It’s good to be home
Bit of rain about, though
Frankie on FaceTime
A job well done
Still a star
A close finish
… first too, for Jason Hart
It’s good to be home
Bit of rain about, though
Frankie on FaceTime
A job well done
Still a star
A close finish
… first too, for Jason Hart
The Gold Cup underpins Royal Ascot every year – and never more so than in 2021 as Stradivarius seeks to emulate Yeats as the greatest to grace the race.
As John and Thady Gosden’s brilliant and hugely durable stayer bids to equal Yeats’ all-time record as a four-time Gold Cup winner, if he is successful there will be an extra element to set him apart even from Aidan O’Brien’s superstar – because Stradivarius will have triumphed at five successive royal meetings.
Twelve months before his first triumph in the centre piece of the week, the then three-year-old served notice of his staying potential with a late surge to a narrow victory over his contemporaries in the 2017 Queen’s Vase.
It was, of course, a portent – since which Stradivarius, with Frankie Dettori his most able and highly appropriate partner, has been unstoppable three times over.
He finished minus a shoe, and lame, yet in front nonetheless in 2018, defied concerns about rain-softened ground in 2019 and then last year posted the most impressive of all his victories – by 10 lengths from the re-opposing Nayef Road.
Come what may this time, the Gold Cup will of course headline Ladies’ Day as ever – but elsewhere on the card, the small matter of the fastest two-year-olds, in the opening Norfolk Stakes, finding the right three-year-old filly in the Ribblesdale and the handicap conundrums of the Britannia and King George V ensure there is something for everyone.
All over bar the shouting for Stradivarius?
Stradivarius will be milking the limelight long before he gets to the finish line, or even the starting stalls, in the Gold Cup. The superstar stayer routinely prefaces his best performances on his way to the paddock, shouting and strutting – a habit John Gosden attributes to the seven-year-old entire’s very healthy testosterone levels. Regardless of how much attention the chestnut draws to himself before the race, he will receive a significant amount more if he is successful in taking a fourth consecutive Gold Cup and matching the efforts of the great Yeats in the process.
Ward the key to Norfolk Stakes?
American trainer Wesley Ward loves a Royal Ascot winner, but so far this year he has not had one. He holds a major chance in the Norfolk Stakes, however, through the once-raced and unbeaten pair of Lucci and Nakatomi. But this looks a renewal that is well up to scratch, and dangers abound to the Ward pair. None more so than Aidan O’Brien’s Cadamosto, while there is lots to like about the home defence, including Second Wind (William Haggas) and Instinctive Move (Clive Cox), to name just two.
Noon’s time to star?
By Galileo out of Midday, Noon Star is certainly bred to be something special. Her second to Snowfall in the Musidora now looks decidedly less disappointing than it seemed at the time and she gets her chance to show she could have played a part in the Oaks, after a blood disorder ruled her out in the week of the Epsom showpiece. The O’Brien-trained Divinely was third at Epsom, so a fascinating clash awaits.
What might have been with Mohaafeth?
In contrast to Noon Star, Mohaafeth actually made it to Epsom, for the Derby – only for the rain to leave William Haggas making the difficult decision to take him out just over an hour before the premier Classic. He looks a very talented son of Frankel on what he has shown so far – but the big question is just how much will his chance be compromised if the forecast rain comes?
Arise, Sir Lamorak
Sir Lamorak had the look of a Derby ‘dark horse’, but never made it to Epsom. Not one of the O’Brien team’s headline acts – so far anyway – he won at Dundalk in March and was a stylish handicap winner at Leopardstown after that. He could yet prove to be very good.
History beckons for Stradivarius as he chases not only a fourth Gold Cup at Royal Ascot but a fifth successive victory at Flat racing’s showpiece meeting.
As a three-year-old the chestnut won the Queen’s Vase back in 2017 – and that Group Two only hinted at the success-laden career that lay in wait for him.
He immediately took on his elders in the Goodwood Cup, making use of the weight allowance and while a Classic success in the St Leger eluded him by half a length, his four-year-old career was a perfect one.
A Yorkshire Cup, a first Gold Cup, another Goodwood win and a Lonsdale Cup preceded a victory on Champions Day and only a nose defeat to Kew Gardens in the corresponding race 12 months later prevented him from going two seasons unbeaten.
Last year connections experimented with his trip with the intention of running in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and while that did not come off, he showed he was as good as ever on his return in the Sagaro Stakes.
“He seems to love his training still, he still seems to love his racing,” said John Gosden.
“He can be very naughtily behaved beforehand and think he’s in the covering shed – not at the racecourse – but when it comes to the race and he gets down to the start, he can look at a mare and think ‘OK, I’ve a job to do’.
“He worked on the July Course last week and I was very happy with him. Touch wood, we’re ready to go again.”
Stradivarius would join Yeats as the only other horse to have won four Gold Cups, and Gosden believes his first was his stiffest task when beating Vazirabad, Torcedor and Order Of St George.
“He has been remarkable. He has this exciting turn of foot,” said Gosden.
“I think the toughest race of his life was his first Gold Cup against the great French stayer (Vazirabad), but overall I think his record stands up.
“His win in the Sagaro was tidy, pleasant, he (Frankie Dettori) didn’t ask him too much so let’s hope he’s ready for the big one again.
