The Cheltenham Gold Cup 2021: Pinpointing Where the Value Lies

With around eight weeks to go until the Cheltenham Gold Cup (19th March), it’s business time for punters who want to wring the last drop of value out of their bets.

A lot can happen over the coming weeks, and there is always a chance that your selection is used elsewhere, but we get a better idea of how the race will shape up with each passing day. For a start, we know for a fact that – barring injury – at least seven of the last 10 home in the 2020 Gold Cup are almost guaranteed to have another crack in 2021.

That list of definite runners includes Al Boum Photo, of course. The winner of the last two Gold Cups has a date with history, and he is well-fancied as the 3/1 favourite to become the first three-time winner since the brilliant Best Mate (2002, 2003, 2004). The Gold Cup is on the last day of the 2021 Festival (16th-19th March). And while bettors will be pouring over tips and predictions for all seven races on the final day of Cheltenham, the Gold Cup is the big one that will draw most of the attention and, crucially, money.

While Al Boum Photo is a fine horse, can we argue that the 3/1 on offer from bookies isn’t exactly going to tempt anyone bar the most serious punters? Every other horse in the race is priced at least double those odds, and that includes last year’s runner-up, Santini (8/1), who only lost to Al Boum Photo by a neck.

Al Boum Photo is lightly raced 

Before musing as to whether there is value in some of the challengers, let’s make the case for Al Boum Photo. Willie Mullins’ superstar is still just nine-years-old, making him the perfect age for another tilt (eight or nine is the optimum age for a modern Gold Cup winner).

Crucially, he is also very lightly raced, appearing just four times since winning his first Gold Cup in March 2019. In Mullins, Al Boum Photo has a trainer who knows exactly what he is doing, and jockey Paul Townend will guide the horse safely around the course even if Al Boum Photo isn’t regarded as a top-class jumper.

Above all, though, is the argument that every other top contender (and by contender, we mean those listed close to the top of the betting odds) has stuttered in their form. Indeed, it was noted in early January 2021 that of the horses who finished in the top seven places of last year’s Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo was the only one to record a win. That will change by the time the Gold Cup comes around, but it remains a remarkable statistic.

So, what can we say against Al Boum Photo? Well, as mentioned, his price of 3/1 looks quite low. It’s not just the fact that it’s the Gold Cup (he had a 10/3 favourite starting price of last year), it’s where we are in the calendar. 3/1 in the ante-post markets eight weeks before the race smacks of the bookmakers looking for protection from big bets rather than a conviction that Al Boum Photo will win.

Questions still remain over Mullins’ two-time champion

If you watch Al Boum Photo’s first (and only) appearance since winning last year’s Gold Cup, he did not have the air of a triple Gold Cup winner. He won easily against a weak field, but bookies seemed to react to the fact he got through it safely rather than be impressed by the performance.

As for the contenders, there has been much talk over what Nicky Henderson will do with Santini. On paper, he is a Gold Cup winner, but he has problems with concentration. Henderson is said to be mulling over using blinkers. Minella Indo is the second-favourite (17/2). Ruby Walsh claimed to have belief in the horse when speaking on a podcast recently, and Minella Indo definitely has the stamina to hold on.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup 2021: Pinpointing Where the Value Lies

But further down the markets is where the value might lie, especially when looking at each-way bets. The 2018 winner, Native River, is available at 40/1. While age is against him (no 11-year-old has won in decades), he certainly has the nous to finish in the top three or four. Another option is Royal Pagaille, who comes in at 66/1. He might be used elsewhere at Cheltenham, but he could be an option if your bookie gives you money back for an ante-post non-runner.

The picture will become a little clearer in the coming weeks as the list of entries (43 declared in early January) gets whittled down. But as it stands, backing Al Boum Photo at 3/1 for a race he won by a neck last year (just two lengths separated the first four home) seems to be something reserved for brave punters alone. Does “brave” necessarily equate to being foolish? We will only be able to tell with hindsight.

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