CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP preview 2021
CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP PREVIEW
All races come with full reasoning behind each selection just as you are about to read. We literally leave no stone unturned and this year I want to beat my record set in 2016 of 54 points profit.
It is work of the highest quality and as professional as any you will find.
How do I see this race being run?
The race of the week and the race we all wait for, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The race has been won by the likes of Best Mate, Kauto Star, Denman, Long Run, Desert Orchard, Arkle and of course the winner of the Gold Cup for the last two seasons, Al Boum Photo.
This is going to be a fierce pace and a real stamina test with Native River, Frodon, Kemboy, Minella Indo and Vinndication, all wanting to get to the front. Of course they may not all run but the point being, the pace in the race at this stage is just relentless.
Put it this way if you don’t stay this year, you will be found out, it is as simple as that. They won’t be hanging around here.
As always we will start with the favourite and work our way through the field.
All prices are correct at the time of writing:
AL BOUM PHOTO – 5/2
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Form – F/3115/1F2F10/11/211-1
The reigning champion and the horse who has won this race for the last two seasons. Trainer Willie Mullins went from not winning this race in his whole training career, to winning it the last two seasons and is bidding to become only the 3rd trainer and 3rd horse, to win the race 3 times since the 50s.
You can’t really say a bad word about Al Boum Photo, at the end of the day how can you knock a horse who has won the race for the last two seasons.
However, he has won the race for the last two seasons, I do wonder if he will be the same horse on proper decent ground which this race is very likely to be run on.
He comes here on the same route as last season and the same route as the year before, winning at Tramore and then straight on to Cheltenham with just one run.
The strong pace will suit, no doubt about it and as I have already said, you can’t say a bad word about him.
However, I am still inclined to take him on. Although I have huge respect for him, I have never totally warmed to the horse. Maybe that is because we don’t get to see him that much so we don’t get a chance to warm to him but I just don’t see him as a stand out as you would expect, for a horse who is going for the treble.
He won well at Tramore back on New Years Day but it was just a formality and we never learned anything new.
This year is the one gold cup where you can say it is a proper gold cup. By that I mean, the pace will be fast, the ground will be perfect, it will be a true test.
The best horse normally comes out on top in such conditions and for many, Al Boum Photo will be that best horse.
For me although I know I am going against the obvious, at the prices and certain horses waiting for perfect conditions, I am happy to take him on this year.
CHAMP – 5/1
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Form – 12/2/111121/11F1-2
A horse who I would describe as a bit of a ‘freak’. These freak horses don’t come along often but in recent times they would be horses like Kauto Star and Sprinter Sacre. Now he is by no means in the calibre of the two named horses yet, but he does have that ‘freakish’ ability. He has something about him which makes me think if we got to the bottom of him, he is a frightening horse who could easily be a superstar.
Take last year’s RSA for example. How many horses could finish the race like he did. He came from the clouds and must have been 7-8 lengths down jumping the last fence and ended up winning the race by 1 length. To make up 8-9 lengths from jumping the last fence, all the way up the hill, tells me he is a special horse. I am not even sure Kauto Star or Sprinter Sacre could have done what he did.
The RSA is run over 3m 1/2f and despite jumping poorly throughout, he done his best work at the end of the race, indicating that the extra 2f of the gold cup, will be even more to his advantage.
Moving back over to the term I used ‘freak’, Champ had his only start of the season last month when coming home 2nd to Sceau Royal over 2 miles. When he won the RSA, if I told you he would finish just 2 lengths off Sceau Royal, over 2 miles, 99% of people would have laughed, as clearly he didn’t look a horse with speed to burn.
Well what can we say, he did finish 2nd over 2 miles, to the very talented Sceau Royal and more so he jumped better than I have ever seen him jump.
In normal circumstances I would be a bit concerned that the step back to 2 miles, would light him up, now up to 3m 2f. In other words it would make him keen, something that you would not want over a gold cup trip.
Although it is at the back of my mind, I do think he will be absolutely fine given how fast they are going to go in front. Nico De Boinville can just sit him in behind, let him go to sleep and travel nicely on the inside of the track.
