Will there be another Williams’ upset at a major horse race?

Trainer Venetia Williams is no stranger to surprise results, having trained the 100/1 winner of the 2009 Grand National in Mon Mome. Williams will need a touch of that magic to enjoy her week at Cheltenham Festival, despite the apparent quality of some horses from her yard. The festival is expected to be dominated by horses from Irish yards as trainers from the Emerald Isle seek to compound their advantage over their British-based rivals after winning 23 of the 28 races in 2021.

There is no race that epitomises this theory better than the Cheltenham Gold Cup, where the top contenders in the Cheltenham betting tips are A Plus Tard, Galvin, Minella Indo and Al Boum Photo, who all come from Irish yards. Williams will put one of the best from the British-based yards forward in the form of Royal Pagaille, and although he will be an outsider for the crown, the Gold Cup has had a propensity not to favour the leading contenders in the past. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Royal Pagaille could challenge for the crown, and with the history of his trainer and his form over the course of the National Hunt campaign, the eight-year-old has a chance.

He competed in the Gold Cup last season, but was off the pace of Minella Indo, finishing in sixth, as Henry de Bromhead’s charge clinched the title. It was a lesson that the race perhaps came too soon for Royal Pagaille to compete with the best, and he would receive another timely reminder of the quality of the leading charges in his first race of the 2021/22 season. Williams’ horse faced off against A Plus Tard in the Lancashire Chase, and although he finished second in the contest, he was 22 lengths behind the French thoroughbred.

Royal Pagaille bounced back to form with his first win of the campaign at Haydock Park in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase. He had just enough pace down the stretch to beat out Sam Brown by half-a-length to get back into the winners’ circle. However, he suffered a setback in his last outing at the Denman Chase, where he faced off against Clan Des Obeaux. It was not the race favourite that beat out Williams’ charge down the stretch, but Eldorado Allen, who sped away from Royal Pagaille down the stretch to secure a notable victory at Newbury Racecourse.

The elite charges in the field will be pushing the pace from the off, but will also be strong down the stretch. Therefore, there will be pressure on Charlie Deutch in the saddle to ensure Royal Pagaille matches the speed of her rivals across all three miles of the event. Williams will have prepared her charge for the challenge and her success in the past at causing upsets stands the French thoroughbred in good stead. A Plus Tard has already laid down a marker of what he can do against Royal Pagaille, so it will require the performance of a lifetime to emulate Mon Mome to win the Gold Cup for Williams.

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