A week on from his second consecutive Gold Cup, Chad Yeomans explores the reasons behind the muted celebrations for Willie Mullins' record-breaking horse.
Looking back on Al Boum Photo’s career, it becomes clear – yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing! – that this is a very good horse. And, on all known form, he’s probably even better than we give him credit for.
So, why hasn’t he been getting the plaudits that he rightly deserves? The answer is that there could be a few reasons.
As outlandish as it sounds, racing has plenty of die-hard habits. Fans get used to seeing certain trainers train horses for certain owners in the same silks.
There’s a reason you can buy mugs and scarves and all sorts of other merchandise in JP McManus’ famous green and gold stripes, or the maroon and white star of Gigginstown, or Rich and Susanna Ricci’s iconic pink and green spots. These colours are all synonymous with big wins in big races for big stables.
The black and yellow cheques for Joe Donnelly don’t quite carry the same weight – though that could soon change with the likes of Shishkin and Melon adding to Al Boum Photo’s achievements at Grade 1 level.
The more recognisable an owner, the quicker people are to acknowledge their achievements. It’s easier to dismiss victories for lesser-known names as a fleeting success.
One of the major attractions of National Hunt racing is that fans get to see their favourite horses in action over a number of years. They are campaigned until either racing is no longer of interest or something unplanned happens.
An average National Hunt horse can race around 30 times in front of the public, and that is how their affections are formed.
Look at Cue Card, for example, who averaged five outings per season, including three in the top chases before the new year arrived. Those opportunities to watch him at the biggest meetings – either in person or on television – are how he built a legion of followers.
Al Boum Photo, on the other hand, had one run at Tramore on New Year’s Day this season before going straight to Cheltenham.
Who knows why that is, and I’m sure his owner – who, ultimately, pays the bills and now has a couple of Gold Cup successes to their name – doesn’t mind at all.
However, when the general public only get to see one of the biggest names race a couple of times a season, it’s no surprise that he doesn’t boast a loyal fanbase.
After winning this year’s Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo had an official rating of 175.
In the last 10 years, that has only been bettered by Long Run (179) and Kauto Star (177) and matched by Don Cossack (175).
That puts him up there with some of the very best winners of the sport’s blue riband race and, with further improvement not out of the question, he could turn out to be the finest of the lot.
Fingers crossed Al Boum Photo, Santini and Lostintranslation can all come back to the form that they enjoyed this year, and here’s to hoping that Topofthegame – who beat Santini and Delta Work in the 2019 RSA – returns from the injury that ruled him out this season.
With those big names returning to the fray, and a strong set of novices – including Champ and Minella Indo – moving up into open company next year, 2021 could see a Gold Cup for the ages.
Al Boum Photo has been there and done it – twice – and, in life, there really isn’t much substitute for experience and form. And, if he were to complete the hat-trick, it’s fair to assume he’ll be remembered rather more fondly.