“I’d like to get through Thursday before deciding what next. I know where he (owner Bjorn Nielsen) would like to run, but there’s nothing wrong with five Goodwood Cups is there!”
He did have one word of caution, however – the weather.
He said: “I fear one thing for Stradivarius – thunderstorms – because he has this wonderful turn of foot after two and a half miles but the wet ground, soft ground, blunts it, so we’ll see how we go.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the new boy on the block, Subjectivist, and a lot of respect for Alan King’s horse (Trueshan), although he would prefer a downpour. There’s no doubt Subjectivist adds a lot of spice to the race.”
Subjectivist is certainly the new kid on the staying block. His trainer Mark Johnston has thrown the likes of Dee Ex Bee, Nayef Road and other good stayers at Stradivarius in recent years, all to no avail.
However, Johnston believes the four-year-old is his best chance chance of downing Gosden’s stayer given the way he won the Prix Royal-Oak in France and the Dubai Gold Cup last time out.
“He did have an injury in that Dubai race. It’s taken him a little while to come back from that and as a result we haven’t had any race in between,” said Johnston, who revealed his colt also had a fall at home recently but escaped injury.
“I think this is the best horse I’ve gone to war with Stradivarius with. We know what a tall order that is – we’ve finished second to him so many times before.
“I won’t be looking at tactics to beat Stradivarius, we’ve just got to hope that we’ve got the best horse on the day.”
Nayef Road is back for more, in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
“Nayef Road is going to Ascot on the back of two disappointing performances, but while his second in the Gold Cup last year was with cut in the ground, we had previously always thought he was better on fast ground,” said Johnston.
“We are hopeful that on better ground we’ll see him back to his best, although there’s obviously some rain forecast on Thursday so we have to be prepared for that.”
Alan King’s Trueshan had Stradivarius a long way behind him when winning on Champions Day – but conditions were testing then and the Barbury Castle trainer has stated plenty of rain will need to fall for him to run.
King said: “He’s been declared, but we are very reliant on thunderstorms hitting Ascot. He’s in great nick and I couldn’t be happier with him, but if it doesn’t rain he doesn’t run. It will have to go to good, or good to soft.”
Aidan O’Brien, who trained Yeats, threw a curve ball last week when supplementing last year’s surprise Derby winner Serpentine.
Winless since his incredible Epsom display, in which he made every yard of the running, he had an unusual prep for a two-and-a-half-mile marathon by running in the Tattersalls Gold Cup over an extended 10 furlongs.
“Obviously we won’t know if he stays the trip until he runs over it, but we always thought he’d stay further than a mile and a half,” said O’Brien.
“He seems to be in good form at home, he’s had a run this season and we’re hoping he’ll run well.”
The Ballydoyle handler also runs Santiago, who won the Queen’s Vase at the meeting last year before going on to glory in the Irish Derby.
“Santiago is in good form and this has always been the plan for him. He’s had his two runs already this season and we’ve been happy with him since his last run at York,” said O’Brien.
Andrew Balding’s Yorkshire Cup winner Spanish Mission is another with a live chance.
“I’m really pleased with Spanish Mission. I thought it was a really good effort at York, but he faces some mighty opponents here in the likes of Stradivarius, Subjectivist, and Santiago, not to mention Serpentine, who I wasn’t expecting,” said Balding.
“It’s a really intriguing race, as a Gold Cup should be, but Spanish Mission is in great form. It’s another two furlongs further than the Doncaster Cup, which he won last year, but I’d be hopeful that he’ll stay.”
Stradivarius is set to face 12 rivals when he bids for a record-equalling fourth victory in the Gold Cup at Ascot.
John and Thady Gosden’s brilliant stayer will draw level with the great Yeats if he is triumphant for a fourth successive season, and will be steered by usual rider Frankie Dettori as he attempts to defend his title.
Among his opponents, however, trainer Alan King has warned Trueshan will only run on Thursday if forecast rain arrives to ease the current good to firm ground.
A Group Two winner over two miles at Ascot last year, the five-year-old will again be ridden by Hollie Doyle – but King has made it clear his participation depends on the weather.
The Barbury Castle trainer said: “I’ve declared Trueshan for the Gold Cup, but I just wanted to make everyone aware that he will only run if there is sufficient rain.
“I’m very happy with the horse, and there is the possibility of some rain, so we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Nayef Road will try again, having finished a 10 lengths behind Stradivarius 12 months ago.
Nayef Road’s trainer Mark Johnston will also saddle his impressive Dubai Gold Cup winner Subjectivist, who runs for the first time since taking the Meydan Group Two in late March.
Andrew Balding is represented by Yorkshire Cup hero Spanish Mission, who defeated both Santiago and a lacklustre Nayef Road when winning last month’s Group Two on the Knavesmire by two and three-quarter lengths.
Aidan O’Brien will field a trio of runners, with Serpentine a fascinating inclusion – having never previously gone beyond the mile-and-a-half trip over which he was a surprise 25-1 winner of the 2020 Derby.
Amhran Na Bhfiann was third in last year’s Epsom Classic and he too takes his chance after a low-key start to the season.
Santiago is also in O’Brien’s team, searching for his first success since taking the 2020 Irish Derby.
O’Brien’s eldest son Joseph is set to run Melbourne Cup hero Twilight Payment, with his younger brother Donnacha represented by Emperor Of The Sun.
