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A Plus Tard looks good value to claim Gold Cup Chase and deny an Al Boum Photo treble at Cheltenham


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Treble chaser: Paul Townend won the Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo last year

Treble chaser: Paul Townend won the Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo last year

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Treble chaser: Paul Townend won the Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo last year

He may not be acclaimed with the same fanfare as other multiple winners like Best Mate or Arkle, but Al Boum Photo has the opportunity to follow in their hooves if Willie Mullins' stable star lands a third Gold Cup at Cheltenham today.

The blue riband is jump racing's pinnacle and, having waited for Gold Cup success after finishing runner-up on six occasions, Mullins could land three in succession should Paul Townend's mount do the business, but there are plenty of sharks in the water ready to derail his attempt at racing immortality.

1.20 GRADE ONE JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE (4yo 2m179yds)

The opener revolves around two former Gordon Elliott inmates as Zanahiyr and Quilixios set the standard.

Zanahiyr could hardly have been more impressive when landing a Grade Three off a strong pace at Fairyhouse last November before he showed his versatility to score in a Leopardstown Grade Two at Christmas after a crawl.

He is rock solid, but the value of Denise Foster's charge has been eroded and Quilix­ios, which switched to Henry de Bromhead, won't have to improve much to prevail at four times his odds.

The French recruit is unbeaten in four hurdle runs and was impressive when disposing of Saint Sam - a fine second in the Boodles on Tues­day - in a Leopardstown Grade One last month.

VERDICT: A reverse forecast on Quilixios and Zanahiyr is advised.

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1.55 GRADE THREE MCCOY CONTRACTORS COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE (2m179yds)

Victory for Saint Roi last year was the first favourite to score since 2006 and that shows how much of a minefield this 26-runner affair is.

That was one of five winners for Mullins in this contest and the unexposed Ganapathi comes with a similar profile having found the trip testing when travelling well before fail­ing to stay in a Leopardstown Grade One last month.

Mullins, who saddles five this time around, has been the man to follow along with Dan Skelton as the pair have shared the last six renewals and the latter relies on the novice Third Time Lucki with the six-year-old having good Festival form after his Champion Bumper fourth last year.

Pat Fahy's Ladbrokes Hurdle winner Drop The Anchor should find a 15lb rise too much, but another which is open to huge improvement at decent odds is Gowel Road.

VERDICT: Gowel Road (e/w) can grab a place.

2.30 GRADE ONE ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES' HURDLE (2m7f213yds)

This looks a far cry from last year's star-studded renewal where Monkfish, Latest Exhibi­tion and Fury Road fought out the finish and it can pay to seek value in an open affair.

Mullins' Stattler (third) and Foster's Fakiera (fourth) deserve to be in the mix having finished after their solid dis­plays in a Leopardstown Grade One over 2m6f last month, with the latter finishing his races with a real flourish.

Torygraph doesn't have that type of form in the book, but Foster's second runner has excelled since stepping up to this trip and is a live chance under Jack Kennedy, while Fer­gal O'Brien's Alaphilippe and Paul Nicholls' Barbados Buck's look the best of the English challenge.

Gavin Cromwell's Vanillier is overpriced, but John McCon­nell's course winner Streets Of Doyen may prove best after blowing some cobwebs away in a Grade Two over two miles last time out and the seven-year-old can propel Simon Torrens into the big time.

VERDICT: Streets Of Doyen (e/w) may prove best.

3.05 GRADE ONE WELLCHILD CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE (3m2f70yds)

An intriguing blue riband as Al Boum Photo faces his biggest test yet with a host of contenders taking aim at the dual winner in one of the races of the week.

Nine-year-olds have the best winning percentage in this race with 25 victories so age is not against Mullins' star, although there are a host of potential improvers with A Plus Tard open to all kinds of improvement.

The Savills Chase which he won at Christmas was the best chase ran in Britain or Ireland in recent years with stacks of talent but Henry de Bromhead's seven-year-old proved best when staying on best in a thrilling finish to touch off Kemboy. A Plus Tard is quick enough over two miles to have handed Chacun Pour Soi his only defeat on Irish soil but the seven-year-old still has the stamina for a Gold Cup and is reminiscent of 2017 winner Sizing John in that regard.

Rachael Black­more's mount may be the one to foil Al Boum Photo's treble dreams, while De Bromhead has a capable second string in Minella Indo should he be back to his best at a place he loves.

Last year's RSA winner Champ cannot be discounted and looked better than ever over two miles last month, but his jumping is a worry with 22 fences ahead, while the addition of Royal Pagaille adds even more interest.

Venetia Williams' novice will not enjoy the drying ground, though, while King George winner Frodon, 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River and last year's second Santini make this a race for the ages.

VERDICT: A Plus Tard can strike gold.

3.40 ST JAMES'S PLACE FESTIVAL CHALLENGE CUP OPEN HUNTERS' CHASE (3m2f70yds)

Nicholls has landed this prize four times and holds leading claims once again with Bob And Co, which looked better than ever when landing a Hunters' Chase at Haydock last month.

This race is normally restricted to amateurs, but professionals are called into action this time around and Paul Townend should go close aboard last year's second Billaway as Mullins' charge comes here in better form than 12 months ago.

The form of Enda Bolger's Staker Wallace matches closely with Billaway and last year's fourth delivered a career-best when chasing him home at Naas in January.

It's hard to get away from last year's renewal, though, where It Came To Pass delivered a scintillating performance to run away with it by 10 lengths and Eugene O'Sullivan's 11-year-old is selected to strike.

VERDICT: It Came To Pass can land the double.

4.15 GRADE TWO MRS PADDY POWER MARES' CHASE (2m4f127yds)

Mullins has been the man to follow in mares' races over hur­dles at the Festival and it should be no different in the inaugural running of this Mares' Chase with the Closutton maestro housing the top two in the betting.

Elimay is a worthy favourite but there is little value about her and Mullins' sec­ond string Colreevy represents a realistic alternative given that she scored at Grade One level against the boys at Limerick in December.

She followed that up with a comfortable Grade Two win against her own sex at Thurles last month and the late decision to opt for the Festival can pay dividends with Jessica Har­rington's Magic Of Light one to consider for each-way thieves.

VERDICT: Colreevy can prevail under Townend.

4.50 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS' HANDICAP HURDLE (2m4f56yds)

Always one of the most lively betting heats of the year as punters try to fill their boots before the long wait until next year's Festival and this year's renewal is as wide open as ever.

Langer Dan was an eye-catch­ing sixth in the Boodles last year and showed little in three runs since then before running away with last Saturday's Imperial Cup.

He stands close to the head of the market alongside the Mullins pair of Gentleman De Mee and Galopin Des Champs, sixth in a Grade One last time out at Leopards­town.

Both could turn out to be flung in at the weights, but the same could be said of Fire Attack. Gigginstown have won this race four times in the last decade, all with subsequent Grade One winners, and O'Brien's runner has huge scope for improve­ment.

A mistake at the last cost him his winning chance behind Thedevilscoachman in a Listed Novice Hurdle at Punchestown last month but compensation awaits for O'Brien, who also won this race in 2019.

VERDICT: Fire Attack can score under Oakley Brown.


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