Given how well he jumped at a very fast pace over 2 miles, I have no concerns about his jumping.
Given how well he stayed on at the end of the RSA Chase last year, I have no problem about him getting home and the fast they go, the better chance he has of winning.
For a horse who can run well at 2 miles or a horse who can run well at 3m 2f, he very much comes into the ‘freakish’ category and he is one horse you would not be surprised to see, annihilate the field.
Whether he does or not, we will have to find out but whichever we look at it, he could be a special horse with outstanding ability.
A PLUS TARD – 11/2
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Form – 12231/2121/3213-21
I must admit I was really surprised with his win in the Savills Chase over the Christmas period and that is not because I don’t rate the horse, I just didn’t think he would stay 3m. To my surprise he stayed every bit of the trip and was doing his best work at the end of the race. Credit where it is due and hands up, I got it wrong.
He is a horse who I have always rated and now I know he stays the trip, he has a big chance of winning the gold cup, particularly as the trip is over 3m 2f, 2 furlongs extra to the Savills Chase and if he had an extra 2 furlongs in that race, he would have won by further.
A Plus Tard is a previous winner at the Cheltenham Festival after winning a novice handicap by 16 lengths in 2019. He was then 3rd in last year’s Ryanair Chase behind Min and Saint Calvados which confirms his love for Cheltenham.
Although he was a good winner last time out, I am starting to question the form in behind. He beat Kemboy who did go on to win the Irish Gold Cup, so you could say boosted the form, but I don’t think it was an on song Kemboy that day. Back in 3rd was Melon who did not stay 3m.
It is a tough one regarding this horse but if I was given two horses at the same price in A Plus Tard and Champ, I would pick Champ every time on ability.
This is not to say A Plus Tard cannot win but we can’t have every horse in the race and I would rather take my chance on another horse who could be that a superstar.
SANTINI – 14/1
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Form – 1/1131/132/112-253
Santini is a horse who I would describe as the perfect Gold Cup horse. By that I mean he goes to sleep and switches off, he jumps very well and he stays longer than the mother in law. Of course to be the perfect Gold Cup you also need everything to be right, the pace of the race and the ground are obviously crucial.
Santini has always been talked about by Nicky Henderson as a gold cup horse so this is not new news to us but when scrolling through, you have to think, he has never had things spot on for him in order for him to show us his absolute best.
If I am going to take an angle on a horse, it is only right that I talk you through the process.
Let us go all the way back to the 2019 RSA Chase when he came home 2nd to Topofthegame. It was a top class performance but he didn’t have a great build up to that festival, as he pulled off a shoe in training leading up to the festival and it was hit and miss whether he would run. To come home 2nd, obviously not fully fit, is a testament to the horses ability.
On his first start out of novice company he was a winner at Sandown and did not look great but it was around Sandown and he has never looked comfortable going right handed.
He then won the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on festival trials day last year, but even then the ground was testing, which was against him.
He was then an excellent 2nd in last years Gold Cup, beaten just a neck to Al Boum Photo, in a slowly run race which would not have played to his strengths. If Santini has to go to the front 3 fences from home, I think that is a clue that there was no pace in the race. To come home 2nd by just a neck and even have to switch from the inside to the outside in between the last two fences and the line, tell you that, if things were run to suit, he could have won last years race.
Now on to this season and I believe the only plan Nicky Henderson has had all season is getting him to the Gold Cup in tip top shape. Nothing else mattered, it is all about one day and one day only.
He has had 3 runs this season which got underway at Aintree. He was not fully wound up and the fact they omitted 8 fences was totally against him. To come home 2nd in what was a bit of a farce of a race was actually not that bad after all.
Next up he was sent to Kempton for the King George and even before the race started I could have told you he had no chance. He hated Kempton the last time he run at the course and he does not like going right handed. The 3 mile trip was way too short and add in the fact he had to make some of the running, it was a slowly run race, again totally against his strengths.
