This year’s Cheltenham Festival will mark 12 years since Paul Nicholls raced a winner in the Gold Cup, and there’s no doubt that the trainer will be desperate to break his drought and seal a top-spot finish in the Festival’s showpiece race.
It was Kauto Star who last won the Gold Cup for Nicholls back in 2009, which brought to an end a three-year run of success for the Englishman in the race. The previous year, Denman had won it, and the year before that, Kauto Star earned his first success. Add to that a victory for See More Business in 1999, and Nicholls boasts four Gold Cup winners across his career as a trainer.
But the long spell without success in the race will no doubt irk Nicholls, and so he’ll be heading to the 2020 Cheltenham Festival hoping that one of his horses will be able to upset Al Boum Photo, who is the favourite in the Cheltenham Gold Cup odds to make it three in a row. Many will feel that the pressure is on Al Boum Photo, trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend, and that could open the door for one of Nicholls’ shots to claim the top prize.
Let’s have a look at Nicholls’ two chances of success in the Gold Cup this year, and analyse whether they have what it takes to spring a surprise.
It’s clear that if Nicholls is to earn Gold Cup glory at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, Frodon is likely to be the horse to deliver it. Having won the King George VI Chase in sensational fashion on Boxing Day, it’s clear that the nine-year-old has the quality to upset the apple cart at Cheltenham and earn victory in the Gold Cup.
Of course, it’s one thing having the potential, it’s another going out and actually doing it. In jockey Bryony Frost, Nicholls has someone who he knows is the best person for the job as far as Frodon is concerned. Frost is as loyal as they come, and enjoys a special bond with each of her horses, but it’s clear that Frodon is one horse particularly close to her heart.
“I cannot stress how much this horse means to me – he is my life. You dream as a little girl to ride a horse like this,” Frost said after winning the King George. The pair will have plenty of supporters come March 19th, and at odds of 12/1 Nicholls will have confidence that Frodon and Frost can help land him that all-important Gold Cup triumph.
Some way further down the betting lies Real Steel, whose odds of around 66/1 reflect the struggles the horse has had in recent times. Nonetheless, Nicholls has entered the gelding for the Gold Cup in the hopes that he could spring a surprise. If you look at last year’s Cheltenham races results, you’ll see that Real Steel finished in sixth place, which was hugely respectable for a horse placed at odds of 50/1 ahead of the race.
While the last couple of outings have not been great, Real Steel has a few decent wins to his name, and there’s definitely a chance he could cause a stir in the Gold Cup this year should the stars align. That said, it would take something like a miracle for him to win it, and it’s fair to say that Nicholls’ hopes will be mainly pinned on Frodon for the Cheltenham showpiece.