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The 2021 Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup: runner-by-runner guide

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Thu 18 Mar 2021

Will Al Boum Photo join an elite band of horses to win three or more renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The nine-year-old already has two on his CV and, if successful in the Wellchild-sponsored showpiece on March 19, will join Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate as a rare three-time winner. But he’d still have some way to match the exploits of five-time winner Golden Miller.

Twelve erunners have been declared, with the race off at 3.05pm and live on Racing TV.

Here’s our guide to those still in the mix.

1. AL BOUM PHOTO

Festival form: 11. Timeform rating: 183. General odds: 5-2.

Positives: He’s won the past two renewals and, aged nine, should be at his peak. Been there, done that and got the T-shirt (twice) and he’s had the same light preparation as the past two years – winning on his return at Tramore against inferior rivals. He’s still had only 12 races over fences and his inclination to make the odd mistake seems to have been erased.

Negatives: A number of his rivals fluffed their lines when he won in 2019 and last year’s renewal, when only two lengths separated the first four home, also lacked some substance. We see him so rarely that we have to take on trust that he’s the same horse and, even at his best, we know he’s not miles ahead of the opposition. In between his Cheltenham heroics, he was beaten by Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Verdict: Bold defence on cards but priced up accordingly.

2. A PLUS TARD

Festival form: 13. Timeform rating: 180. Odds: 5-1.

Positives: Runaway handicap winner at the Festival two years ago who was a close third in the Ryanair Chase 12 months ago. Stayed on strongly to beat Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown (3m) over Christmas and that form has been franked. Will be fresh after a light campaign and seems versatile regards the ground.

Negatives: There seemed an element of him mugging his rivals at Leopardstown and this will be the stiffest test of stamina he has faced. Didn’t get home in over an extended 3m at Punchestown in 2019 and also, with the demands of this race in mind, almost a shade worrying that he had the pace to beat Chacun Pour Soi over 2m 1f last term.

Verdict: A class act but stamina an undoubted concern.

3. ASO

Festival form: 05327. Timeform rating: 169. Odds: 66-1.

Positives: Grand campaigner for Venetia Williams whose previous Festival exploits include a gallant second to Frodon in the 2019 Ryanair Chase. Showed he still has fire in his belly when touched off in a handicap at Warwick last time.

Negatives: He’s a notch or two below these and his best form has been over trips of about 2m4f. Age not on his side, either.

Verdict: Easy enough to look elsewhere.

4. BLACK OP

Festival form: 20. Timeform rating: 159. Odds: 100-1.

Positives: Beat all bar Samcro in the 2018 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle before going one better in Grade One company at Aintree. His exploits over fences include finishing runner-up in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase in 2019 and his only entry at Cheltenham is this race.

Negatives: He’s not developed into the horse he promised to be and has won only one of his eight races over fences, again having his limits exposed when a distant sixth in the King George last time.

Verdict: Out of his depth.

5. CHAMP

Festival form: 21. Timeform rating: 177p. Odds: 9-2.

Positives: Grade One winner over hurdles and fences who has already shown a high level of form with the prospect of even better to come over the longest trip he has tackled. Kept on tenaciously to land the RSA Chase last year – a race that in recent years Long Run (2011), Bobs Worth (2013), Lord Windermere (2014) and Al Boum Photo (2019) contested before winning the Gold Cup a year later. Made a most pleasing return when runner-up to Sceau Royal over an inadequate trip at Newbury (watch above), when also more accomplished in the jumping department. Proven on a range of ground.

Negatives: Disconcerting that he got so far behind in the RSA last year, when his jumping (he had fallen on his previous start) also lacked polish. Required a breathing operation this season and that has led to him having a far from ideal preparation, with a solitary run over a trip on the sharp side for him.

Verdict: No doubting his quality and must go well if jumping issues do not resurface.

6. FRODON

Festival form: 8514. Timeform rating: 177. Odds: 12-1.

Positives: A six-time Cheltenham winner who pulled out all the stops to win the Ryanair Chase in 2019. Looked better than ever when winning a handicap at the course in October, off a rating of 164, when he had subsequent Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap (received 26lb) more than 15 lengths behind. Jumped with typical athleticism when making all in the King George VI Chase at Kempton last time and connections have resisted running him since, so he will arrive fresh. Seems versatile regards the ground but a dry build-up will be to his advantage.

Negatives: His record also includes seven defeats at Cheltenham and, overall, his form at the Festival meeting is not compelling. Suspicion everything fell his way in the King George; unlikely to get an easy time at the head of affairs and also has a stamina doubt to overcome.

Verdict: One of the most likeable horses in training and folly to underestimate.

7. KEMBOY

Festival form: 54U7. Timeform rating: 181. Odds: 10-1.

Positives: Top notch staying chaser who was winning at the highest level for the fourth time over fences when landing the Irish Gold Cup last time, having previously been beaten half a length by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase. His record also includes a two-length defeat of Al Boum Photo in the 2019 Punchestown Gold Cup plus a nine-length drubbing of dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux in the Betway Bowl in the same year. Versatile regards the ground.

Negatives: His record at the Festival. Even if you overlook his messy first-fence exit in the 2019 Gold Cup, there are three other defeats here to digest – including his seventh in last year’s Gold Cup when his jumping lacked conviction and, typically, he was inclined to jink right. His connections toyed with giving the race a miss.

