Kemboy could cap another big day out for Willie Mullins at Punchestown
Decision to supplement Clan Des Obeaux into Ladbrokes Gold Cup is telling
Ruby Walsh on Kemboy comes home to win ahead of Paul Townend and Al Boum Photo in the 2019 running of the Punchestown Gold Cup. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
It is two years since Kemboy supplied Ruby Walsh with a perfect Punchestown ‘send off’ and the Willie Mullins-trained star will try to defend Ladbrokes Gold Cup title on Wednesday.
A lot has happened since, including the cancellation of the 2020 festival, but what hasn’t changed much is an apparent under appreciation of Kemboy’s top-class abilities by some fans.
Maybe some of that is due to how he has never fired at Cheltenham, including a third underwhelming tilt at the Gold Cup last month. On his initial attempt he didn’t even get beyond the first fence.
However, given the right circumstances Kemboy’s four previous Grade One victories indicate a force capable of completing a nap-hand in the top flight.
That famous 2019 success under Walsh summed up what some of those ideal conditions are, including quick going and preferably getting the chance to dominate from the front.
On that occasion it memorably resulted in him proving too good for his former dual-Gold Cup winning stable companion Al Boum Photo.
In February, Kemboy dominated throughout in an Irish Gold Cup to the extent that the current ‘Blue Riband’ holder, Minella Indo, was out of the frame.
In 2019 around Aintree Clan Des Obeaux couldn’t land a glove on him and David Mullins’s initiative in going to the front in Leopardstown’s 2018 Christmas feature also prompted a spectacular success.
That’s form that would have made Kemboy a major player in the €250,000 day two festival highlight anyway, even before Minella Indo’s unfortunate defection.
But Al Boum Photo and Clan Des Obeaux are familiar rivals and unlikely to spring any tactical surprises on Danny Mullins.
Al Boum failed in his bid for a Gold Cup hat-trick at Cheltenham although it can be argued his performance in third was as substantive in form terms as his previous wins.
Not surprisingly Paul Townend sticks with him around a course and distance where he suffered the indignity of that infamous run-out in 2018.
Clan Des Obeaux’s own aversion to Cheltenham meant he skipped last month’s festival and was rewarded with an Aintree romp under Harry Cobden.
His injury means Sam Twiston-Davies steps in for the mount on the dual-King George hero who has been supplemented by an ownership team including the former Manchester Utd boss Alex Ferguson.
That decision looks significant considering British champion trainer Paul Nicholls knows precisely what’s required to win this race at this time of year, having scored back-to-back with Neptune Collonges (2007-8).
Clan Des Obeaux is joined by Joseph O’Brien’s Grade One Aintree entry winner Fakir d’Oudairies against a Mullins quartet also including Easy Game and Melon.
What the latter does will be interesting for Kemboy followers should he be allowed revert to more forceful tactics.
Melon appeared to resent being restrained in the Irish Gold Cup but the quandary is his stamina at an extended three miles.
Nevertheless Kemboy looks to have much of his ideal scenario in play and could emulate Neptune Collonges as a back-to-back winner.
In 2018 Mullins saddled all three Grade One winners on the second day of the festival and is likely to fancy his chances of a similar feat now.
He looks to dominate the ITM Champion Bumper with the Cheltenham 1-2 Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit.
Under a canny frontrunning ride from Rachael Blackmore Sir Gerhard had half a length in hand of his rival last month and will try to become the fourth horse to complete the big festival bumper double.
The trainer is attempting to win Wednesday’s race for a 10th time in all and his son Patrick has opted for Sir Gerhard over the horse he rode to a spectacular Dublin Racing Festival success in February.
It’s hard to forget how Kilcruit was backed as if defeat was out of the question at Cheltenham and how he was closing all the way to the line.
Derek O’Connor takes the reins this time and can be expected to have learned plenty from re-runs of that Cheltenham race.
Grangee was sixth to Sir Gerhard and is the Mullins hope for the concluding Grade Three mares’ bumper where Choice Of Words looks an interesting alternative.