As his final warm up for the Gold Cup he ran in the rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown. Once again I could have told you before the race he would not win on heavy ground and going right handed. He came home 3rd to Native River and had a really good blow. Aidan Coleman was not hard on the horse and it would have been a nice prep race ahead of the Gold Cup.
As mentioned above, Nicky Henderson has had one thing on his mind all season and that was getting him here in tip top shape, something I think he has achieved.
Throughout his career Nicky Henderson has said this horse needs decent ground and he needs a fast run race around Cheltenham.
Finally he has got the perfect race after 3 years in the waiting.
This race is going to be run at a furious pace – tick.
This race is going to be run on decent ground – tick.
Santini will stay up the hill better than anything in the race (apart from Champ) – tick.
The price on offer for a horse who finished 2nd in the race last year yet this time around everything is absolutely perfect, is massive value and I can’t have him out of the frame.
This could finally be the time we see the very best of Santini especially on this decent ground as he is a lovely mover who should bounce off it.
MINELLA INDO – 12/1
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Form – 13/321/1212/11F4
A horse who has always been highly rated by Henry De Bromhead but a horse I have never properly warmed to. I have always had it in the back of my mind, he is not as good a horse as they make out.
Having said that, the two times he has been to Cheltenham, he has run two very good races. He won the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle in 2019 and was 2nd in the RSA Chase last season. The undulating track certainly play to his strengths.
He started this season well with two wins at Wexford and Navan, he was a faller in the Savills Chase over the Christmas period but was held in the Irish Gold Cup, last time out at Leopardstown.
He is a strong stayer but he is a horse I feel needs soft ground to be at his best, something he won’t get here.
KEMBOY – 10/1
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Form – 1257/214F11/11U1/1427-221
The winner of the recent Irish Gold Cup and he seems to be back in the form he was in, a few years ago.
A horse who has never really taken to Cheltenham and was 7th in this race last year, fell in 2019, was 4th in a novice chase in 2018 and 5th in a novice hurdle in 2017.
Although he is a good horse I really don’t think he will run in this race and will go to AIntree and then on to Punchestown.
FRODON – 12/1
Trainer – Paul Nicholls
Form – 1/3F543185/11101F115/32321350/
One of my favourite horses in training as I just love the way he jumps and I love the way he wears his heart on his sleeve. Sadly this year I will take him on as I am not going to let my heart rule my head even though I do think he could surprise a few.
If he is close come the end of the race, I will certainly cheer him on and may certainly have a cheeky E/W bet for old times sake but I just don’t think this race will be run to suit him.
He is a horse who is a super jumper but in my opinion he needs the run of the race to be at his best. If the others let him dictate the pace and give him an uncontested lead then they will play to his strengths but surely the jockeys have now learned their lesson and won’t let this happen. We have lots of pace in this race and when he gets taken on for the lead, he does not like it and his jumping does not hold up. It is only when he is allowed to get into a rhythm and allowed to make his own fractions, that he is at the top of his game.
As much as I would love to see him win and pray he is involved, this Gold Cup just looks too hot.
One thing you can’t do though is write this horse off, you do so at your peril so he deserves maximum respect.
NATIVE RIVER – 14/1
Trainer – Colin Tizzard
Form – U/3116F19/3113321/21113/11/
Native River has been a great servant of the game and is a former winner of this race back in 2018. He was 4th in the race back in 2019 and 3rd in the race in 2017. He loves it around Cheltenham and this will actually be his 5th Cheltenham Festival.
He is the horse who will take them along and push Frodon for the lead. He will take it from the front and literally try and run these into the ground.
Although I respect the horse for what he has achieved, I can’t have him on decent ground. I don’t think he is the same horse on good ground and all I am looking to Natve River in this race, is the pacemaker. He will keep going and can easily place but from a win point of view, I can’t have him. If it was on soft ground that would be a different proposition.
ROYALE PAGAILLE – 10/1
Trainer – Venetia Williams
Form – 661326/F5U2/23-111
As the saying goes what a difference a year makes. This horse started the season rated 135 and now he is rated 166 and entered for the Gold Cup, after three very impressive wins this season.