Ireland have a further chance in the shape of Tony Mullins’ Princess Zoe, who was a Group One winner in the Qatar Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp in October.
German trainer Andreas Suborics will saddle Rip Van Lips, competing on British turf for the first time, and the field is completed by David Brown’s 100-1 outsider Ben Lilly.
Subjectivist is still on course for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot despite giving connections a scare on Friday.
Trainer Mark Johnston revealed the second favourite for the big prize behind Stradivarius fell over on the way to the gallops but suffered only superficial damage.
“We had a scare on Friday, he fell over and skinned both knees and his hocks but just superficial grazes,” the Middleham handler told Sky Sports Racing.
“It happened on the way to the gallops. Obviously it was a big scare because it was him.
“There was no swelling and he cantered both yesterday and today, so all should be well.”
With that problem over, Johnston is now worried about the lack of a recent run for his talented stayer, who has not raced since winning the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March.
“That is more of a concern because of the time he’s had in between, but he’d had a fair bit of time of before he went to Dubai and clearly thrived on it,” he added.
“If he can repeat that performance, then Stradivarius is going to have to pull it all out to beat him.”
Last year’s Derby hero Serpentine has been supplemented to take on Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Serpentine was a shock 25-1 winner of the Epsom Classic last term – before failing to strike in two subsequent starts.
He was well beaten on his return to action in the Tattersalls Gold Cup last month, but connections have stumped up £30,000 to add him to the field for Thursday’s Group One feature next week, which is run over two and a half miles – a full mile further than Serpentine has tackled before.
O’Brien also has last year’s Queen’s Vase and Irish Derby winner Santiago in the mix, along with Amhrann Na Bhfiann – who finished third at Epsom in 2020.
Staying star Stradivarius is a hot favourite as he bids for a fourth successive Gold Cup victory.
Should the John and Thady Gosden-trained seven-year-old prevail once again, he will become just the second four-time winner of the great race – joining Yeats, who triumphed in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Stradivarius was a 10-length victor last term – and having turned in a couple of disappointing runs at the back-end of last year, he roared back to winning form in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in April.
Nayef Road was back in third that day, and second in the Gold Cup 12 months ago, and he is one of two possibles for Mark Johnston – along with better-fancied stablemate Subjectivist.
The four-year-old won the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan on his 2021 bow back in March, and Johnston is relishing a Gold Cup run – having won the race with Double Trigger in 1995 and Royal Rebel in both 2001 and 2002.
Johnston told Tattersalls: “Subjectivist is in the Ascot Gold Cup next week, and that’s always been his target.
“We hadn’t had a winner on Dubai World Cup night since 2000, so 21 years, and in that race we couldn’t have been happier. He was serving up to them throughout, and it looked like nothing else got a look in. It was a tremendous race to win, and in tremendous style.
“I went to the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in 2018. We knew Subjectivist was in the catalogue, a half-brother to Sir Ron Priestley who we already trained. He hadn’t won for us, but we already thought a lot of him.
“I had a great deal of faith in the family.”
Group One winner Princess Zoe, from Tony Mullins yard, Donnacha O’Brien’s Emperor Of The Sun and the Joseph O’Brien-trained pair of Melbourne Cup hero Twilight Payment and Master Of Reality complete a strong potential Irish challenge.
An extra international element is added – with Andreas Suborics set to field German Group Two winner Rip Van Lips, for whom James Doyle is booked to ride.
Alan King’s Long Distance Cup hero Trueshan, the Andrew Balding-trained duo Spanish Mission and Ranch Hand and 92-rated Ben Lilly from David Brown’s yard complete the potential line-up of 15.
Ocean Wind is on course for a rematch with Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot following his excellent effort in the Sagaro Stakes.
Roger Teal’s five-year-old got within a length of the triple Gold Cup hero in the Group Three contest over two miles at Ascot last month.
The Berkshire trainer feels the extra half-mile of the stayers’ championship could make Ocean Wind even more of a threat to Stradivarius.
“He’s come out of the race brilliantly. We’re looking forward to going back to Ascot with him and having a second crack at Stradivarius. It will be a good day if we can get there in one piece,” said Teal.
“I think the extra distance will help us a bit more. Stradivarius is Stradivarius, but you’ve got to take him on. Now is the time to take him on as our horse has proved himself at that level. We’re very excited by him.
“He just doesn’t know how to disappoint and he never stops surprising you.”
Jack Kennedy may only be 21, but he will have to go some to top what he declared as “the best day of my life” after winning the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo.
Riding what was perceived as the Henry de Bromhead second-string, with Rachael Blackmore on A Plus Tard, Kennedy took chasing’s blue riband for the first time – and given the stables he rides for and his tender years, it is unlikely to be the last.
Do not for one minute, though, think Kennedy has been handed his privileged position on a plate. While he learned his trade on the competitive pony racing circuit in Ireland, since turning professional he has been beset by injury.
Having suffered no fewer than four broken legs and countless other broken bones, Kennedy has already missed many months of his career, but he will have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time.
“That tops everything, without a doubt. It’s definitely the best day of my life,” said Kennedy.
“You dream about winning these races as a child. I know I’m still young, but I’ve been in the position to win them for a couple of years so it’s brilliant.
“I thought I had as good a chance as any horse in the race to be honest. I’d gone down to Henry’s to school him and a few of the lads there were fairly keen on him, so I was fairly confident going out.
