Al Boum Photo will face a maximum of 12 rivals as he shoots for a third successive victory in Friday’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Willie Mullins’ runner will join a select band of three-times winners if he can triumph again in the Festival showpiece, becoming the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to complete the feat.
The nine-year-old has won his only start so far this term and could be joined by fellow Mullins runners Kemboy and Melon, although the latter is still in the Ryanair.
He faces another previous winner in 2018 hero Native River, who is one of two for Colin Tizzard along with last year’s third Lostintranslation.
Santini was beaten just a neck by Al Boum Photo in 2020 and he is set to be one of two for Nicky Henderson, along with last year’s last-gasp RSA winner Champ, who made a satisfactory return when second in the Game Spirit last month.
Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost are set to team up with Frodon, winner of the 2019 Ryanair Chase and successful over three miles in the King George VI Chase when last seen while Royal Pagaille stands his ground for Venetia Williams, although he also remains in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase and the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
Williams also has Aso in the mix, with Tom George’s Black Op completing the home team.
In addition to Mullins’ trio, Henry de Bromhead has two Irish-trained contenders in A Plus Tard and Minella Indo.
A Plus Tard impressed when beating Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Christmas, while Minella Indo was well beaten by that Mullins runner when last seen in the Irish Gold Cup.
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