Having threatened to look like a simple rematch between last year’s top two, the Cheltenham Gold Cup market was thrown open over the Christmas season.
The early season bets were dominated by reigning champion Minella Indo and teammate of Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard yard, with the lack of obvious dangers coming forward from the fledgling company following the injury at Monkfish by Willie Mullins.
But, in the space of three days in late December, the picture changed significantly with Minella Indo failing to finish in King George VI Chase at Kempton and Galvin stripping A Plus Tard of her Savills Chase crown at Leopardstown.
Here’s a look at the main contenders in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and how they will perform in 2022 …
See you later (7/2 Sky Bet)
Last year’s runner-up jumped to the top of the market after an extraordinary reappearance in November, winning the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock by a whopping 22 lengths.
On paper it represented the strongest form of the season, but a closer look reveals that Royale Pagaille, in second place, finished with an injury, while Bristol De Mai was not up to the unusually dry ground.
However, hopes would have been high among Henry de Bromhead’s camp when they returned to Leopardstown to defend the Savills Chase title, only to be thwarted late by Gordon Elliott’s Galvin.
There is no great shame in that defeat and the A Plus Tard Festival module reads: 1st, 3rd, 2nd so it’s still a safe bet to win the main prize in March.
The most dramatic market mover in the Gold Cup camp, Galvin got into contention after that last wave under Davy Russell was enough to catch A Plus Tard on the line.
Many expected Galvin to hit the Grand National Route this season – he remains the 14/1 ante-post favorite for the Aintree flagship – after winning the three-mile-six-furlong grind that is the National Hunt Chase. at the Cheltenham Festival 2021.
After a victorious return to Grade Three in mid-October, Galvin first proved he can mix it with the best when chasing Frodon home in the Grade One Down Royal Champion Chase.
Elliott now has serious hope for the Gold Cup and has responded by confirming that Galvin will be wrapped in a cotton ball and head straight to the main event in March.
Minella Indo (8/1)
The defending champion was largely forgiven for his first start to the new season when he finished third behind Frodon and Galvin at Down Royal, but his latest effort has many now scratching their heads.
De Bromhead said her eight-year-old, who also won at the Festival in 2019 before finishing second in 2020, has returned from Kempton “shook”, having quickly weakened out of the game and eventually stopped at Rachael Blackmore.
It must have been a troubling sight for those who supported Minella Indo to repeat her heroic feats in the Gold Cup as De Bromhead and the team now have to regroup and reevaluate their options.
Photo of Al Boum (14/1)
Statisticians will say that 2019 and 2020 champion Al Boum Photo simply cannot win the 2022 Gold Cup.
For starters, Kauto Star is the only horse in the 97-year history of the race to have given up the title, before regaining it a year later. You also have to go back to Cool Dawn in 1998 for the latest 10-year winner.
The Willie Mullins star will be celebrating exactly that birthday when he returns to the track for the Savills New Year’s Day Chase in Tramore, a competition he has won three years in a row as the one and only stop on the road to Cheltenham.
This season’s performance, more than any other, will go a long way in telling fans how much life is left in Al Boum Photo’s legs.
Tornado Flyer (14/1)
Tornado Flyer, the newcomer to the block, really rocked things with a surprise 28/1 victory at King George for Willie Mullins.
Having been well beaten on his only previous start of over three miles in the 2020 Savills Chase, it’s easy to see why so many have overlooked the eight-year-old in Kempton.
A streak of nine runs without a win preceded his Grade One success, which came courtesy of a nice ride from Danny Mullins from the back of the court.
Similar stopping tactics have worked in past Gold Cups with the likes of Synchronized and Lord Windermere, but it would be a huge demand for Tornado Flyer to repeat the feat in Cheltenham.
Leading the British challenge in the Gold Cup looks set to be Dan Skelton’s Protektorat who preferred to break into the scene with an overwhelming success in the Many Clouds Chase in Aintree in December.
At just six years old and as a pursuer for the second season, he appears to have more room for improvement, but he would need just that to compete with the established talent on offer.
John Hales, who owns the horse in partnership with Sir Alex Ferguson, has long dreamed of Gold Cup glory and made no secret of their goal after the victory at Aintree.
Perhaps the greatest conundrum of all, Champ arguably has the ability to win a Gold Cup, as he demonstrated when he made a brilliant winning comeback in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
Nine-year-old Nicky Henderson, named after legendary driver AP McCoy, produced the most notable final flurry to beat Minella Indo and Allaho – both subsequent Festival winners – in the pursuit of 2020 RSA novices, but the things didn’t go according to plan at the end of the season.
A hasty and frankly bizarre preparation for last year’s Gold Cup was followed by a series of inadequate jumps in the race itself, which Henderson later attributed to back problems, leading to surgery.
After proving that his well-being, endurance and engine are all very intact, the question now for the champion is: where will it go in March? The Stayers Hurdle route may prove too tempting, but the links say “all options are open”.