“The fact that Rachael chose A Plus Tard took the pressure off me a bit as well, so it was great.”
Blackmore has not got much wrong this week, but despite winning the Albert Bartlett a couple of years ago on Minella Indo and coming close to winning what is now the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, she opted for Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard.
Turning into the straight it was clear the De Bromhead pair had it between them, with Al Boum Photo, winner of the previous two renewals, clear of the rest in third.
“I had to switch in and out a couple of times as I wanted a clear view of his fences, without going wide at the same time, but it went very smooth. He travelled and jumped great and there wasn’t any point in the race I wasn’t very happy,” said Kennedy.
“The whole way through the race I was happy, but I was left in front very soon and he pricked his ears after the last. When A Plus Tard came to him, he went on again.
“Turning into the straight, I knew it would take something very good to beat him. Although I was there too soon, I didn’t want to disappoint him. I was very confident the whole way.”
Kennedy could be seen wiping away tears of joy after crossing the line.
“I was emotional. This is massive and I can’t believe it’s happening to be honest. It means the world to me,” he said.
“I’ve broken my leg four times, I missed the meeting last year, but thankfully I’ve had a year this year that I’ll remember for a long time.
“Injuries can take their toll, but it could always be a lot worse at the same time, broken legs and collar bones heal. It’s unfortunate, but you just have to get on with it.
“It’s been great in the Irish bubble, so many lads have had their first winner here which is brilliant, we’re all in fairly good form in there.”
Kennedy, of course, is intrinsically linked to the Gordon Elliott yard which had been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the weeks before the Festival.
He only came in for the ride on Minella Indo when his expected mount, Delta Work, was ruled out through injury.
“I’m in such a good position that I have a very good job and any time I’ve been injured, Gordon and (Michael and Eddie) the O’Learys have always stood by me and said my job is there when I get back,” said Kennedy.
“When you’ve horses of that calibre to get back for, if you can’t get back for them there’s no point doing it.”
Minella Indo edged out A Plus Tard to give trainer Henry de Bromhead a one-two in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Ridden by Jack Kennedy, Minella Indo (9-1) got the better of gallant stablemate A Plus Tard, who was partnered by Festival sensation Rachael Blackmore.
The victory capped an incredible week for De Bromhead, who also collected the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase and has had six winners in all.
Frodon and Bryony Frost made the extended three-and-a-quarter-mile showpiece a true test. With Kemboy and Black Op for company, the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon put in serious leaps through the early stage, but Nicky Henderson’s hopes were dashed early on with Champ and Santini pulled up.
Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo – seeking a third successive win in the race – was ridden patiently, while A Plus Tard always had the leaders in his sights.
Blackmore closed the door on 9-4 favourite Al Boum Photo as the field galloped down towards the home turn, and it became a fight between the two De Bromhead runners.
But Minella Indo held the upper hand and repelled the determined challenge of the runner-up to win by a length and a quarter.
Al Boum Photo was four and a quarter lengths away in third. Native River, the winner in 2018, was fourth and Frodon fifth.
De Bromhead said: “It was incredible. Jack was brilliant on Minella Indo, who is just such a tough horse.
“It’s all down to the crew at home, who work so hard. And the support of all our clients, it’s just brilliant.
“Whatever it is about here – he’s a little bit like Put The Kettle On – he just comes alive.
“He’s fast asleep at home on a daily basis, but even saddling him today, he was like he was before the Albert Bartlett (in 2019) – he was kicking the back door and so up for it.
“We obviously had the mishap at Christmas and he wasn’t as good in the Irish Gold Cup, but we wanted to get a clear round that day and Rachael rode him brilliantly.
“It’s all come together here and it’s fantastic.
“To win a Cheltenham Gold Cup is something you dream about. I think I’m still in my hotel, it’s Monday evening and I’m about wake up and nothing’s even started yet. That’s where I’m at at the moment, it’s brilliant.”
“A Plus Tard was amazing, he ran a cracker for the Thompsons of Cheveley Park. Both jockeys were amazing, it’s just brilliant.”
De Bromhead added of riding arrangements for his pair: “Rachael had the choice. I always try to stay out of that and I left it to her.
“Everyone has been asking me on the run-up to the race which had the better chance, but I couldn’t split them.
“I don’t like to interfere (with Blackmore’s choice) as I’d hate to put her the wrong way.
“She knew they were both training well.”
When told he had become the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same week, he said: “It is incredible to think it. I’ve been coming here plenty of years with plenty of tough results, but also some great ones. I just feel extremely lucky.
“It will be me myself and I in the car and on the ferry, there is no celebrating. It will be quarantine for five days when I get back home. I’m looking forward to getting back home and seeing the family.”
Kennedy told ITV Racing: “I can’t believe it, this is what I’ve dreamt of since I was a child. I’m just so grateful to Henry and (owner) Barry Maloney for giving me a chance and the opportunity to ride him. I can’t thank them enough, I’ll owe them forever.
“This is what I live for. I just can’t believe this is after happening, I’m delighted.
“I was there very soon on him, but I didn’t want to disappoint him, he carried me into it and I didn’t want to be taking him back.
“I landed over the last and he pricked his ears, he was pulling up, but it wasn’t out of tiredness and when he heard Rachael coming back at him, he took off again. It’s unbelievable stuff.”
