Reigning champion Al Boum Photo gave the 2020 Gold Cup market some much-needed clarity with an emphatic display at Tramore on New Year’s Day.
A six-length success in the Grade 3 Savills New Year's Day Chase, the race he won on return 12 months ago, propelled the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old into outright ante-post favouritism for the first time.
However, with so many of the race’s major players blotting their copybooks over the festive period, only a stellar performance in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February can prevent this year’s renewal being one of the most open in recent times.
The Grade 1 Savills Chase, run at Leopardstown on December 28, is undoubtedly one of the key Gold Cup pointers but this year’s renewal arguably threw up more questions than answers after Kemboy, for so long the ante-post Gold Cup favourite, tasted defeat on his long-awaited return.
Delta Work finished with a flourish to land the three-mile contest by a head from Monalee and is now a general 10/1 chance to atone for last year’s costly RSA Chase defeat.
Runner Up The Punters' Choice?
However, the runner-up price is more than double with many firms and will surely be viewed as better value by punters, especially as he has already proved his effectiveness at Prestbury Park, having finished second in the 2017 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and 2018 RSA Chase.
Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield reacted to the holiday period events in Ireland by telling bookmakers: “The festive period saw the cream of the Irish chasing talent take over the head of the Cheltenham Gold Cup market.
“Closutton conjurer Willie Mullins clearly had last year’s hero Al Boum Photo in tip-top shape for his Tramore return and he is now the principle athlete in our list at 9/2 (from 6/1) after his comfortable six-length success.
“Delta Work solidified his credentials by soaring to victory for Ryanair supremo Michael O’Leary in the major Christmas race at Leopardstown and Gordon Elliott’s charge has been slashed into 10/1 from 25/1 for the Gold Cup.
“However, one other Emerald Isle-trained protagonist, Kemboy, remains ahead of him in the market at a second-best in 11/2 (from 5/1).
'Overreaction From Layers?'
“Kemboy dropped to fourth in the closing stages of the Savills Chase but it might be an overreaction from the layers to ease him for the March feature given he was returning from a massive 241-day lay-off.”
One Gold Cup contender that won’t be enhancing his Cheltenham claims in the Leopardstown showpiece is Savills Chase runner-up Monalee, who is now heading straight to the festival in March.
His trainer, Henry de Bromhead, said on Thursday: “We were delighted with him in the Savills, it was great to see him back to form and seeing out the three miles so well.
"He won't be coming back to Leopardstown for the Irish Gold Cup, he'll be going straight to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup."
Who are you backing for the Gold Cup @CheltenhamRaces in March? 🤔— Bookmakers.co.uk (@bookmakers) January 1, 2020
The key Gold Cup clues for the home challengers came at Kempton on Boxing Day where Clan Des Obeaux breezed to victory in the King George VI Chase for the second year running.
The Paul Nicholls-trained winner appeared to be outgunned by stronger stayers up the Cheltenham hill last season and hasn’t really been seen as a bona fide Gold Cup candidate this time around, so much so that he remains the same price as Lostintranslation, who bombed out completely but was subsequently reported to have a breathing problem after being pulled up by Robbie Power.
'Stamina A Key Factor'
Paul Binfield added: “Dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux absolutely hosed up in the King George but we think he’s a flat-track horse who will once again come unstuck at Cheltenham where stamina for further really is a key factor.
“The big loser of the festive period was Lostintransaltion who was 4/1 Gold Cup favourite going into the Boxing Day assignment, but he is now double those odds and anyone who may have backed him ante-post for the Gold Cup will be hoping that Colin Tizzard’s potential superstar can have the palate issue that may have been the reason for his Kempton demise, solved in the coming few weeks. “
Coral reported that they have been forced to cut Al Boum Photo for a second time in recent days.
Spokesman Dave Stevens explained: “We initially just trimmed Al Boum Photo into 6/1 (from 7/1) for a repeat Gold Cup triumph following his winning reappearance at Tramore, but punters didn't think we were giving enough respect to last year's Cheltenham hero, and we've since seen enough ante-post support to force him into clear favouritism.”