Willie Mullins was very upbeat about the prospects of Al Boum Photo retaining his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown at an open day the trainer held for the British and Irish media earlier in the week. The last horse to win the Gold Cup back-to-back was Best Mate in 2003 although Henrietta Knight’s horse did go on to land his hat-trick 12 months later. Al Boum Photo is 7/2 favourite with BetVictor with Mullins confirming that Paul Townend will be in the plate next month.
The ground is described as heavy for today’s card at Exeter although the racecourse executive are optimistic the card will get the green light. Danny Kirwan (2.47) bypassed an engagement at Doncaster midweek on account of the soft ground yet Paul Nicholls’ appears happy to let his 7-year-old take his chance this afternoon. The selection has been off the track for over 400 days but is a winner of a point and a Bumper and had some excellent novice hurdle form when last seen.
My two against the field in the 3m handicap hurdle are Donnie Brasco and Ashfield Paddy (3.20) with marginal preference for the latter who finished runner up at Ascot last time off this mark, having won at Haydock on his penultimate start. Both horses will jump a fence next season, but I just favour the Jonjo O’Neill trained six-year-old today.
No surprise to see Harry Fry drop Whitehotchillifili (4.50) back down in trip to this extended two miles having looked a non-stayer over an additional half-mile at Wincanton last time. The selection is penalised for winning back at Wincanton on her penultimate start and a repeat of that effort would make her a tough nut to crack. The Warren Greatrex-trained Martha Brae looks the danger although she may be better served by a longer trip.
There is an inspection planned at Warwick for 8am but if racing goes ahead, I hope to see Lieutenant Rocco (1.25) build on last month’s Chepstow success when he made all under Robbie Power. Colin Tizzard’s five-year-old will jump a fence in time but he does hold an entry in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham next month.
The Dan Skelton yard have been a bit quiet of late, but I hope today’s additional half-mile will see Go Steady (2.30) in a better light having finished third over the minimum trip at Wincanton last time. A market move for Little Ginge would be worth noting on his chase debut for Venetia Williams having ran his best race yet when a close third at Hereford.
Top And Drop (4.10) is fitted with cheek-pieces for the first time having bounced back to something like her best form when beaten a neck at Chepstow last time from a 2lbs lower mark. She is taken to go one better with the doubly declared Midnight Tune likely to race at Exeter.
The valuable 2m 4f handicap chase looks a cracker and Springtown Lake must go close for Philp Hobbs and Tom O’Brien who teamed up to do us a favour at Ludlow earlier in the week courtesy of Demopolis. The 8-year-old bounced back to form when finishing runner up, backed from 7/2 to 2/1, at Chepstow over Christmas and a 1lb rise is fair.
Cloudy Glen (4.30) ducked out at Cheltenham on his penultimate start, which is a concern, but he ran a terrific race at Sandown last time over 3m before his stamina gave way. The drop back in trip should suit although he is edging up the weights and has been nudged up 3lbs for his latest run.