The Grand National may be the most well-known race during the National Hunt season, but for many, the best place to find the most talented horses in training comes in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The race is the blue riband event on the National Hunt calendar and attracts only the best horses in training every year to compete for the prestigious honour.
Cheltenham’s Gold Cup is run over three miles and two furlongs, with horses jumping 22 fences between the start line and the winning post.
There is no shortage of legendary horses to have won this race throughout their careers, with standout names such as Best Mate, Arkle and Kauto Star all securing their legacies with multiple wins in this race. But, could there be an Irish-trained winner of the race this season?
Al Boum Photo
Over the past two years, it has been extremely difficult to see past the Willie Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo winning the Gold Cup. The Mullins hoo-doo in the Gold Cup was finally brought to an end with success with Al Boum Photo in the 2019 Gold Cup, and he quickly secured a second victory in the following year.
The horse wasn’t even the top selection by many for the Gold Cup in the year of his first success, as many tipped Kemboy to be the Mullins horse to have the best run. However, there were no such questions 12 months ago, as he started the race as the heavy favourite for back-to-back victories.
Few horses in the history of the Gold Cup have achieved three wins on the bounce, and the nine-year-old could join very esteemed company with a victory this year.
Just as was the case last season, he has only run on one previous occasion leading up to the Cheltenham Festival, as he won by a massive 19 lengths at Tranmere. He is certainly good value as the favourite, and the leading chance for Irish success in the Gold Cup in 2021.
We briefly mentioned Kemboy when discussing Al Boum Photo’s chances, but there is a sense that he is back to the standard that many expected a couple of years ago. His fall early in the Gold Cup in 2019 set him back, but there have always been glimpses of brilliance from the nine-year-old. After unseating his rider in the Gold Cup, he went on to win back-to-back races at Aintree and Punchestown, but a winless season last year made experts believe that his time had come and gone.
However, the Mullins-trained horse will have another shot at the Gold Cup this year, and on the form he showed at Leopardstown in February, he could be a strong contender.
On that occasion at the Dublin Racing Festival, he held off The Storyteller to win by two lengths in the Irish Gold Cup. But, whether he will be able to make the step up at Cheltenham remains to be seen.
The third and final Mullins horse that looks to be in contention for the Gold Cup this year will be Allaho. The seven-year-old will likely be among the youngest horses involved in the race this year.
Like Kemboy, Allaho has shown some signs of promise throughout his career, but he has always come up short on the big occasion. In 2019, he finished behind Minella Indo at both the Cheltenham Festival and Punchestown Festival, while he then lost to Champ at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago.
It remains to be seen whether the Gold Cup is the aim for connections, as the majority of his wins have come over distances of under three miles. That includes the recent win that he achieved at Thurles against Elimay, as he won by three lengths.
There could be signs of a Gold Cup horse in the future, but it looks unlikely to be his year this time around.
There you have it, the top picks for Irish horses that could aspire to win the Gold Cup. If you like horse racing check out the contenders for the Kentucky Derby horse race in the U.S., that happens in May: TwinSpires.com/kentuckyderby/contenders.