IT’S ALL about the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, where AL BOUM PHOTO can add his name to the list of chasers who have won the Festival’s showpiece event more than once.
In a wide open contest today (Friday) there’s no clear favourite at this stage and half a dozen contenders are trading at between 7/2 and 7/1. A good case can be made for several candidates, including DELTA WORK and SANTINI who are both on the up, but AL BOUM PHOTO has clearly been primed for his repeat bid.
Trainer Willie Mullins has given his charge deliberately light build-up towards his Gold Cup defence and has had the same preparation as last year, namely winning the New Year’s Day Chase again at Tramore.
He faced only three rivals but a convincing six-length beating of Grand National-bound stablemate Acapella Bourgeois (wide-margin winner of the Bobbyjo Chase recently), conceding him the best part of a stone, suggests AL BOUM PHOTO is at least as good as ever in his bid to be the first since Best Mate to win two Gold Cups in a row.
The other one worth mentioning is CHRIS’S DREAM, who’d be of most interest if conditions become particularly testing. He’s shown improved form for Henry de Bromhead on his last couple of starts, both of them in heavy ground, firstly winning the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan in November with plenty to spare, and then dropping down in trip to take the Red Mills Chase at Gowran last month.
ÉCLAIR DE BEAUFEU’S victory in the Matheson Handicap Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival was certainly eye-catching.
Sound jumping and never far off the pace, the Grand Annual looks a top target at the Festival, a race trainer Gordon Elliott has yet to win.
A close second to Arkle favourite Notebook last October, he has other options for the meeting but has yet to go beyond 2m1f, so Cheltenham’s oldest race looks ideal and he looks each way value at 10s with Carrigill’s.
Elliott has a special affinity for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle - a race he won with Champagne Classic and Blow By Blow dating to his time under Pipe’s tutelage, and THE BOSSES OSCAR can claim this crown.
The penultimate race on Friday’s often attritional card, it’s usually when punters are seeking a bar to drown their sorrows or toast their success after the Gold Cup.
Bookie’s son Pipe trained by touch and feel, with an innate understanding of what it took to make a champion, sometimes from the most unpromising stock. He was never one for stuffy conventions and neither is mechanic’s son Elliott, and this looks his best chance.
Last year’s top two, HAZEL HILL and SHANTOU FLYER, are back for another bite at the cherry in the Foxhunter Challenge Cup and it would come as no surprise to see the former, who was recently turned over by MINELLA ROCCO in a tactical affair at Wetherby, bounce back to his best and turn the tables on Jonjo O’Neill’s charge now granted some cover in this larger field.
It does look a deeper renewal this time around, though, and there are a couple of interesting Irish raiders to focus on. I like BILLAWAY, who gave 5lb and an eight-length beating to Enda Bolger’s STAKER WALLACE when they clashed over 3m at Naas in January.
Although the runner-up was entitled to need that first run in almost three years, and has since picked up a point race at Nenagh, that only serves to boost the form line and heighten the appeal of the Willie Mullins representative.
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if it finishes outside top four. Write Augur on your slip to qualify):
McFABULOUS, Kempton, Saturday, 2.05.
Augur’s best bet:
THE BOSSES OSCAR (e/w), Cheltenham, Friday, 5.30.