A Plus Tard in with a shot for Gold Cup glory
For any horse heading into the Cheltenham Festival, momentum is everything. This is especially true of the Gold Cup, the Festival’s showpiece race and the most difficult to win. Every trainer devotes years to getting their horses in the best possible shape to try and win high-profile races like the Gold Cup, and it’s the dream of every jockey to ride a winner in the famous Friday race at the Cheltenham Festival.
That dream-like moment has been experienced by jockey Paul Townend and trainer Willie Mullins for the past two years, as Al Boum Photo has made his presence felt to win two consecutive Gold Cups. The challenge for the chasing pack in 2021 is to usurp Al Boum Photo and prevent him from emulating Best Mate by winning three Gold Cups on the spin, even if he is the favorite in the Gold Cup ante-post odds.
One of the horses primed to run Al Boum Photo close is A Plus Tard, a member of Henry de Bromhead’s yard. Having won the Savills Chase at Leopardstown back in December, A Plus Tard has the momentum required to make a dent in Al Boum Photo’s chances come March 19th, and the bookies seem to agree with most placing the seven-year-old as the second favorite to scoop the Gold Cup.
Interestingly, Darragh O’Keefe rode A Plus Tard to that Leopardstown in triumph in December, taking over from usual jockey Rachael Blackmore, who was riding Minella Indo in the same race, but came a cropper after being unseated. O’Keefe performed admirably in his Grade One debut, taking all the plaudits for a fantastic ride in which A Plus Tard pipped Kemboy to the finish line.
“It was some finish, he was brilliant,” de Bromhead said after the race. “He stayed really well and it was a super ride from Darragh. He won a Grade One here over two [miles] one [furlong] last year and now he’s won over three miles [and] he’s still only six. He stayed at it really well and needed every inch of it. I wouldn’t like to make any plans yet, we’ll enjoy today as this is a pretty savage race to win. We’ll see whether it’s the Ryanair or the Gold Cup, it’s up to everyone involved.”
It has since become clear that it’s the big one they’re aiming for, after a connection from A Plus Tard’s owners Cheveley Park Stud revealed that the Gold Cup is the target for March. One superb win has reignited belief in the horse, and now he holds shorter odds than stablemate Minella Indo, whose odds have lengthened. This has left many re-thinking their free bets for Cheltenham.
Prior to the Leopardstown win, Blackmore had been in the saddle for two consecutive defeats, which included last year’s loss to Min in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Third place that day was not what anyone wanted, but it was a good learning experience for horse and rider. The question is whether or not Blackmore will be given the nod for the Gold Cup after O’Keefe’s performance in the Savills Chase. That will be one of the decisions facing de Bromhead as he seeks to prepare A Plus Tard for the race of his life.
Story by Simon Cromie