. That’s the first hurdle jumped anyway.

“Halfway around today I was thinking it would have been easier to go to Leopardstown because there would be less focus on him. When you come here, you have to win and you have to win nicely and he did all those things.

“I usually like to do what has worked before and hopefully it will work again. A lot of ours are improving for their first run of the year and I’m expecting him to do the same.”

Al Boum all set for Tramore hat-trick bid

Willie Mullins is looking forward to seeing his dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo bid for a hat-trick in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.

The Buck’s Boum gelding ended up running in the two-mile-five-furlong contest almost by accident two seasons ago, after sidestepping the Savills Chase at Leopardstown the previous week on account of unsuitably quick ground.

With the same issue ruling him out of a subsequent run in the Irish Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo lined up at Cheltenham as no more than a lively outsider but finally provided his trainer with an elusive first victory in the blue riband under Paul Townend.

Mullins’ decision to follow the same route last season again paid off in the Cotswolds in March – and Al Boum Photo will be a red-hot favourite once more to make a successful comeback at the seaside venue on Friday.

Mullins said: “It’s a good preparation. I brought him down there for the proper winter jumping ground, which he enjoys, and it worked two years running. Hopefully it will work again this year.

“We’ve started off plenty of horses that have won at Cheltenham and other big venues in Tramore. We always get very nice jumping ground down there. We get safe jumping ground, and that’s key.

Acapella Bourgeois also represents Mullins
Acapella Bourgeois also represents Mullins (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think that’s key to the preparation of any any jumping horse, and they learn a lot at Tramore. You’re up and down and round – it’s no different from Cheltenham. You’re either turning or jumping – and they learn a good bit there that they might not learn on big, flat tracks.”

Al Boum Photo faces just four rivals in the Grade Three contest, with Mullins also fielding last year’s runner-up Acapella Bourgeois and Brahma Bull – who was last seen chasing home leading Gold Cup hope Minella Indo at Navan.

John Queally’s Djingle and the Andrew McNamara-trained I’m A Game Changer complete the quintet.

Al Boum Photo faces four in Tramore hat-trick bid

Al Boum Photo will face four rivals as he bids to win the Savills New Year’s Day Chase for the third year running at Tramore.

Willie Mullins’ dual Gold Cup winner has taken this Grade Three prize over two miles five and a half furlongs on his way to Cheltenham glory for the past two seasons.

He has not been in action since retaining his crown in March, and jockey Paul Townend is looking forward to getting back on board his Gold Cup partner at this familiar staging post.

“I suppose it’s tried and tested now, so why change it? At that time of year you’re guaranteed a bit of safe ground down there,” said Townend.

“It’s worked the last two years, and we’d be hoping it works a third time.

“If it’s working, why change it? He was pulled out of Leopardstown (two seasons ago) because of the ground and he went down to Tramore, and it suited.

“The race was there, and he got his ground. It was fine and it suited me he went to the Gold Cup under the radar.

“There was a little more pressure last year – but it’s working, and please God it will come off again.”

Among the opposition is Acapella Bourgeois, who was the six-length runner-up to his stable companion in this race last winter.

Mullins has a third string in Brahma Bull – while John Queally’s Djingle and I’m A Game Changer, from Andrew McNamara’s stable, complete the quintet.