In short, at the time of writing, Minella Indo is a top-priced 10/1 second favourite for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup ante post, behind defending champion Al Boum Photo, who heads the market at 4/1. Trained by Henry De Bromhead in Co. Waterford, Minella Indo was the surprise 50/1 winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and looked all over the winner of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the 2020 Festival, only to be overhauled by Champ in the closing stages.
Minella Indo returned to action with two easy wins, at odds-on, in small-field Graded contests at Wexford and Navan in October and November 2020. Consequently, he was sent off 5/2 favourite for a highly competitive renewal of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, but made a msitake and fell just before halfway. De Bromhead described his exit as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘very frustrating’, but Minella Indo reportedly suffered no ill effects and remains on course for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Savills Chase produced an unsatisfactory result insofar as second favourite Delta Work also unseated his rider shortly after halfway, but the fact that stable jockey Rachael Blackmore chose to ride Minella Indo rather than eventual winner A Plus Tard – now only 12/1 for the Gold Cup – is encouraging. Minella Indo has yet to win beyond an extended 3 miles, but an extra quarter-of-a-mile or so in the Gold Cup should hold no terrors for him, although it is worth noting that, so far, he has shown his best form with significant cut in the ground.
Now a nine-year-old, Melon has the dubious distinction of finishing second on all four visits to the Cheltenham Festival, including when beaten a neck by Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle in 2018 and a nose by Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. The Medicean gelding can be considered a 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup contender insofar as he holds an entry in the ‘Blue Riband’ event, but the fact remains that he has yet to win beyond 2 miles 1 furlong, over hurdles or fences, so his stamina is questionable. That said, his close third in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on his first attempt at 3 miles over fences provides some hope for the 3 miles 2½ furlongs of the Gold Cup, although he is available at a dismissive 33/1 ante post. By contrast, he is a top-priced 12/1 for the Ryanair Chase, over 2 miles 5 furlongs, which may be his preferred option at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, according to Patrick Mullins, who rode Melon at Cheltenham and Leopardstown, he makes ‘an awful lot of ground in the air’, a fact that may enter calculations with regard to the 2021 Grand National in due course. At the time of writing, the bookmakers are equally dismissive of his chances at National, again offering 33/1 ante post, but it can be be argued that he wouldn’t be the first classy two-and-a-half mile steeplechaser to win the Aintree marathon. Of course, he still has his stamina to prove over 3 miles 2½ furlongs, never mind 4 miles 2½ furlongs, but it will be interesting to see how his season progresses.
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.