Twelve months on from what was the culmination of a week Henry de Bromhead will never forget, Minella Indo and A Plus Tard are back in contention for top honours in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy denied A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore 12 months ago as the pair put the seal on a dream four days for everyone concerned with De Bromhead’s County Waterford yard.
This season Minella Indo began his campaign in the Champion Chase at Down Royal and was beaten into third by Frodon, after which he was pulled up when never looking happy in the King George at Kempton.
However, there was far more encouragement to be taken from his runner-up finish behind Conflated in last month’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
“Indo’s first run was really good on a sharp track and then, when we went to Kempton, I was trying to put a square peg into a round hole and that just didn’t work,” said De Bromhead.
“It was great to see him back in the Irish Gold Cup and I thought that was a really good run.”
Blackmore has again sided with A Plus Tard, who was a runaway winner of the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November before being chinned late on by Galvin in his bid for back-to-back wins in the Savills Chase.
Minella Indo is partnered this time by Robbie Power.
De Bromhead added: “A Plus Tard was really impressive in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and he ran well in the Savills. I was a little disappointed to get beaten, but still felt he ran really well.
“I’d say you could argue the Savills is the best form, when he was beaten by Galvin.
“I thought he was really impressive at Haydock and I thought he ran really well at Leopardstown.”
Richard Thompson, of owners Cheveley Park Stud, is hopeful A Plus Tard can go one better than 12 months ago, saying: “We’ve got a good jockey, a good trainer and a good horse.
“He has a very good record at Cheltenham — he’s finished first, third and second, so he’s a proven Cheltenham performer.
“He’s got a hell of a CV and we think he’s got the stamina, the class and the acceleration.
“We just hope we get the run of the race and we’ll see what happens.”
Gordon Elliott’s Galvin is another who has already proven his liking for the Cheltenham track having won twice at Prestbury Park, including a victory in the National Hunt Chase at last year’s Festival.
That race is more likely to produce a Grand National contender than a Gold Cup hope and those were the expectations held by Elliott — but the Ronnie Bartlett-owned gelding has shown his class with his Down Royal Champion Chase second and Savills Chase victory since.
“It’s a big bonus he’s been round Cheltenham and handles the track,” Elliott said.
“There’s a question mark about every horse in the race and it looks very open.
“He’s been working well with a few sharper horses of late, we’re really happy with him.
“If you see any negative with Galvin, you question whether he’s that class of a horse. I told Jamie (Codd) to hunt him round in the north (Down Royal) as we weren’t sure he was that class, but in Leopardstown he outstayed A Plus Tard.
“I think he has improved. At the start of the year I thought he was going to be more a Grand National horse, but he’s improving week in, week out.
“He’s going to have to improve again to win a Gold Cup, but I just think he’s going into the race with a really good profile — you know he stays, you know he likes the track.”
Al Boum Photo already has two Gold Cups in the bag following back-to-back wins in 2019 and 2020.
He had to make do with minor honours in third behind the De Bromhead pair in his hat-trick bid last year and returns off a familiar preparation — a solitary New Year’s Day win at Tramore.
Jockey Paul Townend told Ladbrokes: “Al Boum Photo wears cheek pieces for the first time. We schooled him with them and thought they made him concentrate a bit more. I think he is overpriced and he was not far behind the other two last year.
“He seems in great form coming here this year. He’s not getting any younger, but he has no miles on the clock and I am really looking forward to having another go and trying to regain the Gold Cup on him.”
The Festival’s most successful trainer has a second string to his bow in the form of Tornado Flyer, who has been kept fresh since his surprise King George triumph on Boxing Day.
“Coming home from Kempton we were happy to go straight to the Gold Cup. I wasn’t bothered about another run and and his owners weren’t either,” Mullins added.
“He did everything right in the King George, so we said we’d give him a chance to do it in Cheltenham.
“He hasn’t had any setbacks or anything.”
Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House took the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival last year — and though he disappointed when pulled up in the King George, he bounced back in an attritional Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January.
“He wasn’t earth-shattering last time out, but we have reason to think we have got a little bit up our sleeve,” said the Seven Barrows trainer.
“If you go back, he hadn’t really had a race since Aintree (last season). He had a solo spin in a two-horse race around Sandown and the King George didn’t work at all.
“Nothing has absolutely jumped off the front page and stamped his authority on the Gold Cup, so it is up for grabs. It is an intriguing race and you could make a case for a lot of horses.”
The shortest-priced British hope is Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, a 25-length winner of the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree when last seen in December.
“We made the decision immediately in our own heads after Aintree that we were going to go straight to the Gold Cup,” the Alcester trainer said.
“We always thought he’d develop into a three-mile chaser, but I am surprised he’s the shortest-priced English runner in a Gold Cup this early on in his life. But he’s just got better and better and grown and matured, and got the hang of things.”