As steeplechasers go, Al Boum Photo already has his place in history as a past multiple winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. One of the great things about jumps horse racing, however, is that new challengers emerge each and every season.
It's not a case of one campaign and done like with so many American Flat thoroughbreds who run on the dirt. Year after year, horses return to Cheltenham for the premier National Hunt Festival held over four days in March.
Al Boum Photo faces fresh faces in the blue riband event of the Festival, so it's well worth knowing who the 3.50 favorite has to worry about. These are some of the pretenders to his Cheltenham crown.
A Plus Tard
The main danger, according to the latest Gold Cup odds available with Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, is A Plus Tard at 7.00. Unexposed as a stayer, this horse owned by Cheveley Park Stud is a previous Festival winner two seasons ago when he routed the opposition in a Listed handicap.
A Plus Tard took his form to new heights when showing superb stamina to overhaul subsequent Irish Gold Cup hero Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He comes into Cheltenham fresh and could give trainer Henry De Bromhead his first-ever win in the Festival feature.
Anyone who has followed recent British jumps racing results will tell you no horse has been so progressive this winter as Royale Pagaille. Bought out of France by Venetia Williams, who trains him for Rich and Susannah Ricci, this horse started the season as a maiden steeplechaser.
Royale Pagaille has improved out of all recognition in winning a race for novices at Haydock, then an open handicap at Kempton and later making an effortless step up into Grade 2 company. His wide-margin romp in the Peter Marsh Chase punched his ticket to Cheltenham.
It's not completely impossible for a novice to win the Gold Cup either. Only six years ago, Coneygree managed to do just that in 2015, so that is what Royale Pagaille tries to emulate at the Festival. Champ
The winner of last year's RSA Chase, Champ, showed real stamina to get up and win that race from an unpromising position turning for home. He stayed on so well that the Gold Cup looks tailor-made for him and his powerful connections of owner JP McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson.
Champ is very light on steeplechase experience, so the only question mark is whether his jumping will stand up to the test. Henderson knows what it takes to win the Gold Cup, though, after saddling Long Run and Bobs Worth to Cheltenham triumphs.
Heading into the unknown stamina wise is Frodon for trainer Paul Nicholls. His partnership with female jockey Bryony Frost has made many headlines in recent years, not least because of their gutsy all-the-way win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
A past winner of the Cotswold Chase and Ryanair Chase, Frodon has a fabulous record around Cheltenham. Frost likes to control races from the front with him, and the pair have won many casual fans of horse racing over with their brave performances.
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