Donn McClean fancies Willie Mullins to finally break his Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup hoodoo this afternoon and he has a value bet in the Albert Bartlett too.
The story would be Presenting Percy. The horse who is trained in Galway by a small trainer about whom the world knows little. Who gauges the quality of his horses by clocking the time that it takes them to get from one gap in the ditch to another gap in the ditch. Who prepared his horse for the Gold Cup by running him in a hurdle race, and by turning Galway racecourse anti-clockwise so that he could school his horse left-handed.
We know that Pat Kelly can do it too, bring a horse to boil for the Cheltenham Festival. A dual Galway Hurdle winning-trainer, he did it with Mall Dini in 2016 and then, just in case you thought that he got lucky once, he did it again with Presenting Percy in 2017 and in 2018.
It helps that Presenting Percy is owned by a man in Philip Reynolds who understands horses and who has the patience and the nous to allow his trainer employ his own unique methodology. And the Sir Percy gelding will have maestro Davy Russell on his side.
It would be some story. As if the storybook wasn’t full after Thursday.
A first Gold Cup victory for Willie Mullins would also be a story well worth the telling. You know that the universe will be corrected one of these years after six times filling the runner-up spot. It was a bit like AP McCoy and the Grand National: the universe will not be at peace until Willie Mullins has a Gold Cup winner.
It could happen today too. Bellshill battled on well under a superb ride from Ruby Walsh to win the Irish Gold Cup last time, and he will once again have Ruby for company. Kemboy was a seriously impressive winner of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. True, he was the beneficiary of an astute front-running ride from David Mullins, who managed to dictate a sedate pace, but we don’t know that he wouldn’t have been as impressive if the pace had been stronger.
And Invitation Only won the Thyestes Chase last time, the race that On His Own and Djakadam both won seven weeks before they went out and finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
But Al Boum Photo could be the value of the Mullins quarter and of the race. The Buck’s Boum gelding was a progressive staying novice chaser last season. He won the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse at Easter, and he probably would have won the Grade 1 Growise Chase at the Punchestown Festival if he hadn’t run out at the final fence.
He has run just once this season, he ran out an impressive winner of the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year’s Day. He had Invitation Only and Alpha Des Obeaux well back in third and fourth places that day, giving them 3lb, and that pair came out next time and finished first and second in the Thyestes Chase.
Al Boum Photo is going to have to progress if he is going to win a Gold Cup, but he is only seven and he has raced just seven times over fences. He has bags of scope for progression. It is not ideal that Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride Bellshill instead, but that is factored into Al Boum Photo’s odds. Indeed, the market may have over-compensated. It may have been a marginal call, and Paul Townend is a top class rider.
Earlier on the day, Derrinross could be the answer to a fascinating Albert Bartlett Hurdle. Philip Dempsey’s horse didn’t win in three attempts last season, but he has put that experience to good use in going two for two this term thus far.
He won a Grade 3 contest at Cork in early December over three miles, and he landed a Grade 2 race at Limerick at Christmas, also over three miles. On both occasions, he had to dig deep.
The form of both races is standing up well too. Sams Profile finished second in the Cork race, and The Big Dog finished fourth, and those two have both enhanced the form since. Cap York finished fourth in the Limerick race, and Noel Meade’s horse, who re-opposes today, then went and won a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown off a mark of 130.
Also, that Limerick race has a good history. It was won by Faugheen in 2013, and it has been one by Weapon’s Amnesty and Martello Tower and Penhill in the last decade. Those three all went on to win the Albert Bartlett Hurdle.
Derrinross has had this race on his radar since he won the Limerick race, and he will be ridden by the trainer’s son Luke, who gets on really well with the horse and who won the Martin Pipe Hurdle on Killultagh Vic in 2015. The Scorpion gelding may not have the fashionable profile that some of his rivals have, but he is a high-class second-season novice who is tough and who stays well, and those attribute are big assets to take into an Albert Bartlett Hurdle.