Robbie Power has a dream opportunity to win the blue riband of jumps racing the Cheltenham Gold Cup for a second time when he rides defending champion Minella Indo.
Power — who won the 2017 Gold Cup on Sizing John — has the ride due to Rachael Blackmore opting for A Plus Tard, who she also rode last year when he was beaten by his Henry de Bromhead-trained stablemate.
They will face nine other opponents on Friday including the 2019 and 2020 champion Al Boum Photo bidding to becomes the first horse to regain his title since Kauto Star added the 2009 crown to the one he won in 2007.
Power got the call-up due to last year’s winning jockey Jack Kennedy having been told by his main employer Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud they would be running Delta Work in the race.
Instead he ran in Wednesday’s Cross Country Chase which Kennedy won as some consolation — though at the expense of being jeered for beating his stablemate and crowd favourite Tiger Roll on his farewell to racing.
De Bromhead believes there is very little to choose between his two runners and humble as always says it was his fault for the shocking run by Minella Indo in the mid season ‘Gold Cup’ the King George VI Chase.
He decided Minella Indo should contest the pace with the bold front runner Frodon but it resulted in costing both dearly with the Gold Cup winner ending up being pulled up.
“No I cannot separate either of the two,” he told AFP last Friday.
“It was my fault with Minella Indo in the King George I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
“But I was delighted with him in the Irish Gold Cup in February he ran a cracker that day (he was second).
“That is a similar prep to last year.”
The heavy rain on Wednesday will also have boosted his hopes.
“He is a very tough dour stayer who comes alive at Cheltenham.
“A Plus Tard has probably got a bit more pace than Indo.
“He is a high class horse who stays as well.”
– ‘Very open Gold Cup’ –
Willie Mullins ended up winning the King George with the at the time lightly regarded Tornado Flyer.
He takes his chance on Friday as well as Asterion Forlonge, who fell when threatening to come and win the King George.
However, it is Al Boum Photo — who ended Mullins’s search for a win in the Gold Cup — that has been chosen by first choice jockey Paul Townend.
Mullins was none too confident a month ago but he was more encouraged when Al Boum Photo did a piece of race course work at the beginning of March.
“I was much, much happier with Al Boum Photo (who wore cheekpieces) there,” said Mullins.
“Paul was delighted with him. Hopefully, he will have put that bit of bad work behind himself now.”
Two of the home runners that could upset the party are Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House and Venetia Williams’s Royal Pagaille.
Henderson believes his runner — owned by Irishman JP McManus — has been overlooked by the experts.
“I love Chantry House,” the 71-year-old told RacingTV.
“He wasn’t earth shatteringly impressive in the Cotswold Chase but I do think he’s in very good form and that he has a very realistic shot at it.
“I think it is a very open Gold Cup.”
Williams and Royal Pagaille’s jockey Charlie Deutsch scored an impressive success on Wednesday and their runner loves soft ground.
His flamboyant owner American Rich Ricci has enjoyed a lot of success with Mullins but he is sweet on Royal Pagaille turning the tables on the Irish runners.
“If the ground comes up soft at Cheltenham we have to go there for the Gold Cup, but he’s a fantastic horse,” he said back in January.