With the Cheltenham Festival just under four weeks away, we take a look back at the most famous race of the week; the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Dubbed the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, this race has seen some of the greats of the sport lift the most coveted prize in National Hunt racing with the likes of Desert Orchid, Kauto Star and Denman being roared home by a huge crowd on Prestbury Park.
The Gold Cup has seen some dramatic battles up the punishing hill and the last two runnings have seen Al Boum Photo bravely take the cup back to Ireland.
Returning once again on March 19th, the Willie-Mullins trained nine-year-old will be bidding to become just the fifth horse to win this race three years in a row.
Can he do it? Let us take a further look at what current Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo is up against and the horses he is trying to emulate.
Al Boum Photo
When he came over for the first time in 2019, Al Boum Photo wasn’t even considered Willie Mullins’ first choice representative in the race. Kemboy was considered to be a real contender for the Gold Cup but Mullins’ main hope unseated his rider David Mullins at the very first fence.
Al Boum Photo tracked the leaders as they swept down the hill towards the penultimate fence and a fine leap at the last saw him storm up the hill to win comfortably ahead of Anibale Fly at odds of 12/1.
Following his heroic exploits of that contest, he was made favourite for last year’s renewal but he had a strong British challenge to contend with as the likes of Santini lined-up.
Al Boum Photo did not have things all his own way. With his sure-footed jumping less fluent than in 2019, Santini threw down a mighty challenge with two fences to go and edged in front.
However, Paul Townend’s mount was not to be denied and fought back to beat off Santini in a thrilling battle by just a neck. After so many failed attempts to win this prestigious race, Mullins celebrated a historic double.
Townend will be Al Boum Photo’s jockey in the Gold Cup 2021 and he is vital to the horse’s confidence.
This year, another strong field is all set to line-up for seven minutes of drama and excitement. Can Al Boum Photo join the likes of Best Mate, Arkle and Golden Miller and win for the third year in succession?
At the moment, Al Boum Photo is 11/4 (3.75) favourite ahead of the likes of A Plus Tard, Royale Pagaille and Kemboy in the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup odds. The Irish challenge is particularly strong this year but Al Boum Photo is the horse they want to see produce a fairytale.
The big question is does he have everything in his favour to join the immortals? He is proven around the track, he gets the trip, jumps well and goes on any ground. He has only raced four times since his 2019 triumph meaning he has plenty of miles left in the tank and at nine, should be at the peak of his powers.
Whatever happens on March 19th, it should be a race to remember.
With Al Boum Photo bidding for the Cheltenham Gold Cup hat-trick, let’s take a look at the other four horses who have made Cheltenham history.
The winner of the Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2004, Best Mate is one of only two British-trained horses to win this race three times, along with Golden Miller. Trained by Henrietta Knight and ridden by Jim Culloty, this horse had a similar profile to Al Boum Photo. He was lightly raced and primed every year for the Festival.
Best Mate stood out with his versatility. He won over shorter trips and could go on any ground. His three wins in the Gold Cup weren’t flashy but he always did enough to beat off the opposition.
His win in 2004 was memorable. With the added pressure of history on the line, Culloty rode a brilliant race on Best Mate, switching his horse to get a clear run and holding off 33/1 shot Sir Rembrandt by a narrow margin to the sound of deafening roars.
After missing the 2005 race through injury, hopes were high to get Best Mate back on track for another tilt at the race in 2006. Tragically, he suffered a heart attack and died during a race at Exeter in November 2005.
Arguably the greatest chaser of all-time, Arkle won the race between 1964 and 1966 for trainer Tom Dreaper and jockey Pat Taaffe and his first win was an easy five-length success over 1963 winner, Mill House.
Such was Arkle’s dominance of the chasing scene, the Irish horse racing board devised two different weight systems, for when Arkle ran and when he didn’t run. He won the Irish Grand National in 1964, giving a whopping two-and-a-half stone to his rivals!
Sent back to Cheltenham in 1965, he slammed his rivals by 20 lengths at odds of 3/10. A year later, he was the shortest priced favourite ever for the race when he went off at odds 1/10. He duly obliged, winning by 30 lengths. This was despite a horrendous blunder early on in the race.
With those odds and distances of winning, it is very unlikely a horse of Arkle’s dominance will be seen again. A true great of jumps racing.
Another Irish superstar, Cottage Rake won the 1948, 1949 and 1950 renewals for one of the greatest trainers of all time, Vincent O’Brien.
In the 1948 running, Cottage Rake wasn’t considered to be in with a great chance as he was a 10/1 shot to win but he beat Happy Home to bag his first Gold Cup at the age of nine.
The following year, six runners went to post and Cottage Rake went off the 4/6 favourite. Once again, he was hard pressed for victory but won by two lengths from Cool Customer.
He saved his best until last at the age of 11. He swept aside Finnure by 10 lengths in 1950 to make it a treble but sadly lost his form after his third success in the race.
Some observers even rate Cottage Rake higher than Arkle due to the quality of fields he was racing against and he is truly part of Cheltenham folklore.
If three Cheltenham Gold Cups are hard enough to win, Golden Miller won a scarcely-believable five in a row between 1932 and 1936.
His first win in this race was as a five-year-old, which is an astonishing feat given that barely any five-year-olds run in the Gold Cup these days.
Trained by Basil Briscoe on the outskirts of Cambridge, he won by four lengths in 1932 from Inverse. After his incredible win as a young horse, the next four renewals meant he went off at odds-on.
In 1933, he beat Thomand II by 10 lengths before embarking on a record-breaking year in 1934. Having beaten Avenger to win his third Gold Cup, he became the only horse ever to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year, a feat which will never be broken due to the closeness of the two races and the handicapping system.
His fourth success was his toughest as he had to dig deep to beat his old foe Thomand II narrowly at odds of 1/2. His last win in 1936 was his biggest as he eased to a 12-length win over Royal Mail.
As you can see, Al Boum Photo could become one of steeplechasing’s greats should he win next month. It has been done before and Al Boum Photo has the chance to pull off a magical three-timer.
For the latest odds on the Cheltenham Gold Cup, take a look at our NetBet site! We also have a fantastic NetBet promotion on our site as you get a refund as a Free Bet up to £10 if your horse comes second to the SP favourite!