Willie Mullins believes Al Boum Photo has a "fantastic chance" of becoming the first horse since Best Mate to retain the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, writes Mark Boylan.
The Joe and Marie Donnelly-owned staying star is no bigger than 4-1 to repeat last year's impressive triumph and the champion trainer was delighted with the eight-year-old's Cheltenham Festival preparation, feeling a similarly quiet campaign to last season will see his top-notch chaser in a good light come March 13.
"It worked out fantastic last year, and when something works it makes sense to go back and do it again," said the Closutton handler of last year's schedule, which saw Al Boum Photo have one run before Cheltenham in the Savills New Year's Day Chase at Tramore.
"He's on target for where we were last year, and with age and experience, he should improve, but statistically I think Gold Cup winners find it very hard to go back and win, so that's against him.
"But he's going there in a good frame of mind and with normal improvement for his age and so on, he should have a fantastic chance."
Second-season chasers Santini and Delta Work are snapping at the title holder's heels but Mullins does not believe this year's Gold Cup is any more competitive than in 2019.
"I thought last year's Gold Cup was very tough and I don't think this race looks tougher," he said.
"I don't know if he is a better horse this year than he was last year, because I haven't pressed that many buttons with him, he isn't a horse that advertises himself at home."
He added: "We will take him for a racecourse school somewhere, wherever we can get him in. We've Naas and Fairyhouse coming up this weekend, I'd imagine Gowran would oblige us, so we'll find somewhere. It will just be a quiet day away rather than a big piece of work.
"I imagine Paul [Townend] will ride him [in the Gold Cup]. The final bits of work will probably dictate that. He has won at the track and won the race, so if I was Paul I'd find it very hard to get off him."
I don't know if he is a better horse this year than he was last year, because I haven't pressed that many buttons with him, he isn't a horse that advertises himself at home
- Willie Mullins