Having waited so long for a first success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Willie Mullins is poised to make it two in a row, thanks to Al Boum Photo (3.30). The rangy bay ground his way remorselessly to the prize a year ago and something similar will probably be good enough against a list of rivals with questions to answer.
For years, Mullins used to joke that he had no idea what makes a Gold Cup winner but the formula he hit on with Al Boum Photo last year, having a quiet prep run at Tramore on New Year’s Day, has been repeated.
His effort in south-east Ireland looks even better than last year’s and he should be hard to beat.
Some in this field can win if they return to their best, like Kemboy, who has been gradually working back to form, and Lostintranslation, whose King George run was hopeless. Stable form is a concern for him.
Race times on Thursday suggest there is still plenty of juice in the ground, so Clan Des Obeaux may struggle to stay the trip. Santini and Delta Work are highly capable but possibly just short of the required level. If there is a shock, it could be Chris’s Dream, a progressive type with Henry de Bromhead. The way he bolted up in the Troytown suggests he may stay on into the places here.
1.30 Triumph Hurdle There is the potential for a real burn-up here and that ought to help A Wave Of The Sea, widely seen as a lucky winner of one of the key trials at Leopardstown. He stayed on strongly and this more galloping circuit will play to his strengths. The question is whether Solo may have gone beyond recall by the time he gets going.
2.10 County Hurdle It has been a superlative week for JP McManus, who has one of the most interesting runners in Saint Roi. He jumped poorly on his Irish debut but was a lot slicker and quicker at Tramore on New Year’s Day and looks very fairly treated for this handicap debut.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Hurdle Poor efforts this week by Sporting John and Defi Du Seuil provide something to worry about for fans of Thyme Hill, their stablemate. His route, from the Champion Bumper, is not the most conventional for this race. Latest Exhibition looks a stout stayer in the making and he was good enough to overcome a steady pace last time.
4.10 Foxhunter Chase The Festival has not been kind to Shantou Flyer, twice a runner-up here, including in this race. But Hazel Hill, who beat him a year ago, is 12 now and this is a big chance to turn the form around. Shantou Flyer has since joined the underappreciated Rose Loxton.
4.50 Grand Annual Chase Gordon Elliott is well placed to take the final two handicaps, starting here with Chosen Mate. He has been making steady progress over fences in non-handicaps and is somehow rated lower than when contesting a Grade One at Aintree last spring.
5.30 Martin Pipe Hurdle Elliott has a few contenders for this, a race he always targets, and Column Of Fire appeals most, with the promising Eoin Walsh aboard, trying to follow up his Leinster National win from Sunday. Column Of Fire stayed on well to be third of 28 on his handicap debut last time and there is better to come.