A Plus Tard is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner for trainer Henry de Bromhead, but will we see him back in the winner's enclosure at Prestbury Park?
A disappointing run of performances in Winter 2022 and Spring 2023, has left questions marks hanging over the nine-year-old.
|What||Cheltenham Gold Cup|
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||3.30, Friday 15th March, 2024|
|How to watch||bet365 Sports Live Streaming, ITV Racing & Racing TV|
|Odds||Galopin Des Champs , Gerri Colombe 7/1, Shishkin 10/1, Bravemansgame 12/1, Constitution Hill 16/1|
Going back to Denman in 2008, there have been a string of Gold Cup winners who have delivered big performances to win the Blue Riband and, quite simply, never been as brilliant again afterwards.
Imperial Commander, Bobs Worth and Coneygree joined The Tank in failing to truly match those Cotswolds efforts post-Gold Cup, while Don Cossack won in 2016 and never raced again after that.
The Gold Cup is the summit of National Hunt racing, climbing so high takes a herculean effort for any horse and only the very rarest and most talented can muster the effort to get to the top and retain the will to do it all again.
A Plus Tard powered away from the then defending champ Minella Indo in March 2022, reversing 2021 placings with his -trained stablemate, as Rachael Blackmore gave him the perfect steer in the Gold Cup and they put 15 lengths between themselves and the pack.
The gelding made his fifth successive appearance at the Festival in 2023, but didn't get to complete the race and that has left many wondering what is next for A Plus Tard.
A Plus Tard joined the De Bromhead yard in October 2018 and claimed a win and two seconds in his first season with the Irish trainer.
Then in 2019, he delivered a scarcely believable effort to win the Listed Novices' Handicap Chase by a whopping 16 lengths, announcing himself on the big stage in doing so.
A year later, he was third behind Min in the Ryanair Chase and he followed that with a battling second to Minella Indo in the Gold Cup itself, behind closed doors in 2021.
In 2022, his time arrived to deliver that tour de force in his own Gold Cup glory moment – winning by an amazing 15 lengths.
Those two Cotswolds successes form part of a CV that includes seven wins and eight more placed efforts in just 15 starts over fences, since he joined De Bromhead from France - form figures that read 21213-213-212-121 when he landed his Gold Cup win.
Just remarkably consistent stuff for a horse who spent three seasons knocking around in Grade 1 company before ultimately getting that crowning moment.
In preparing for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival as he had in 2021, he headed for Haydock's Betfair Chase in November and was 1/2fav to retain that crown.
He jumped right, never quite seemed himself under Blackmore and quickly sent out the distress signals when the pace was lifted, before being pulled up in a matter of strides.
Then came the news over Christmas that he was a raceday withdrawal from the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, as De Bromhead said: "It's frustrating, but he's banged his joint and we just don't want to risk him."
By mid-January the trainer was confirming that both A Plus Tard and Minella Indo would head for Cheltenham without prep runs. It was far from ideal preparation as although A Plus Tard – 50/1 to win the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup - has run well fresh in the past, his record still shows just one win from four when returning from a break of more than 100 days.
He was in midfield during the early stages of the 2023 showpiece before dropping back down the field prior to the 10th fence. He was then hampered by a faller at the 17th and was pulled up before three out.
Connections then decided to run the nine-year-old in another Grade 1 contest, this time the Bowl Chase on 13th April.
In his first run at the Merseyside track, Dr Bromhead's charge travelled towards the back and made good headway before three from home.
A Plus Tard though then weakened before the last and eventually finished 17-and-a-half lengths behind the winner, Shishkin – who is available at 10/1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.