Clan Des Obeaux to prove rest is best as Harry Cobden-ridden gelding seeks to claim Cheltenham Gold Cup glory for co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson
- Clan Des Obeaux has not run since winning the King George on Boxing Day
- Nicholls had success with Politologue in the Queen Mother Champion Chase
- Al Boum Photo seeking to emulate Best Mate by winning successive Gold Cups
It worked with Politologue in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase and champion trainer Paul Nicholls is hoping that saving Clan Des Obeaux for one big shot will pay off in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
If he is right, the Harry Cobden-ridden gelding will give former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, one of Clan Des Obeaux’s three co-owners, his biggest jumps racing win.
Politologue won Wednesday’s feature race having not run since the start of December. Clan Des Obeaux has not run since winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. In last year’s Gold Cup, Clan Des Obeaux finished fifth to Al Boum Photo, fading in the closing stages. But Nicholls had fitted in an extra race at Ascot in the February.
Clan Des Obeaux has not run since winning the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day
PHOTO WILL FINISH ‘EM OFF
It is 17 years since there was a winner of back-to-back Gold Cups — but that record could be blown away today by AL BOUM PHOTO.
Events have not gone entirely to plan this week for Willie Mullins, whose talented gelding provided the brilliant trainer with a first victory in chasing’s blue-riband event 12 months ago. Now connections are adopting a policy of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Al Boum Photo has had exactly the same preparation for today’s feature — winning comfortably at Tramore and following the pattern of 11 of the last 12 winners by running no more than three times in the season.
At the age of eight and with few miles on the clock, the best could still be to come from Al Boum Photo, and the form of his Tramore victory was handed a nice boost when the runner-up won by 16 lengths on his next start.
Santini will be a huge threat if he is still within striking distance running to the final fence, and his knowledge of Cheltenham and another light campaign should ensure he is on the scene.
Last year’s fifth, Clan Des Obeaux, is another to consider because he was arguably ridden too aggressively 12 months ago and will be a stronger horse this time around.
The trainer, who is chasing his fifth Gold Cup and his first since the great Kauto Star won in 2009, said: ‘I have learned, like Politologue, Clan is much better fresh so that is what I have done. Look what a difference it made to Politologue. His win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase was without doubt a career best.
‘We rode Clan fairly positively last year. He was probably not the same horse he is now. He is a year older and stronger. I am happy I have got Clan in as good a form as possible. If he doesn’t get the trip, he will never get it.’
Ladbrokes make Clan Des Obeaux an 8-1 shot. Their best backed horse is 13-2 shot Lostintranslation — a body builder of an equine athlete with some top form.
But the big question mark for Colin Tizzard’s runner is his pulled-up run behind Clan Des Obeaux in the King George. He has had a breathing operation since while Nicky Henderson’s giant Santini will relish the three-and-a-quarter mile stamina test, but looks a tad clumsy for a race that will be frenetic.
Favourite at 7-4 is last year’s winner Al Boum Photo. Last year Al Boum Photo gave Mullins his first Gold Cup victory and he is trying to become the first horse since Henrietta Knight’s triple winner Best Mate (2002-04) to win successive Gold Cups and the first Irish-trained horse to do it since the Tommy Carberry-ridden L’Escargot for trainer Dan Moore in 1970 and 1971.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is the mantra trainer Willie Mullins has adopted with Al Boum Photo.
Former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is one of three co-owners of Des Obeaux
Faced with a puzzle where at least 10 of the 12 runners have a feasible chance of winning, following a tried-and-trusted contender, at a time when the immediate future of the sport is clouded by so-much coronavirus-inspired uncertainty, will appeal to plenty of punters trying to find the winner of the £625,000 chase.
Before his 2019 win Al Boum Photo had only run once in the season, winning at Tramore on New Year’s Day, and Paul Townend’s mount has done the same thing.
Mullins said: ‘I am probably a creature of habit and when something works we go back and do it again. He is going to come into the race nice and fresh off a nice confidence-boosting prep run.
‘Statistically, it’s very hard for Gold Cup winners to come back and win. For a lot of them, their form takes a huge dip, but he’s laid that bogey. He’s done it –— albeit in a Grade Two race at Tramore — and goes to Cheltenham with a win under his belt. I thought last year’s Gold Cup was tough and I don’t think this season’s is any tougher.
‘All I know is that he is on target for where we were last year. I think he has a fantastic chance.’
Mullins’ amateur rider son Patrick rides the trainer’s second runner, Kemboy, who stumbled and unseated his jockey at the first fence in last year’s Gold Cup before gaining impressive wins at Aintree’s Grand National meeting and Punchestown Festival. The suspicion, however, is that he needs better ground.
Female jockey of the moment, Rachael Blackmore, rides consistent Monalee but he looks an uncertain stayer. It’s Gordon Elliott-trained Delta Work who is arguably the most solid Irish contender. He’s a Festival winner over hurdles and was third in last season’s RSA Chase.
He arrives here on the back of two Grade One wins in Ireland, including last month’s Irish Gold Cup. It’s hard to see him out of the frame.
I have a persistent voice in my head saying don’t ignore Irish Gold Cup third Presenting Percy.
He was last year’s favourite, despite a rocky preparation. This season things have been much smoother but no doubt to the relief of his reclusive trainer Pat Kelly, Presenting Percy, who is already a dual Festival winner, arrives at the meeting well and truly under the radar.
Davy Russell’s mount looks to have been peaked for one big day and is a great each-way option.
THE FESTIVAL DIARY
ITV gained more ammunition for next week’s crunch talks with the Racing Media Group over the next television contract by gaining record viewing figures for the second day of the Festival. The average audience of 962,000 and average audience share of 15 per cent were the highest for day two since records began in 2003, while the peak of 1.37million was the highest for more than a decade.
Sky Sports instructed racing fans among their stable of talent, such as Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson and Jeff Stelling, to stay away from Cheltenham on health grounds due to concern about the spread of coronavirus. As a result, the Sky Bet hospitality box has been quieter than usual all week, although racing reporter David Craig has been at Prestbury Park covering the Festival for Sky Sports News. Sky’s advice to all their staff at present is only to travel to events that are essential to maintain the network’s output.
A number in the Irish media have taken an even more cautious approach to the virus, with several journalists going home from Cheltenham on Thursday despite the huge interest in racing in the country. The sudden exodus followed strict emergency measures put in place by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday evening, including cancelling all outdoor gatherings with crowds of over 500 people. That could have a devastating impact on Irish racing.
Ever eager to gain cheap publicity, Paddy Power considered several coronavirus related stunts this week, although appear to have opted out on the grounds of taste.
One particularly crass proposal was giving away Paddy Power-branded face masks, an idea which was quietly shelved.
One group of people appear to have developed an immunity to the virus: ticket touts. Despite dwindling crowds and a High Court ruling last year which banned them from operating at Cheltenham, touts were still much in evidence on Thursday. Business was slow and their profits seem sure to be down however, with £100 tickets exchanging hands for as little as £30.