Willie Mullins says Al Boum Photo is in ‘great shape’ ahead of his Cheltenham Gold Cup hat-trick bid and a third win in National Hunt racing’s blue riband event would propel the Prestbury Park hero into the gallery of greats, writes
Paul Townend steered Al Boum Photo to victories in 2019 and 2020 and the nine-year-old now has a shot of becoming just the fifth horse of all-time to win the Cotswolds showpiece three times.
Best Mate is the only horse to have achieved the feat this century – in 2002, 2003 and 2004 – while Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle have also soared to memorable trebles.
Mullins says Al Boum Photo is primed and ready for a tilt at history and a third win in three years would catapult him into racing immortality.
The 64-year-old, whose 2019 triumph marked his maiden Gold Cup victory, said: “It would be extraordinary - we never dreamed of it.
“Two years ago I had given up on the dream [of winning one Gold Cup] and now it’s unbelievable to be on the brink of an Arkle.
“He is easy to train, that’s the thing about him. When you see him in a field he’s unremarkable, but he stands out when he’s on his own. He’s always looking over a hedge to see what’s going on but when amongst the horses he’s just ‘Ordinary Joe’.
“He is in great shape and worked well last week. He has a big bit of work coming up this week. He is uncomplicated and very nice to train.
“He has a funny back history but here he is – a double Gold Cup winner going for his third. We are very privileged to have him.
“We think he is in a good position and any time Paul has ridden him he has been happy with him. I am happy with what I am seeing. He is in great shape going to Cheltenham this year.
“He obviously has an engine and if he is able to go back and do it three times then I think can sit up there with any of them. That is something we will worry about if he is able to do it."
Mullins is a 72-time Festival winner but it wasn’t until 2019 when Al Boum Photo finally broke his Gold Cup duck.
Townend guided him to a two and a half-length victory over Anibale Fly before repeating his heroics the following year by beating Santini
in a thriller.
Al Boum Photo has raced on just a single occasion since that day at Prestbury Park, romping to a thunderous 19-length triumph in Tramore’s Savills New Year’s Day Chase in Grade 3 company.
Mullins is happy for his mount to slip under the radar and believes striking perfect harmony has proved the key to his success.
“He hasn’t advertised himself really during the year but that is the way we have done it,” he added.
“It’s hard to say that is by mistake - he missed Leopardstown because of the ground and we ended up going to Tramore – I have stuck with that plan.
“I think it’s a great three-way partnership. There’s Paul, the Donnellys (owners, Joe and Marie Donnelly) and the horse.
“The fact is he could be going for his fourth win at Cheltenham and is a real Cheltenham horse.”
Al Boum Photo is currently favourite for the 3m2f contest while Nicky Henderson’s Champ, who finished second in Newbury’s Grade 2 Betfair Game Spirit
Chase on Sunday, looks his closest challenger.
Henry de Bromhead’s Savills Chase hero A Plus Tard is third in the running while Venetia Williams’ Royale Pagaille, and Mullins’ Kemboy, are also in contention.
Mullins knows De Bromhead and Henderson pose a threat and added: “I think you have to take both A Plus Tard and Champ seriously. Both are stayers.
“A Plus Tard is bred to stay and Champ proved that he stayed all day last year. The two have both put in huge performances as their prep run.”