What it takes: three essential qualities required in a Gold Cup winner
The Gold Cup is one of the greatest races in the calendar. As a level-weights staying chase it is the purists' choice over the Grand National. The Gold Cup started out as a trial for Aintree, but these days the very best stayers run at Cheltenham and leave the National to the handicappers.
Many racing fans got their first take of the sport by watching the Gold Cup, many of those by backing the winner. How do you come down on the right horse among a dozen classy horses?
The most able horse does not win the Gold Cup, sometimes he would not even be in the top six (looking at you, Lord Windermere). The Gold Cup winner has never failed to stay. In particular contrast to the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton, the Gold Cup puts a firm emphasis on stamina.
It was stamina that won the day for Al Boum Photo last year, over the strong-travelling Bristol De Mai who was passed for second by Anibale Fly. While the pace could be slacker in 2020, the threat of rain at Cheltenham overnight means that stamina will still be tested.
Of course, while the very best animal does not always win the Gold Cup, it is never won by ordinary horses.
Winning the top Grade 1 races is a solid qualitative measure of ability, but ratings are better because they take the opposition into account. No horse this season has bettered Al Boum Photo's winning form from last year's race. The best is Clan Des Obeaux, who won the King George by 21 lengths, ahead of Lostintranslation in the Betfair Chase and Delta Work, who has won Ireland's two big Grade 1s.
Cheltenham has stiff fences and plenty of undulations, both of which make for a stern test of a horse's jumping. In particular, the third-last fence, on a downhill run that faces the camera, has been a particularly painful point for the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card.
It is perhaps notable that only one winner in the last ten years (Don Cossack) had fallen in the season leading up to the race. It is no guarantee, but a solid guide to those who will provide a safe conveyance.
The unique nature of the Gold Cup is a blessing, but also a curse. Coming back year on year is something only a few horses manage.
Al Boum Photo faces off against history in that regard, but his light campaign gives him the best chance of remaining fresh. Clan Des Obeaux has among the best form but others would outstay him if it turns into a battle. The one with class, form and jumping is Lostintranslation. All he has to do is put a poor run in the King George behind him, but he would not be the first Gold Cup winner to do that.
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