Although the talk is the Gold Cup, he is entered in the National Hunt Novice Chase on the first day as he is still a novice.
I am confident they will swerve this race for that race as why would you skip a race which nearly has your name on the trophy.
Even though he has improved massively this season, if he was to run in this race I think it would be a year too early. This is the best of the best and it was only 3 months ago the horse was rated 135.
I also believe he wants soft ground to be seen at his best.
What a race we have in store and it is as good a Gold Cup as I can remember, very competitive. You can make a case for many of these but it all comes down to the pace of the race and the ground for me.
I cannot say a bad word about Al Boum Photo who has won the race for the last 2 years and is on for the treble. Even though I can’t say a bad word, I don’t want to bet him at a skinny price as I don’t think he is genuinely a superstar in the same mould as the likes of Kauto Star and Denman. Those are the type of horses you wouldn’t mind backing at short odds but in a highly competitive renewal, I will chance my cards elsewhere. Obviously I would not be at all surprised to see him win but he is just a horse who I never really taken too.
Frodon will not like being taken on for the lead by Native River but if by chance they allow Bryony Frost a soft lead, the other jockeys could end up kicking themselves after the race, as that is when he is at his most dangerous. I am confident they won’t do that so Frodon can be taken on.
Native River will take them along in my view and make the pace frantic. He will take no prisoners from the front and try and take them out of their comfort zone. Although it would be a great training performance if he was to win, on good ground I just can’t see that happening.
Minella Indo is a horse who also wants it softer and in my own opinion, I think he is overrated.
Royal Pagaille will surely head to the Novice race while Kemboy will more than likely head to Aintree and on to Punchestown.
That leaves me with A Plus Tard, CHAMP and SANTINI.
I think A Plus Tard is a big danger and on another day, he may have got the nod. I just have a sneaky suspicion his form in the Savills Chase was flattered by underperforming horses or horses who didn’t stay.
I am going to go into the race with two selections in CHAMP and SANTINI, both trained by Nicky Henderson.
CHAMP is a special horse who has his quirks but is probably the one horse who could be superstar status in the race. Dropping back to 2 miles and only going down 2 lengths to Sceau Royal is some serious form, given he is a horse who wants every bit of 3 miles, and more. He really sorted his jumping out that day which bodes well for him in this race. As mentioned above the race is going to be run at some pace and as long as Nico can get him to sleep behind the leaders, he will get a lovely toe into the race. We saw how well he finished the RSA Chase last season at the Cheltenham Festival so this extra 2f should bring out further improvement. He is a horse who is simply all class and throughout the season, he has been given 7 star hotel treatment. He has seen specialists about his jumping, he has been to see specialists about settling. Everything has been about getting him to peak for the Gold Cup by Nicky Henderson and I think we are going to see him storm up the Cheltenham hill like nothing we have seen before.
I am also happy to side with SANTINI at a big price who is also trained by Nicky Henderson. He is massive value and I just can’t ignore the price on offer. Like Champ, Nicky Henderson has trained this horse all season to peak on one day and one day only, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. For this first time probably ever, this horse can have no excuses as everything will be foot perfect. He will have the pace he so desperately needs, he has the good ground he so desperately needs, he has a course like Cheltenham which he absolutely loves. Whichever angle you take with the horse, he ticks all the boxes. Again like Champ he will fly up the Cheltenham off a very strong pace. I have often loved the way this horse moves and describe him as a ‘lovely mover’. He is a great jumper and switches off very easy, too easy on times. It is the fact of how easy he switches which allows his to save unreserved energy, which comes into play later in the race.
I am expecting a big run from SANTINI and if he can’t get involved with optimum pace and optimum ground, we can safely say after the race, he is not good enough. Until the race, I am happy to get involved and believe we will see the very best of him.
CHAMP 5/1 generally – 1.25 POINTS WIN
SANTINI 14/1 generally – 0.5 POINTS E/W
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