Granted his lengthy association with Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls, the fact that Ruby Walsh is, far and away, the most successful jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival is no real surprise. Mullins has saddled 61 winners at the March showpiece meeting, Nicholls has saddled 43 and, between them, they have won the leading trainer award 11 times.
Coincidentally, Walsh has also won the leading jockey award 11 times, including five years running between 2013 and 2017. Indeed, he was favourite to do so again in 2018 but, after two early wins – which took his career total to 58 – aggravated a leg injury, sustained at Punchestown the previous November, when Al Boum Photo fell at the penultimate fence in the RSA Chase on the second day, and missed the rest of the Festival.
Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Alexander Banquet, trained by Mullins, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 1998, as an 18-year-old amateur. Having turned professional, he had to wait a few years for his second, Blowing Wind, trained by Martin Pipe, in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup in 2002 but, thereafter, has ridden at least one winner at every Cheltenham Festival.
His notable successes include the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, on Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009, the Champion Hurdle four times, on Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2013, Faugheen in 2015 and Annie Power in 2016, the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times, on Azertyuiop in 2004 and Master Minded in 2008 and 2009, and the Stayers’ Hurdle five times, on Big Buck’s in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and Nichols Canyon in 2017. The four ‘championship’ races aside, together Walsh and Mullins have ‘farmed’ the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, winning all bar three of the eleven renewals – including six in a row between 2009 and 2014, with Quevega – since it was added to the Festival programme in 2008.
(Photo by Cheltenham Racecourse under CC BY-SAY 2.0)
The Cheltenham Festival is just over a month away, so it’s time to start working out your top tips. The Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place on Friday, March 13 and is one of the biggest races not just in the UK but the world. This article looks at the top contenders for the 2020 race, which one will find that Friday the 13th can be very lucky indeed.
Al Boum Photo bids for repeat win
Not since 2004 has a horse retained the Gold Cup. That was when Best Mate won the race. Can Al Boum Photo also win the race two years in a row? His win gave trainer Willie Mullins his first victory in one of the few big races he hadn’t won, and it was only the horse’s second appearance at the festival. 2018 had seen Al Boum Photo fall in the RSA Chase but last year he won the Gold Cup by two and a half lengths.
Two months later, he made several mistakes when finishing second to stablemate Kemboy in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup. His only race this season was a comfortable win in the Grade 3 Savill New Year’s Chase at Tramore. He is reported to have recovered well from that race and will next line up at Cheltenham. More rain will be helpful as his wins have come on soft, good to soft and heavy ground.
Already, Al Boum Photo is favourite with the bookies, priced at 4/1 to win the Gold Cup.
Santini photo source unknown
Trainer Nicky Henderson has won the Gold Cup with both Long Run and Bob’s Worth. He bids to make it a hat-trick with Santini who will be taking part in his third Cheltenham Festival. 2018 saw him finish third in the Albert Bartlett Novice’s Hurdle. He got closer last year when second in the RSA Novice’s Chase, half a length behind Topofthegame. He might have won but for losing a left fore shoe.
The last year has seen him make steady progress winning a listed race at Sandown in November. Soon after that, he had wind surgery but returned to the racetrack in late January winning the Grade 2 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham. If there is further progress, then this runner has a good chance of winning the Gold Cup.
Delta Work in good form
With six wins in eight races over fences, Delta Work is very much a live contender this year. Trained by Gordon Elliott, he won the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle two years ago. Last year, Delta Work was third in the RSA, just behind Santini ending a run of three wins, including two Grade 1 victories.
Since last year’s festival, Delta Work has won two more Grade 1 races including winning the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup from Kemboy. He’s another that likes soft ground but has won on good. A visit to the SportNation website sees Delta Work at odds of 11/2.
Lostintranslation on the comeback trail
Winner of the 2019 Betfair Chase, Lostintranslation went on to be pulled up in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. A breathing problem was the reason for that happening, and wind surgery took place at the start of 2020. It’d be a big story if he could come back from that and win the Gold Cup and is currently 7/1.
Native River chasing second Gold Cup
Native River source unknown
The 2018 Gold Cup winner will have another crack at the title next month. He made his seasonal reappearance with a 33-length win at Aintree. It would have been a lot closer if Might Bite hadn’t unseated his rider. February saw his final race before Cheltenham at Newbury. Native River made all to win the Betfair Denman Chase and the ten-year-old (fourth in the Gold Cup last year) will make a bold bid to win his second Gold Cup. 11/1 makes Native River a decent each-way bet.
Clan Des Obeaux going for the double
Fifth in the Gold Cup last year, this Paul Nicholls trained contender won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day for the second successive year. Before that he’d finished second behind Road to Respect in November’s Champion Chase at Down Royal. He did finish ahead of Delta Work though and had been off the track for 212 days. You can get 17/2 on his doing the King George/Gold Cup double.
This year’s race looks a fascinating one. The last six Gold Cups have only seen one favourite win (Don Cossack in 2016). This year looks a very open one, too.