Cheltenham Gold Cup review: Assessing the division

Al Boum Photo won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the second year running.
Al Boum Photo won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the second year running.

Joe Tuffin reviews this season’s blue riband race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and looks at what it means for the staying chasing division as a whole…

History was witnessed by those who attended the final day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, as Al Boum Photo became just the seventh horse in history to win back-to-back renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His connections will now be set on emulating the great Best Mate by winning three in a row in 12 months’ time – but can he pull it off?

It will certainly be a challenge. There are few tests in racing that are as great as a Cheltenham Gold Cup, and keeping a winner at the top of their game is no easy feat, something shown in recent years by the likes of Coneygree, Sizing John and – dare I say it – Native River, who have all subsequently struggled to match the performance of their greatest victory.

So how did Al Boum Photo do it?

The same way he did it last year, of course, with one preparatory run at Tramore, before heading straight to Cheltenham. It means that the horse is kept as fresh as possible, and although following such a path makes it rather difficult for followers of the sport to become enamoured with him – due to seeing him so scarcely on the racecourse – it’s likely that he will follow the exact same route again next term. With that in mind, you’d have to make him favourite for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup, though his margin of victory in this year’s renewal (a neck) means that the division still feels as open now as it did a fortnight ago.

Finishing a neck behind Al Boum Photo was Santini, who is the equine equivalent of marmite. In the build-up to this year’s race, opinion was so mixed on Santini, that some people thought that he’d win it, and others were certain that he was simply too slow to finish anywhere near the frame. As it transpires, he showed credentials aplenty for this race, staying on well and only just failing to get up in the final strides, and there could be more to come from him yet. A strong case can be made about the fact that Santini is still to hit his peak as an eight-year-old second-season chaser, and it could be that next season is when he truly comes to the boil. Who knows, he could even have a crack at the Grand National.

One and a half lengths behind the first two in third was Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, another eight-year-old who still seems to be on an upward trajectory. He looked the real deal when putting Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai firmly in his place in the Betfair Chase last November, and although he very much blew out in the King George on his next start, he looked far more at home in the Gold Cup. It’s worth noting that the Colin Tizzard team wasn’t firing on all cylinders at the Festival, and it will be interesting to see how they campaign Lostintranslation next term. He’ll likely head to Haydock to defend his crown, and should he win, it may be that the £1 million bonus is just too tempting.  

Although plenty impressed, there were a few who disappointed further down the field, namely Delta Work, Kemboy and Clan Des Obeaux – all of whom were sent off at single-figure prices. Perhaps it is harsh to say Delta Work that disappointed, bearing in mind that he finished a respectable fifth, but it was perhaps a firm hint that he is not quite at the same standard as thse who finished in front of him. He’s enjoyed a fine season, winning twice at the top level, and will likely take his chance next year – though probably at double the price. Kemboy finished behind Delta Work for the third outing in succession, continuing what’s been a disappointing campaign. He’s clearly talented, and although his poor jumping has continuously let him down this season, he’d still be one to note next season if ironing that out.

One who almost certainly won’t be lining up for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup is dual King George winner, Clan Des Obeaux. His trainer Paul Nicholls was very bullish indeed about his stable star’s chances coming into the Festival, but yet again, the tricky undulations of Prestbury Park proved too much and he finished an underwhelming eighth. It seems as though flatter tracks suit him best, and while there’s no doubt he can scoop a host of Grade 1 wins during his career, they won’t come at Cheltenham.

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The only non-finisher in this year’s race was Presenting Percy, who took a crashing fall two out when held. He’s been touted as a future Gold Cup winner ever since winning the 2018 RSA Chase, though his chances to show the potential he showed as a novice are running out, and he’ll have plenty to prove from now on.

Meanwhile, the ever-consistent Monalee put in another rock-solid performance to claim fourth in his first try at this trip, and when you consider he was only beaten two lengths, you’re entitled to mark it down as a career best effort. Only a 10-year-old next year, he’s still got plenty of miles left in him yet, and he’ll be a lively outsider once again in 12 months’ time.

But what about the novices?

The obvious place to start is with Champ, who stole the headlines on the second day of the Festival, when producing a remarkable effort to claim the RSA Chase from the unlikeliest of positions in-running. He is clearly a lunatic, though he also looks every inch a Gold Cup horse, and although he rarely makes things simple for himself, he could well shape up into the biggest threat to Al Boum Photo next March.

Finishing second and third in the RSA were Minella Indo and Allaho, both of whom must have been shocked when a marauding Champ sliced right through them in the final strides at double their speed. Despite rather bottoming out in the closing stages, neither lost anything in defeat, and there’s likely plenty more to come from both as second season chasers next season.

Finally, what about Easysland as an outside shout? The David Cottin-trained six-year-old caused a huge upset when beating Grand National hero Tiger Roll by 17-lengths over the Cross-Country fences, and, although it is unlikely the French raider will divert away from the unusual obstacles that are more akin to the fences jumped at the likes of Compiegne and Auteuil, connections will surely toy with the idea if he keeps on rolling like he has been.

The Cheltenham Festival

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