The lightly-raced horse, trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend, won the 2019 and 2020 Prestbury Park renewals without receiving widespread acclaim from the racing fraternity.
Al Boum Photo has only raced once since last year’s Festival, winning a modest race at Tramore on New Year’s Day, and has been campaigned even more conservatively than Best Mate who dominated the blue riband race from 2002-04 for trainer Henrietta Knight and the late Terry Biddlecombe.
It saw Jim Culloty’s mount become the first chaser to win three successive renewals of the blue riband race since Arkle in 1966.
“Put it this way, it’s a great prize to achieve, three on the trot, there aren’t many in the history books that have done it,” reflected Lewis, as 13 horses were declared for Friday’s showpiece.
“The guy who owns Al Boum Photo (Joe Donnelly) will be contemplating now what will happen should he win and if he does, then our record (most recent three-time winner) will be gone – but that’s what records are for, they are there to be beaten.
“If he does win a third I’ll be delighted for him, they will have a great day and they’ll remember it forever. Nothing can take away the feeling you get when you win three Gold Cups. It’s an enormous achievement for the horse and the trainer – and of course the lucky owner.”
Knight and Lewis came in for some criticism for the fact Best Mate only ran twice before two of those wins.
“I think in many ways the way Best Mate was trained did change the pattern of how a horse was trained for the big event. We got lots of criticism for it, but they weren’t criticising when we picked up that third Gold Cup,” explained the lucky owner.
“Things have changed a lot over the years, training skills have changed as well. The good thing about this one coming up is there are two or three that can win it whereas when we were going for our third everybody – apart from me – expected Best Mate to win.
“The Gold Cup really is the pinnacle, it’s a wonderful achievement to win one so I really do wish them the best of luck.”
Before his first Gold Cup, Best Mate had finished second in the King George to Florida Pearl, trained by none other than Willie Mullins, who is responsible for Al Boum Photo.
“Best Mate was 7-1 in his first Gold Cup. He’d run a good race in the King George and there was a bit of talk about him, but not much pressure. Winning that first one was a wonderful experience, we were overjoyed and had a great experience,” added Lewis.
“I think we enjoyed that one the most, there was no pressure and our hopes hadn’t been realised then. He won his first in good style, but his second was never in doubt and he won by 10 lengths, it was a great performance.
“The third one, of course, was full of incident. We got blocked in and I thought ‘that’s the end of that’, but then suddenly Jim (Culloty) switched him and he took the second-last like a gazelle and everything changed in three or four strides. He went into it a length down and landed a length up.
“I certainly wish them (Al Boum Photo) well, I know exactly what they are going through and they will need everything to go well.”
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