How a dramatic Gold Cup unfolded at Cheltenham as the home team fail to fire
Drama at the first
Champ was the shortest-priced challenger trained in Britain but in the words of rider Nico de Boinville "it all went wrong at the first" as he lands steeply on the inside of runners and has to be ridden to try and take an interest thereafter.
JP McManus's contender makes another mistake at the third and then tries to jump through the wing at the fifth, leaving De Boinville with little choice but to pull up shortly afterwards.
Nicky Henderson-trained stablemate Santini is another early casualty, with a shuddering error at the seventh all but ending his race, although he continues on until the field heads out on to the final circuit.
Frodon dictates, Minella Indo stalks
Coming down the hill on the first circuit Bryony Frost has Frodon in a lovely rhythm up front, although Kemboy and Black Op also appear to be travelling within themselves in a front rank of three.
Jack Kennedy has never been far away on Minella Indo and is in a comfortable bubble of his own just behind the leaders, always able to go just fast enough to prevent Richard Johnson from getting level on Native River, the 2018 winner who is flat to the boards the whole way.
Al Boum Photo moves into contention
Just as in his two victories in 2019 and 2020, Paul Townend had let the history-seeking Al Boum Photo find his own rhythm in the second half of the pack through the opening circuit.
And using a similar playbook as before he moves up into a more challenging sixth passing the empty stands, while Rachael Blackmore tracks him in seventh. Even at this stage the three big Irish hopes are running line astern, with Minella Indo arguably the target for the two market leaders.
Three out, only four can win
Black Op has done his connections proud but jumping three out, the writing is on the wall, with the Gold Cup resting between Frodon, Minella Indo, A Plus Tard and Al Boum Photo.
A Plus Tard is briefly caught on his heels running down to the third-last but is soon back in his stride, although the horse in the field Blackmore knows better than any, Minella Indo, appears to be travelling supremely well for Kennedy.
Shades of Best Mate as Al Boum Photo is held in
Seventeen years ago Jim Culloty briefly looked locked in a pocket turning for home as Best Mate was bearing down on a historic third Gold Cup success.
The script looks similar here as Blackmore angles A Plus Tard in, leaving Al Boum Photo short of room at a crucial juncture on the final bend.
On ITV's post-race coverage Ruby Walsh doesn't believe that cost Al Boum Photo a winning chance but the dual winner is left in the dust as the two stablemates power on, with Frodon also beating a retreat. Barring something extraordinary, Henry de Bromhead will win his first Gold Cup, but with which horse?
On the run-in – Minella Indo wins the Gold Cup
Kennedy's face has been a picture of confidence throughout the second circuit but he is only too aware that Minella Indo has a habit of downing tools once he gets to the business end.
He gets the better leap at the last but Blackmore knows full well the leader might idle and she throws everything at A Plus Tard in an effort to worry Minella Indo out of it.
She gets to within a length but no closer, with A Plus Tard's presence enough to wake Minella Indo up for the final climb to the line.
Al Boum Photo has run a fine race in pursuit of the treble and is only just over four lengths back from A Plus Tard, while in the private battle for best of British, Native River outstays Frodon, albeit 24 lengths adrift of the third.
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