Willie Mullins has confirmed his intention to get Al Boum Photo back on the track earlier this season as he plots the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero’s route back to the Festival in March.
Al Boum Photo finally provided the famous meeting’s most successful trainer with his first victory in the blue riband in 2019, and then successfully defended his crown 12 months later.
On both occasions he warmed up for his trip to Prestbury Park with a solitary previous appearance in a light campaign – winning on New Year’s Day at Tramore – so it was no surprise Mullins followed the same path again last season.
However, Al Boum Photo had to make do with an honourable third behind Minella Indo and A Plus Tard in his bid for a Gold Cup hat-trick – and Mullins is planning a busier schedule this time for the nine-year-old.
He said: “I definitely think we’ll take a different route.
“Last year we got caught a little bit on the hop because of Covid and the horses having long breaks.
“I think it will benefit him now, at his age and everything, to have more runs and be more battle-hardened for the spring time.”
Al Boum Photo has already been entered for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, while the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase on December 5 has been mooted as a potential target.
“I’ll try and get him out as soon as I can, definitely by Christmas,” Mullins added.
“I’ll probably go to Tramore, but I’ll get a run or two into him before that, I think.”
Al Boum Photo is just one of an array of stars the champion trainer is preparing for battle.
Mullins is still a few weeks away from unleashing his big guns, but is pleased with how his string is progressing on the Closutton gallops.
He said: “This is actually the best time of year here – because I haven’t made bits of anything yet! All the horses look great, and they’re starting to do faster work.
“I’m delighted with what I’ve seen the last few mornings. The horses that were a bit sticky over their first few bits of work are clearing out and getting the hang of being on the gallop again.
“It’s just coming along lovely, I think.”
Other established names Mullins will go to war with this term include the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi, the jaw-dropping Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Energumene, who will step into open company after an unbeaten novice season over fences.
Of the latter, the trainer said: “He seems fine. He just did a canter this morning, because he actually had a stone bruise the other day, and he’ll probably work on Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to him coming out and building on what he showed us last year.”
A formidable bunch of prospective novice chasers include 24-length Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It, and the long-absent Ferny Hollow.
The six-year-old got the better of Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper – and while he has been off the track since beating the top-class Bob Olinger on his sole start over hurdles at Gowran Park 12 months ago, Mullins reports him to be in rude health.
He said: “Ferny Hollow is working out of his skin. He worked this morning and is in great form.
“He looks so strong, and I’m very happy with him. When he’s ready, we’ll find a race for him.
“He pulled muscles or ligaments or something in his hind end the day he took on Bob Olinger in Gowran, and it’s just taken all this time to come right.
“There doesn’t seem to be any bother with him now. He’s jumping well and galloping well.”
Mullins also houses the first two from last season’s Champion Bumper in Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit, who will both be expected to take high rank in the novice hurdling division.
“Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard both worked this morning, and I’m very happy with them,” he said.
“We know they jump well, because they’ve been schooled plenty.
“I’m not worried in the jumping stakes with either of them, and they’re in great form.”