Mullins was proud of Al Boum Photo in defeat.
The Closutton trainer said: “A great run from Al Boum Photo, he ran his heart out. The winner was very unlucky last year (in what was the RSA Chase) and A Plus Tard’s form was very good in Ireland, so we’ve no excuses.
“Our fellow ran a cracker of a race and it was a great race for the three horses over the last three fences.”
He added: “Kemboy jumped very well throughout, Danny (Mullins) just said that he just started to feel the pinch after the water fence. He gave him a little breather and he just wasn’t able to get back in the race.”
Champ and Santini give Nicky Henderson a strong hand in his bid for a third victory in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Long Run provided the Seven Barrows handler with his first taste of success in the blue riband in 2011, before the popular Bobs Worth repeated the feat two years later.
The shortest priced of his two runners this year is Champ, who is out to claim a second Festival victory following his memorable last-gasp effort in last year’s RSA Chase.
An autumn wind operation meant the JP McManus-owned gelding missed the first half of the season – and when he did return, he unconventionally ran over just two miles in the Game Spirit at Newbury, performing with huge credit to finish second to Sceau Royal.
“Champ had his wind done, which consequently put us on the back foot,” said Henderson.
“We were aiming for the Denman at Newbury, but when the meeting got put back a week, we came up with the wacky idea of running him over two miles in the Game Spirit. We just felt he was going to have an easier race over two miles rather than over three.
“I was hoping we’d see what we saw as my head was on the chopping block for this ridiculous idea if it didn’t work. Thankfully it went well and his jumping at that pace was exceptional. We all came away very happy and he has been fine since.”
Champ’s stablemate Santini went down by a diminishing neck to Al Boum Photo in last year’s Gold Cup.
The nine-year-old has been a little underwhelming in three starts so far this season, but better is expected on his return to Cheltenham in a first-time visor.
Henderson added: “The Cotswold Chase (at Cheltenham) was off. Sandown took it on, but the ground was desperate on the day. I was satisfied with how he ran and it put us where we wanted him.
“He ran a fantastic race in the Gold Cup last year and I see no reason why he won’t run well again.”
Henry de Bromhead is also double-handed, with Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard joined by Minella Indo.
The latter was only narrowly denied by Champ at last year’s Festival and could hardly have made a more impressive start to this season in winning at Wexford and Navan.
However, he will return to Prestbury Park with something to prove, having fallen when favourite for the Savills Chase and finished only fourth behind Kemboy in last month’s Irish Gold Cup.
“Our plan with Minella Indo was to be busy with him up to Christmas because we thought he lacked experience. He had two great runs at the start, winning a Grade Three and a Grade Two at Wexford and Navan, when he was very impressive,” said De Bromhead.
“Then we went to the Savills and it was disappointing he fell. It wasn’t the plan to run him again before the Gold Cup, but obviously we couldn’t go off the back of a fall, so looking at all our options we plumped for the Irish Gold Cup and I thought he ran respectably.
“We were adamant he needed a clear round and we got that. Kemboy got away from us after a mistake, but he still ran well.”
Native River, who won an epic Gold Cup in 2018, is out to become the first horse since Kauto Star to regain the crown.
The popular Colin Tizzard-trained 11-year-old also finished third in 2017 and fourth in 2019, but missed out last year through injury.
Tizzard, who will hand over the licence to his son Joe in the coming weeks, said: “He’s beaten the better English chasers and he’s the top-rated chaser in England.
“The fact that he’s 11 is why he’s a 16-1 shot. If he was an eight-year-old I’m sure he’d be in the first three in the betting.
“He’s in cracking form. He’s a Gold Cup winner and a class horse and we know he stays three miles and two furlongs.”
Native River is joined by stablemate Lostintranslation, who was a close-up third in last year’s Gold Cup but has failed to recapture that form so far this term.
Tizzard added: “I wouldn’t dismiss Lostintranslation. He seems in absolutely great form – the best he’s been since I can remember.
“I’m sure you’re going to see him turning in as though he might win it, but as we’ve seen here before, horse have got to get up that hill.”
Runaway Peter Marsh Chase winner Royale Pagaille is a fascinating contender for Venetia Williams, who also saddles outsider Aso.
Connections deliberated long and hard as regards which race to go for with the Rich Ricci-owned Royale Pagaille, who is technically still a novice.
In the end they plumped for the Gold Cup, and jockey Charlie Deutsch is relishing the opportunity of a lifetime.
He said: “I’ve loved riding him this season. I was gutted to miss out on him at Haydock last time, but I’m just really happy to keep the ride on him. Numerically it has been my best season to date and it would be a nice touch if I could win this on top.
“I didn’t get much of a say in which race he would run in, although I spoke to Venetia. However, I didn’t really find out what race he would run in until everyone else did. The horse is in good form and you have to have a go at a race like this when they are in good form – hopefully the hype will be right.
“I’m really lucky that I’ve had the support of Venetia and I’d like to think I’m doing my best to reward her as much as I can by riding her winners.”
He added: “You have to remember it was still a handicap he won last time. I think, like Venetia said, with the horses that finished in behind it was hard to know what sort of performance it was, but it was hard not to get excited by it as he won by a long way and quite easily.
“Like Venetia said, any of those good horses in the Gold Cup would have put in a similar performance at Haydock and Kempton.”