Verdict: Quality performer but record at this course is disconcerting.

8. LOSTINTRANSLATION

Festival form: 723. Timeform rating: 177?. Odds: 33-1.

Joe Tizzard gves an update on Lostintranslation and Native River

Positives: Was a close third in last year’s renewal, having been runner-up in the Marsh Chase 12 months earlier. He also has a Grade One win at Aintree to his name (beat Topofthegame six lengths as a novice) plus a tenacious defeat of course specialist Bristol De Mai in the 2019 Betfair Chase. Ran well for a long way in the Denman Chase last time (traded Evens in-running) before fading, with connections suggesting he might have blown up after two months off.

Negatives: His three below-par runs this campaign ring alarm bells. He’s had breathing problems (two wind surgeries in past 16 months) and apparently bled on his penultimate start. The manner in which he stopped quickly at Newbury last time was troubling and will need a complete transformation to repeat what he did last year, let alone go two places better. Stable has had a challenging campaign.

Verdict: Best watched on the evidence of his efforts this term.

9. MINELLA INDO

Festival form: 12. Timeform rating: 176. Odds: 12-1.

Positives: Dual Grade One winner over hurdles, staying on stoutly to land the Albert Bartlett two years ago. Took well to fences last term and beat all bar Champ in the RSA Chase 12 months ago, when he and Allaho possibly softened each other by locking horns too far out. Picked up from where he left off at the start of this term and dangerous to judge him on his fourth in the Irish Gold Cup last time. Usually a sound jumper and unraced on going with the word “good” in it since his win at the meeting two years ago. Jockey Rachael Blackmore won the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle on Tuesday.

Negatives: Unable to finish the job against Champ last year and a fall mid-race in the Savills Chase over Christmas seemed to leave a mark in the Irish Gold Cup last time as his jumping was a little hesitant. So for all his ability he’s run in three Grade One races over fences and been beaten each time. The last horse to win a Gold Cup having been beaten in his previous two races was Lord Windermere in 2014.

Verdict: Ticks several boxes but will need to jump with more rhythm.

10. NATIVE RIVER

Festival form: 02314. Timeform rating: 181. Odds: 14-1.

Positives: Pulled out all the stops to win in 2018 and also made the frame in the 2017 and 2019 renewals, having been runner-up in the National Hunt Chase in 2016. He’s been a great credit to his yard throughout his long and fruitful career, and showed many of his powers remain intact when beating Bristol De Mai and Santini in the rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown last time. Sound jumper who has a great attitude and stays all day. Softer the better for him.

Negatives: The Gold Cup is a race for younger legs and, at 11, history is against him as the last winner to be aged more than 10 was back in 1969. And the mighty Kauto Star is the only horse to have regained his Gold Cup crown. His win three years ago came on deep ground, with his defeats in the race on better going. Predominately dry forecast no help to him.

Verdict: Admirable performer but vulnerable to younger rivals on drying ground.

11. ROYALE PAGAILLE

Festival form: --. Timeform rating: 174p. Odds: 10-1.

Positives: Flawless in his three runs this season, twice winning at Haydock and, in between, scoring at Kempton. Little doubt he put up a career-best last time when easily defying a mark of 156 in the Peter Marsh Chase. His official rating now puts him up in the top echelons, and his sound jumping and cruising speed are obvious assets. Trip should be within his range and he may still have more in his locker.

Negatives: His form in France and Britain before this year did not mark him down as a Gold Cup winner waiting to happen and his improved form this term has been achieved on flat tracks in the mud against inferior rivals. Ended up beating four other finishers last time and two of those were running from out of the handicap, so his form lacks depth. No experience at Cheltenham.

Verdict: Intriguing new kid on the block but his wins have been more about style than substance on deeper going.

12. SANTINI

Festival form: 322. Timeform rating: 178. Odds: 12-1

Positives: Beaten a neck by Al Boum Photo last year, having been runner-up in a strong RSA the previous year (apparently had interrupted prep) and a close third in the 2018 Albert Bartlett. He’s also twice a winner at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day (this year’s meeting abandoned) and so it’s clear that the track plays to his strengths. Return to this venue and better ground might easily see him raise game once more. His connections have also revealed he will wear a first-time visor, which may well help keep him motivated. Click here for more on that detail - question 4.

Negatives: Underwhelming this season and you could reasonably argue he has regressed with each run. Has always had something of a lazy streak in him and perhaps the positive effect of the cheekpieces he wore for the first time in the Gold Cup are wearing off. Finished 17 lengths third to Native River at Sandown last time and no better off at the weights. A first-time visor is something of a gamble, as he may resent it.

Verdict: His course form and proven stamina are hard to ignore and rolling the dice with a visor could be a shrewd move.

CONCLUSION

Al Boum Photo is a worthy favourite but Santini, just behind him last year, is interesting at much bigger odds now that his connections have reached for a visor. He's versatile regards the ground and if the headgear galvanises him, as it did with See More Business in this races a few years back, then he might just gallop his rivals into submission.

Second-season chasers Champ and Minella Indo, 1-2 in the RSA Chase last year, merit careful consideration, while Frodon cannot be left out of calculations with the ground dryiong out.

  1. SANTINI. 2. AL BOUM PHOTO. 3. MINELLA INDO
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