Does Henry De Bromhead hold the NAP hand in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup?

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Al Boum Photo will bid to join the pantheon of horse racing’s immortals next month, as he bids to become just the fifth horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years in a row.

Willie Mullins has, again, turned Al Boum Photo out just once prior to the Cheltenham Festival, winning the New Years’ Day Chase at Tramore without breaking sweat. Mullins’ nine-year-old currently leads the way in the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup betting, and another victory would see Al Boum Photo join the exclusive list of three-time winners, which includes Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle and the last horse to achieve that historic hat-trick, Best Mate.

Yet, considering the difficulty of this achievement, his inactivity throughout the season and the short price he currently holds, Al Boum Photo doesn’t hold much in the way of appeal. The task we now have is to select a horse or two to take the defending champion on with and, after some underwhelming results in the lead-up races, genuine Gold Cup candidates seem fairly thin on the ground.

Bristol De Mai beat Clan Des Obeaux in the Betfair Chase, but both will skip Cheltenham and head to the Grand National. Frodon will have a crack at Gold Cup glory, having made all the running to win the King George VI Chase. Bryony Frost’s mount won’t be allowed to dictate the tempo at Cheltenham, like at Kempton, and Frodon will likely be found wanting on this grandest of stage.

Santini and Lostintranslation have been disappointing all season. Champ hasn’t been seen since winning last year’s RSA at Cheltenham, and it will be extremely difficult for Native River to regain his crown at the age of 11. The fact that Royale Pagaille – a third-season novice who’s never run in Grade One company before – is the highest placed British horse in the betting sums up the UK’s chances of winning back the Gold Cup in 2021.

In Ireland, The Storyteller won the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal, and went on to finish second to Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup. Both, however, look likely to enter the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, instead of the Gold Cup.

A live challenger for Cheltenham’s showpiece race did present itself in the Savills’ Chase over Christmas, though, where A Plus Tard ran down Kemboy and Melon to snatch an unlikely victory.

Henry De Bromhead’s seven-year-old has previous at the Cheltenham Festival. Rachael Blackmore guided A Plus Tard to victory in the Close Brothers’ Handicap Chase over two-and-a-half miles in 2019, before finishing a close third to Min and Saint Calvados in last year’s Ryanair Chase. Some still question his stamina for the gruelling Gold Cup trip, but A Plus Tard remains open to improvement over this sort of distance and has to be in with an excellent chance.

Blackmore chose to ride last year’s RSA runner-up, Minella Indo over the eventual winner in the Savills Chase. We didn’t get to see whether that was the right decision or not, as Minella Indo suffered a heavy fall at the half-way stage.

Despite that tumble, Minella Indo went off as favourite for the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month. His jumping, however, which is usually pretty slick, was far from faultless and a shuddering mistake at the second-last meant Blackmore was never able to mount a serious challenge.

On the back of that fourth-place finish, Minella Indo has drifted massively in the Gold Cup market. Yet, De Bromhead’s star is a former Cheltenham Festival winner, and was entitled to be a little weary at his fences after that fall in the Savills Chase. There’s no reason why both A Plus Tard and Minella Indo can’t serve up a challenge to Al Boum Photo in the 2021 Gold Cup, and it seems Henry De Bromhead will be travelling to Cheltenham with two potential winners in tow.

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