Sunday, 28 March 2021

One For Arthur


Owned by Belinda McClung and Deborah Thomson, a.k.a. 'Two Golf Widows', and trained by Lucinda Russell near Kinross, in eastern Scotland, One For Arthur is best known as the winner of the 2015 Grand National. Indeed, he had the distinction of being just the second horse trained north of Hadrian's Wall – the other being Rubstic, trained by John Leadbetter in Denholm, near Hawick, in 1979 – to win the premier steeplechase.

One For Arthur had demonstrated his Grand National credentials when staying on well to finish fifth, beaten just 3 lengths, in the valuable Becher Chase, over 3 miles 2 furlongs, on his first attempt over National fences the previous December. He subsequently won the Classic Chase, over 3 miles 5 furlongs, at Warwick in January in taking style and headed to Aintree at the top of his game.

Despite being 11lb higher in the weights than at Warwick, One For Arthur was sent off 14/1 fourth favourite for the National, behind Blaklion, Definitly Red and Vieux Lion Rouge. Under a confident ride from jockey Derek Fox, who was making his debut in the race, he was held up in rear, as he had been at Warwick, but made steady headway throughout the second circuit.

Favourite Blaklion took a clear lead as the field crossed the Melling Road for the final time, but One For Arthur, who had travelled and jumped well throughout, moved upsides at the second-last fence and soon quickened into the lead. On run-in, recent Cheltenham Festival winner Cause Of Causes appeared as his main challenger, but he was not to be denied and stayed on strongly to win by 4½ lengths.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 Quiz

If there's one event on the racing calendar that I'd be sorry to miss, it just has to be the Cheltenham Festival. With so much history wrapped around this jewel in the national hunt crown, and it being a gathering point for the top horses, jockeys, trainers and owners around; we can safely call it an unmissable event. The likes of A Plus Tard, Al Boum Photo and Native River will all be part of the action this year. To celebrate this unrivalled Festival of racing, it's time to switch it up with an entertaining Betway Horse Racing  quiz featuring Richard Hoiles and members of the West Ham team. Let's see how much they know about racing!

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Al Boum Photo: Dual Gold Cup Winner in Profile

Irish trainer Willie Mullins has had plenty of luck with French-bred horses. A regular to France on scouting missions, Mullins has been part of lots of deals for French imports to train at his Closutton operation. It has clearly been a fruitful enterprise for Mullins, with the likes of six-time Cheltenham Festival winner Quevega, Arkle winner Douvan and Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux heading from France to Ireland, and, ultimately, success at Cheltenham. You can add many others – Vroum Vroum Mag, Vautour, Min – to that list. The Racing Post terms it a “pipeline of success flowing between Chantilly and Clossuton.”.

But if you weigh up the recent Cheltenham Festival race results, you’d have to say that Al Boum Photo tops the lot of Mullins’ French-bred superstars. A two-time winner of the Gold Cup, and the hot-favourite for his third in just under two weeks’ time, Al Boum Photo could even eclipse Quevega as Mullins’ best French discovery.

However, Al Boum Photo is a curious horse. He is superb, of course – you can’t win two Gold Cups without being special. But he perhaps does not get the respect afforded to others who join him on the list as multiple Gold Cup winners. For instance, even though he might go one better than Kauto Star this year, there are few who rate Al Boum Photo ahead of Paul Nicholls’ beloved two-time Gold Cup winner.

Al Boum Photo is lightly raced

So why the low-key profile? Perhaps it’s down to how lightly-raced Al Boum Photo has been over the last few years. Kauto Star, for instance, was also a five-time King George VI Chase winner, whereas Al Boum Photo has never appeared in the race. In fact, you rarely see Al Boum Photo at all. He has run just four races since winning his first Gold Cup in 2019, including the 2020 renewal.

Mullins tends to take him out for the Savills Chase each January, a Grade 3 in Tramore that acts as little more than a workout for Al Boum Photo. The trainer then puts him away until Cheltenham, where he is fresh for his tilt at the big one.

Townend rode horse to first Gold Cup success

And that probably gets to the heart of Al Boum Photo and his reputation. His career was fine before the Gold Cup win in 2019. He had appeared at Cheltenham before, falling in the RSA Novices’ Chase in 2018 with Ruby Walsh in the saddle. Walsh, DJ Mullins and Paul Townend all rode him throughout 2017 and 2018, picking up a couple of Grade 1s in Ireland. But the constant changing of jockey suggested that he wasn’t the pick of Mullins’ stable at that time.

While the 2019 Gold Cup win under Townend wasn’t a shock – the horse had an SP of 12/1 – it was still a mild surprise. Al Boum Photo hasn’t looked back since. But he is perhaps beneficiary of Mullins’ nous as much as his own talent. You get the sense that Mullins has promised his owners that he will deliver Gold Cups, and little else manners. He is playing the percentage game.

Al Boum Photo’s reputation will perhaps not be helped by the fact that there is a lot of question marks over the field at this year’s Gold Cup. Many of the established horses, like Santini and Lostintranslation, have been in a terrible run of form. The likes of Royal Pagaille and A Plus Tard are untested at this level. So, if he wins, he’ll be a hat-trick hero, a history-maker. But the sense is that he won’t be venerated alongside the likes of Arkle, Best Mate and Kauto Star.