ALL eyes will be on the Willie Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo as he looks to land his third consecutive WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.05pm).
The nine-year-old has once again been wrapped up in cotton wool since landing the Festival feature 12 months ago with only the one prep race at Tramore on New Year’s Day.
There is no getting away from the fact that he is the one to beat, but at 5/2 with Fitzdares I am prepared to take him on with conditions drying all the time.
It certainly won’t be fast ground, but it will be faster than ideal, and it may just pay to take him on.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore have had an extraordinary week and it could easily get better with A Plus Tard a leading contender on his win at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He has that all-important Festival winning form and will be the one to beat if staying this extra quarter of a mile.
That is the only real question mark surrounding his chances and 4/1 is plenty short enough considering his stamina is not assured.
In fact, a better case could well be made for his stablemate Minella Indo who could easily bounce back to form having won at this meeting in the past.
He had victory wrestled from his hands in last season’s RSA Chase by Champ who deserves plenty of respect.
Nicky Henderson’s runner will be popular after a good reappearance run at Newbury and is certainly a contender if his jumping holds out.
However, it is another of the Seven Barrows team I’m interested in taking a chance on at a big price and that is SANTINI at 14/1.
It was the slow pace in last year’s race that arguably cost him as he failed by only a neck to reel in Al Boum Photo having been caught a bit flat-footed.
He has yet to cover himself in glory this season, but the application of a first-time visor may just sharpen him up.
The drying conditions are also a big plus and with the likes of Frodon and NATIVE RIVER in the line-up they certainly wont hand about.
I cannot help but also have a few quid each-way on the 2018 winner who was also fourth two years ago having missed last year through injury.
He’s not getting any younger at the grand old age of 11 but looked back to his very best at Sandown last time and loves it around here.
Native River is another one freely available at 14/1 and with most firms offering four places he should be on the premises at the business end.
There won’t be a dry eye in the empty house if he and Richard Johnson can repel all their younger challengers and land jump racing’s most prestigious prize.
Santini e/w 3.05pm Cheltenham (Friday)
Native River e/w 3.05pm Cheltenham (Friday)