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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
HomeSportsCheltenham Festival: Key Gold Cup contenders analysed by Sky Sports Racing expert...

Cheltenham Festival: Key Gold Cup contenders analysed by Sky Sports Racing expert Mick Fitzgerald

Former jockey and Sky Sports Racing presenter Mick Fitzgerald has cast his expert eye over five of the key contenders for the Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup.

Henry De Bromhead trained the first two home in last season’s race, with Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy defeating A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore, with two-time winner Al Boum Photo back in third.

Other interesting contenders include recent Grade One winner and Cheltenham specialist Galvin, with the best English hope looking to be Dan Skelton’s Protektorat. Sky Sports Racing expert and former jockey Mick Fitzgerald casts his eye over the leading contenders.

Al Boum Photo

Key facts

  • Trainer – Willie Mullins
  • Jockey – Paul Townend
  • Age – 10
  • Odds – 10/1
  • Big-race wins – Cheltenham Gold Cup (2019, 2020)

I think we really have to include Al Boum Photo in any analysis of the Gold Cup for the simple reason he is a two-time winner of the race. It’s hard to get away from a horse that has two T-shirts that say “Gold Cup winner” and Paul Townend didn’t feel it went to plan last year when he finished third to Minella Indo.

He looked every bit as good when winning the Savills Chase at Tramore for a fourth year running on New Year’s Day and you can’t ignore him.

Santini (near side) is just beaten by Al Boum Photo in the 2020 Gold Cup

They were going to run him more but they haven’t and Willie has probably thought ‘we have won it twice after winning at Tramore on New Year’s Day so why change it’.

Willie has no peers when it comes to preparing a horse for a Festival and he will have him spot on for the big day.

Strengths – He’s a two-time Gold Cup winner.

Weak spot – Did he have any obvious excuse for finishing third last year?

A Plus Tard

Key facts

  • Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
  • Jockey – Rachael Blackmore
  • Age – 8
  • Odds – 7/2
  • Big-race wins – Savills Chase (2020), Betfair Chase (2021)

I thought when A Plus Tard ran in the Ryanair two years ago that he was a certainty – I just couldn’t see him being beat. He finished third to Min, beaten a length-and-a-half, and I cannot tell you how disappointing that was. Last season we saw him upped in trip and he looked different class over three miles.

He came from a long way back to win the Savills Chase, beating Kemboy in a very hard-fought finish, and then he didn’t run until the Gold Cup where he was outpointed by his stablemate Minella Indo, and beaten a length-and-a-quarter. This season he came out and was so impressive in the Betfair Chase on decent ground, and that is the best I have seen him jump.

A Plus Tard ridden by jockey Rachael Blackmore wins the Betfair Chase
A Plus Tard ridden by jockey Rachael Blackmore wins the Betfair Chase

He looked so good that day and was then beaten by Galvin in the Savills Chase in December, and there was obviously no disgrace on that occasion.

Again, he has winning form at the Festival having won the Listed Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase over two-and-a-half, been placed in a Ryanair and finished second in a Gold Cup. He is ticking all the boxes.

Strengths – He looked so good in the Betfair and has proven Cheltenham Festival form.

Weak spot – He had no excuses when finishing second in the Gold Cup last year.


Key facts

  • Trainer – Gordon Elliott
  • Jockey – Davy Russell
  • Age – 8
  • Odds – 7/2
  • Big-race wins – Savills Chase (2021), NH Chase (2021)

Followers of this column will know that I have a preference for horses that have winning form at the Festival and this fellow has got it. Galvin won the National Hunt Chase last year and he stays really well.

He was a length-and-a-half winner from Next Destination over three miles and six furlongs and you have to remember that Native River was placed in the National Hunt Chase and went on and won a Gold Cup. Galvin has already won that race and has been placed at another Festival when finishing second to Imperial Aura in a Listed handicap chase, so you know he handles the track.

Galvin and Davy Russell in action at Leopardstown during the Savills Chase
Galvin and Davy Russell in action at Leopardstown during the Savills Chase

The fact that he has been to the Festival a few times and left with a win and a second place under his belt has to bode well for his chances. If you look at his runs this season, they have resulted in a Grade One victory in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas where he beat the likes of A Plus Tard, Kemboy and Janidil, and they are all Grade One winners.

I know he only won by a short head from A Plus Tard, but you know he is going to stay and that is a vital weapon in his armoury.

Strengths – Cheltenham Festival form.

Weak spot – You are struggling to find one and it could be that he is just not a sexy horse.

Minella Indo

Key facts

  • Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
  • Jockey – Jack Kennedy
  • Age – 9
  • Odds – 5/1
  • Big-race wins – Gold Cup (2021), Albert Bartlett (2019)

“I sound like a broken record, but it is that same old thing that Minella Indo has winning form at the Festival and won the Gold Cup last year when beating A Plus Tard a length and a quarter. When you look at this lad’s Festival form, it is arguably better than anything in the race.

He has won a Gold Cup, won an Albert Bartlett and was second in an RSA when, if he hadn’t made a mistake at the second last, he would have won – I have no doubt about that. But for that mistake he would have been a three-time Festival winner and some horses raise their game for the meeting and he is clearly one of those.

Jack Kennedy wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo
Jack Kennedy wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo

He showed a return to form when second in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown this month when finishing behind Conflated and there is no getting away from it that Henry de Bromhead’s horse haven’t been the same form as they were last season.

Last year Henry had the first and second in the Gold Cup, won the Champion Chase with Put The Kettle On and won the Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle and no one has ever done that – the horses were back to form at exactly the right time. Henry has a fantastic Festival record and if Minella Indo comes to the Festival in a similar mood he will make them all think.

Strengths – He has very strong Festival form.

Weak spot – His form this season isn’t up to scratch.


Key facts

  • Trainer – Dan Skelton
  • Jockey – Harry Skelton
  • Age – 7
  • Odds – 8/1
  • Big-race wins – Many Clouds Chase, Manifesto Chase (2021)

I feel we have to include Protektorat in our analysis as his only run in-and-around three miles is arguably the most impressive he has been. He beat Native River and Sam Brown at Aintree, who are out and out stayers, but the fact that he was able to beat them at their own game, the staying game, showed that he possesses that touch of class.

People might say does he save his best form for Liverpool but the only way we are going to find that out is when he runs in the Gold Cup. You can’t help being impressed at his Aintree win, his first time over the trip in the Many Clouds Chase and there was a lot to like about that performance.

Protektorat ridden by Bridget Andrews winning at Aintree
Protektorat ridden by Bridget Andrews winning at Aintree

He has to enter calculations on that effort but you just don’t know how he is going to cope with the Gold Cup test on different ground but he has pace. The one thing I always found riding around Cheltenham was that if they are slow horses and you run them in the Gold Cup, they struggle as they go a different pace but a horse like him will travel and that will make life a whole lot easier for Harry Skelton.

He goes there a fresh horse and has shown he acts well on the course in the past.

Strengths – He is one from one over three miles plus.

Weak spot – You just don’t know how he is going to handle the pressure cooker that is the Gold Cup.

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