The simple answer is ‘yes’; at the time of writing, Champ is one of 41 horses remaining in the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup at the latest declaration stage. Indeed, despite his relative inexperience over fences, the King’s Theatre gelding is currently 10/1 joint-second favourite for the Gold Cup, alongside Minella Indo, whom he collared close home when winning the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020.
A dual Grade One winner over hurdles, Champ won his first two starts over the larger obstacles and, although falling in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in January, 2020, regained the winning thread on his return to Prestbury Park two months later. Now a nine-year-old, Champ has not been seen in public since, with a wind operation in the autumn of 2020 delaying his return to competitive action.
Originally, the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas was mooted as a possible starting point for the 2020/21 season, but trainer Nicky Henderson decided that the Grade Two Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January – which he won with subsequent Gold Cup runner-up Santini in 2020 – would present a less arduous task for Champ after his lengthy absence. Henderson has described Champ as ‘very, very good’ and, while he admits that there is room for improvement in his jumping, two Grade One wins over an extended three miles on soft going suggest that the Gold Cup distance is well within his compass and he remains an exciting prospect.
At the time of writing, Kemboy is, once again, among the entries for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he is a top-priced 25/1 ante post. Now a nine-year-old, the Voix Du Nord gelding has been a regular visitor to the Cheltenham Festival in recent seasons, finishing fifth in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2017 and fourth in the JLT Novices’ Chase in 2018, before contesting the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2019 and 2020.
Indeed, on his first attempt in the ‘Blue Riband’ event, Kemboy was sent off at shorter odds than his stable companion, and eventual winner, Al Boum Photo, but his effort was disastrously short-lived. On the run to the first fence, he was tightened for room, took a false step on landing and unseated jockey David Mullins. He gained some compensation for that early exit when winning the Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree and the Punchestown Gold Cup on his next two starts, but suffered two further defeats, at the hands of Delta Work, in the Savills Gold Cup and the Irish Gold Cup, both at Leopardstown, on his return to action in 2019/20.
On his second attempt in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Kemboy was sent off at 8/1, as he had been the previous year, but his jumping lacking fluency on occasions and he was relegated to last of the twelve runners as the field approached the fourth-last fence. Ridden at that point, he made some headway in the closing stages, staying on to finish seventh, beaten 12 lengths, without ever looking likely to trouble the principals.
Bryony Frost has made no secret of her affection for Frodon and, not for the first time, the pair exceeded expectations when making all the running to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Paul Nicholls’ eight-year-old belied odds of 20/1 on that occasion, jumping well at the head of affairs and coming home 2¼ lengths ahead of Waiting Patiently, with defending champion Clan Des Obeaux 6 lengths further back in third place.
Frost, already the first woman to ride a Grade One winner at the Cheltenham Festival, wrote her name into the record books again by becoming the first female jockey to win the King George VI Chase and the most successful female National Hunt jockey in history, with 175 winners. Frodon, too, booked his place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he is currently 16/1 sixth favourite.
Of course, 3 miles 2½ furlongs around Cheltenham is a much sterner test of stamina and jumping ability than 3 miles around Kempton, but Frodon has an admirable record on the New Course at Prestbury Park, having won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, Cotswold Chase and Ryanair Chase in recent seasons. He has won at distances up to 3 miles 1½ furlongs on going ranging from good to heavy so, now a dual Grade One winner, he needs to be taken seriously on his first attempt in the ‘Blue Riband’ event.
Whether Delta Work can win the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup remains to be seen, but despite finished fifth, beaten just 6¼ lengths, behind Al Boum Photo in the 2020 renewal, the eight-year-old is currently quoted at 33/1, in places, to find the necessary improvement. In 2020, Delta Work failed to establish a jumping rhythm and, although he made just one notable mistake, was rarely, if ever, as fluent at his obstacles as the first four home. Nevertheless, trainer Gordon Elliott seem satisfied enough with his performance, under the circumstances, and may be more concerned by the jumping problems that resurfaced on his most recent start, in the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown, over Christmas.
Not for the first time in his career, Delta Work failed to sparkle on his seasonal reappearance, in the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal, in late October, but was nonetheless sent off second favourite for the Savills Chase, having narrowly won the same race in a driving finish in 2019. However, having been held up at the rear of the field, he made a mistake and parted company with jockey Sean Flanagan at the ninth fence. Clearly, his jumping still has room for improvement but, granted that he was sent off 5/1 joint second-favourite for the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup, his current odds do appear rather dismissive, even allowing for his recent reverses. According to Elliott, Delta Work will have just one more run before the Cheltenham Festival, with the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown and the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles, among others, mooted as possible engagements.