Rachael Blackmore is out to create yet more history at this year’s Cheltenham Festival aboard A Plus Tard in the WellChild Gold Cup.
Having become the first female rider to win the Champion Hurdle when steering the brilliant mare Honeysuckle to success in Tuesday’s feature, the 31-year-old will make even bigger headlines if she can land the blue riband aboard her stablemate on Friday.
A Plus Tard certainly holds strong claims for trainer Henry de Bromhead and owners Cheveley Park Stud, having beaten Chacun Pour Soi over two miles at Grade One level and proved his stamina over three miles with a last-gasp success in a thrilling Savills Chase at Leopardstown.
De Bromhead said: “There aren’t many horses that can win a Grade One over two miles and be in the Gold Cup picture – Kauto Star would be one.
“He stayed very well at Leopardstown and looked like he needed every inch of it, so hopefully it will all go well for him.
“It’s going to be a cracking race and very competitive as you would expect.”
Blackmore told Racing TV: “He’s got an unbelievable chance. Al Boum Photo is the horse to beat, but we will be giving it our best shot.”
Blackmore is not the only female rider in the Gold Cup field, with Bryony Frost out to claim further big-race success aboard Frodon.
Frost became the first woman to win a Grade One over jumps at the Festival when the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon landed the 2019 Ryanair Chase, while the partnership most recently combined to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, another first.
Together Frost and Frodon have won eight races in all, five of which have been at Cheltenham.
Frost said: “I’d love it to keep drying because we have the speed to win over two and a half miles and it will help his jumping. It might not help a few of the others as well.
“The three biggest races on our calendar are the King George, the Gold Cup and the Grand National. To say we’ve won the King George and we’re going for the Gold Cup – it’s massive.
“He’s been huge for my career. For Paul and Mr Vogt to have kept me with him for so many runs, I’m very grateful. He is somebody extremely special to be out there galloping with.
“He probably knows his way around Cheltenham better than me and at Kempton he probably lugged a little left. He loves this track, this is his playground.”
Regarding Blackmore’s Champion Hurdle win and her own bid for history, she said: “Every year somebody triumphs and makes history. We weren’t born knowing, we have discovered as we have gone.
“Rachael and Honeysuckle and brilliant to watch, they seem made for each other and it was a mega moment on Tuesday.
“There isn’t just me and Rachael in the Gold Cup, though, there are 12 of us and we all know each other and our tactics. That’s what makes it fun, finding those inches.
“Watching the old videos of the Cheltenham greats gives you goosebumps. I remember being very little and going to Toby Balding’s to pat Morley Street and I thought he was as tall as a skyscraper. Those moments when you meet the greats stick with you, it boils down to those horses and it is why we love the sport.”
Nicholls said: “Frodon and Bryony are a match made in heaven – they do get on particularly well.
“It suits him to make the running, but he doesn’t have to make the running. When he has won some of those good handicaps at Cheltenham earlier on, especially over a shorter trip, he got a bit of a lead and that suited him.
“He jumps his way into the race. You can ride him how you find him – and if the ground is better, some of those horses that are a little bit more one-paced could struggle a little bit.
“We’ve been very lucky to win the Gold Cup four times with Kauto Star (twice), Denman and See More Business. It’s been a fantastic race for us and I’d love to win it again.”
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.
“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.”
The unmatchable thrill of winning the 2011 Gold Cup on Long Run will live with Sam Waley-Cohen forever.
A decade has passed since he became the first amateur jockey in 30 years to triumph in Cheltenham’s greatest race of all, in his father Robert’s colours and ahead of three previous Gold Cup heroes – the mighty Denman, dual winner Kauto Star and reigning champion Imperial Commander.
Yet as another Festival fast approaches, with near another half-century of winners to his name in the intervening years, it is almost an involuntary reflex for Waley-Cohen to relive the “extraordinary, overwhelming experience”.
The pre-race and mid-race doubts, the elation, his attempts to stay focused and ensure a successful weigh-in amid the celebratory mayhem around him all come flooding back in an instant.
Above all, though, he remembers those seconds when Long Run surged upsides Paul Nicholls’ two racing greats and then the realisation that, for the second time in little more than two months after victory in the King George VI at Kempton, the six-year-old was going to take the mighty Kauto Star’s measure – and this time deliver the prize the Waley-Cohens wanted most of all.
“The moment at the top of the hill – being there with Imperial Commander and Kauto and Denman, with the great jockeys – you think ‘this is the moment, this is do or die’,” he said.
“That will never leave me, because it was just ‘go all out’.
“Then just starting to pull out and join Kauto and Denman, then meet the last on a flying stride, land together and accelerate away – I’ll never forget that 10 seconds of going up the hill thinking ‘you’re going to win the Gold Cup … if only you can get to the line!'”
Long Run was sent off favourite in a titanic edition of National Hunt’s holy grail, having had the king of Kempton Kauto Star almost 20 lengths behind him when winning the King George – delayed by a frost-bound Christmas into the new year until mid-January.
The horse Waley-Cohen’s father had bought as a hugely-promising three-year-old in his native France had since won four Grade Ones either side of the Channel.
But on his only two trips to Cheltenham, he had come up short – and despite his jockey’s instincts that there were sound reasons other than the course itself, he could not quite discount lingering concerns.
“Ultimately, he hadn’t run great at Cheltenham,” said Waley-Cohen.
