The 2020 Cheltenham Festival is fast approaching and while there are so many top class races spread across the four days at Prestbury Park, the one everybody looks forward to is the Gold Cup.
The Grade One race takes place on the final day of the festival – this year landing on the superstitious Friday 13th – and is ran across a whopping three miles and two and a half furlongs, hurdling 22 fences along the way.
With £625,000 up for grabs, the Gold Cup has the biggest prize fund for a non-chase race in the United Kingdom, whilst Cheltenham Gold Cup betting is also extremely popular with the punters.
The illustrious title has been won by some of the biggest names in horse racing, including Best Mate, who won the Blue Riband race three successive times between 2002 and 2004, and Kauto Star, who become the first horse to win, lose and then regain his title between 2007 and 2009.
A strong 70,000 crowd is always in attendance as the horses stampede up the distinguished hill towards the finish.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins was yet to add the Gold Cup to his record-breaking career – finishing runner-up six times – until Al Boum Photo, a 12/1 outsider, scooped the lucrative golden trophy at last year’s festival.
The Irishman, who has more wins than any other trainer at Cheltenham, has put over two dozen horses forward for the Gold Cup over the years but had no luck until the eight-year-old surprisingly stole the show.
Even still, it looked like it wasn’t going to be his year again with three of his four entries either pulling up, falling or unsaddling their jockey, including Kemboy, Mullins’ best chance according to the bookies, unsaddling David Mullins at the first hurdle.
The 63-year-old admitted afterwards that he thought it was going to be another year without the Gold Cup in his trophy cabinet.
“With three of them out before the first circuit had finished I was just thinking, another year of disappointment,” Mullins said.
“But looking at the field, every time I came to Paul [Townend], I realised he was so well-balanced on the horse, with a loose rein and the horse just going along in a rhythm, fence by fence. I thought, we have a life here.
“About the fourth or fifth last he needed a jump, you could see a long stride coming and Paul asked for it, and he got it. I thought, wow, there’s plenty of petrol left in his tank. And I know Paul’s body language, so I knew he hadn’t at all gone for anything and he still thought he had plenty left.”
“He met the last perfectly and I looked up at winning post and what was behind,” the Grand National winning trainer added. “I knew that 99 times out of 100 he was going to make it this year.”
Mullins is well represented again this year and Al Boum Photo is outright favourite to claim back-to-back Gold Cups, while Kemboy is also back amongst the front-runners. Real Steel is further back in the betting odds at 25/1 with the 63-year-old’s last entry Bellshill a massive outsider at 100/1.
The 2020 Gold Cup favourite has only raced twice since last year’s victory, finishing second at Punchestown before winning at Tramore on New Year’s Day. The gelding also faces some tough competition from Nicky Henderson’s Santini and Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work, as well as, previous winner Native River.