“But we never really thought it was the course – it was just things hadn’t quite worked out for him.
“In the Paddy Power and the RSA, he just hadn’t been on his best form in either race.
“We never really knew why, but he just wasn’t. So I never felt that the course itself was a problem for him – but when you’ve been there twice and you haven’t quite delivered, the evidence isn’t supporting you.”
If that unresolved issue was at the back of his mind, the honed, flesh-and-blood presence of three more big problems loomed directly in front of him.
“I was more worried by the fact there was Denman, Kauto Star and Imperial Commander (in opposition),” he said.
“(But) in a way, it took the pressure off. You go there knowing you could run the best race of your life and not win against these huge legends of the sport.
“The worst races are ones where you think you’re bang on to win it, and you’ve just got to jump round. That’s the worst as a jockey – so it was one to go and just try to keep calm, see what happened, put your best foot forward and try to get the best run round you could.”
Even so, he still could not quite help second-guessing himself, and Long Run, just a little – and the race did not immediately dispel the qualms.
“It was pretty much all doubt!” he added.
“He was pretty lit up at places in the race, and I was having to go long where I didn’t always want to be going long – because going short wasn’t really working for us.
“When you start making little niggly mistakes in a race like that they take their toll. That was no question a worry for me.
“I hit a flat spot just after the water to the open ditch going up the hill – and thought ‘it’s a long way from home to be niggling and pushing from here’.”
It was about to become clear, though, that the contours of Cheltenham could play to Long Run’s strengths rather than compromise him.
“When we started coming down the hill, actually it felt like I was in the right place and could stick with them close enough,” Waley-Cohen added.
“You don’t know if you’re going past horses like that, so I wouldn’t say I knew I had it.
“But once he came off the bend and went past them, that was definitely the moment where you think ‘this is happening’.”
Yet even as the capacity crowd, his nearest and dearest among them, cheered him over the line, Waley-Cohen knew he could not allow himself to relax.
“It’s a huge release, because you’ve put so much effort into staying in one piece and getting there confidently and not letting the occasion overwhelm you, and going there to take your chance – and then it’s over,” he said.
“(But) you haven’t got your job done (yet), because you’ve still got to get your horse back in one piece.
“There’s that (chance) that you get over-excited, forget to weigh in, or the saddle slips or the weight cloth isn’t there – it’s just not done.”
It soon was, of course, and Waley-Cohen had to begin a more enviable process – coming to terms with the achievement of a lifetime ambition.
“Being met on the walk-in by dad and my brother, I had to keep it all together,” he said.
“There’s the (victory) music going – and it’s an intense, intense experience.
“It’s just an extraordinary, overwhelming experience – such an amphitheatre, where you ride in and you’ve got people everywhere, in the parade ring, all the way around the outside cheering and shouting, the music blaring.
“You’re the centre of 10,000 faces staring and cheering.”
The magic of the Cheltenham Festival, of course, is that they – and thousands more who were not even there – can still picture the scene almost as well as Waley-Cohen himself.
Jimmy Frost’s “horse of a lifetime” Morley Street delivered his finest hour in the 1991 Champion Hurdle – and 30 years on, he could just be the portent for a remarkable long-range family double at the 2021 Festival.
Frost could not of course even begin to dream, after passing the line in front to the delight of favourite-backers a generation ago, that one day his daughter would sample the same adulation at Cheltenham.
Frodon has already provided Bryony Frost with one golden moment at the Festival, with their victory together in the 2019 Ryanair Chase.
This year, they are upping the ante as trainer Paul Nicholls sends them out to try to add the Gold Cup to a season’s haul which already includes a shock victory in the King George VI Chase.
Morley Street and Frodon are poles as well as many years apart.
Frost junior is poetry in motion on the dark-bay grinder who jumps brilliantly and never gives up – while dad Jimmy got by far the best tune out of the quirky chestnut, who could lead trainer Toby Balding’s best sprinters at home yet stayed well enough to win four Aintree Hurdles, but had to be held up as long as possible to ensure he did not stop in front.
Frost, who took over as the then dual bumper winner Morley Street’s jockey for his successful jumping debut, was victorious in 14 of their 23 races together – including his first two Aintree Hurdles and on back-to-back trips to America in the 1990 and 1991 editions of the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Chase.
Grand National glory also famously came Frost’s way, on Little Polveir, in the season he first rode Morley Street.
But it is a measure of how highly he rated his association with the brilliantly adaptable hurdler that he can simply say: “Morley Street was a horse of a lifetime.
“It’s amazing you ever get to meet a partner in life like that.
“You just can’t buy it. It’s just one of those wonderful things that happens, just comes out of the mist.
“All those things have got to come together – you could spend millions, and you can’t buy it.”
That same assessment, he agrees, applies equally to the hugely popular partnership Bryony has developed with Frodon.
But this tale, emphatically, begins with Morley Street – and the most important chapter was written at Cheltenham.
From the outset that day, Frost was abundantly aware that Morley Street was the likeliest winner – but there was plenty too which could go wrong as a joint-record 24 runners went to post.
“It was a big field, and my only concern was traffic,” he said.
“I knew he was the best horse in the race – he was favourite, and I’d raced against them all.
“So we were pretty confident, as long as our horse turned up on the day in good form, he could beat them all.”
Morley Street had the class to win with ease, but very much a mind of his own too – and as Frost jockeyed for position into the straight, there was a sudden snag.
“Coming down the hill to the second-last, I had Jinxy Jack right in front of me,” he said.
“The horses were spread across the field, and I was just in the second row – perfect, get a lead, plenty of horse.
“Jinxy Jack always stood up, but he couldn’t half miss a hurdle – and coming down to the second-last I was right in his slipstream, so I lost my bottle there a bit and thought ‘if he misses I’m right behind him and disaster zone is looming’.
“The most likely hurdle for him to make a mistake at is the second-last, coming off the hill. So I pulled out to get away from him, and I absolutely winged the hurdle and landed in front.”
That was not where he wanted to be, but thankfully the class edge still told with a length-and-a-half win from future Stayers’ Hurdle hero Nomadic Way, for an appreciative and largely richer crowd – and a relieved jockey.
Frost had known for more than two years that Morley Street must not hit the front too soon – and he and Balding were at pains to keep that nugget of information from their rivals.
He added: “We learned fairly early on, the first race I ever rode on him was at Sandown, and he should have gone away and won by 10 lengths.
“But he jumped the last and just said ‘I’ve done enough now’.
“It was always a very carefully guarded secret that he pulled himself up in front – because I thought once the other jockeys start to know that, it would make us more vulnerable.
“We kept it a good secret for a long time.”
Morley Street’s 1990/91 campaign was remarkable, and a phenomenon of training, as he won seven times in nine races over exactly six months – either side of the Atlantic, on the Flat, over hurdles and fences.
He began by beating 1989 St Leger winner Michelozzo at Goodwood in October, travelled to New York’s Belmont Park for his first Breeders’ Cup two weeks later, bagged Grade Two hurdles at Ascot and Newbury, made a successful debut over British fences at Worcester, returned to timber for his Champion Hurdle – and then beat Nomadic Way again at Aintree in April.
He could handle extremes of ground conditions as well as show his trademark turn of foot over a variety of trips.
Frost added: “Toby had some good five- and six-furlong horses at the time – and when he wanted to sharpen him up, we’d do a bit of work with them, and I could lead them. That’s why he was pretty impossible to beat – because he had the stamina, stayed two and a half easy and had the speed of a five-furlong horse.”
“He wasn’t the best jumper in the world – that let him down a little bit. He was just a bit flat.”
That did not stop him on memorably successful American trips – to the cosmopolitan environs of Belmont Park and a year later Fair Hill in the southern State of Maryland. The prize was landed both times, but the experiences were contrasting.
Frost’s biggest problem in New York came, with victory secured, when he was locked in a vast complex round the weighing room – “in jail basically”, until Balding and others rustled up cash to pay his valet after he was belatedly informed of the attentive employee’s entitlement to 10 per cent of his race winnings.
At Fair Hill, with its beautiful rolling countryside and temporary infrastructure reminiscent of the backdrop to amateur days in his native Devon, he had to give himself an urgent pep talk down at the start: “‘Eh Frosty, wake up, this looks like a point-to-point, but you’re racing for big money here’.”
Morley Street gave him few concerns on either occasion – negotiating most of the small US fences adequately apart from “missing one badly down the back” in New York.
He recovered quickly as class told and duly “got there too soon again” – superior to the extent that Frost could afford to coast alongside runner-up Summer Colony and inform top American jockey – and future Hall of Fame trainer – Jonathan Sheppard that he was fighting a losing cause.
“The lad was riding his head off. So I shouted again, and he looked round, and I said ‘This is what you call a racehorse!’. He was still on the bridle.”
Switching to the present, and understandably Frost is not about to tempt fate by musing on the possibility of Bryony and Frodon beating the very best again, as they did at Kempton on Boxing Day.
“You can’t even allow yourself to consider it – you just have to get on with your day job,” he said.
“If it happens it happens. There’s certainly nothing you can do to make it happen, any more than you do to just win a 0-100 handicap round Taunton.”
Unlike some, though, he is sure of one thing – that Frodon, already twice a winner over just short of the Gold Cup course and distance, can stay the trip.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in his stamina,” he said.
“I don’t see why people would doubt it.”
Cheltenham must find a new sponsor for the Gold Cup from 2022 after Magners declined an option to extend their support beyond next year.
Irish cider company Magners have sponsored the Cheltenham Festival and jump racing’s showpiece event since 2019, when they also became the meeting’s official partner – with a rebranded title of ‘The Festival, presented by Magners’.
The three-year deal included an option to extend for a further 12 months, but Cheltenham has announced that will not happen.
A spokesman for the racecourse said: “Magners and Cheltenham entered into a partnership in 2018 which saw Magners secure the presenting partner and sponsorship rights for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Cheltenham Festival and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“Magners also had an option to extend these rights to 2022, which they will not be taking up. We understand and appreciate that the Covid-19 pandemic has implications for all businesses and sporting events.”
The financial impact of the coronavirus crisis has been especially severe on the hospitality sector during Government lockdown restrictions imposed on outlets throughout Britain.
Cheltenham, owned by Jockey Club Racecourses, also recently lost RSA’s longstanding sponsorship of the Festival’s Grade One three-mile novice chase and that of the Racing Post for the two-mile novice championship chase, the Arkle Challenge Trophy.
Sporting Life has since stepped in to back the Arkle from next March.