The favourite has won five of his six starts over fences for Willie Mullins
I backed Willie Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs in the Turners Novice Chase last year at the short odds of 5/6 – and as he stormed clear in the final stages, I was sure the money was in the bag.
So, too, were the in-running punters on Betfair, which pushed his price down to the minimum 1/100. But this is National Hunt racing, where horses can and do fall – and you can never count your cash until they’ve crossed the line.
As we all know, a tumble handed Bob Olinger the race instead.
Were it not for that last fence, he’d be unbeaten in chases – and he’s been able to bounce back since, winning three Grade Ones in Ireland.
That includes an eight-length win in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month, with stablemate and one of Friday’s rivals Stattler runner-up. A step up in trip for that race showed he has some staying power – and while he’ll have to go even further on Friday against a quality field, he looks the real deal.
At 7/4, I’m confident the bookies will return my losses from last year.
Paul Nicholls won the Gold Cup a number of times a few years back, so his entry Bravemansgame is interesting – and could be the biggest danger to the favourite.
With six wins from seven chases, the eight-year-old also looks outstanding – and Nicholls has kept him under wraps since his impressive King George win at Kempton. There are questions about whether he’ll get the Gold Cup trip, but he’s the danger horse around 6/1.
A Plus Tard was a fantastic winner of this race last year, so deserves plenty of respect – but the wheels came off Henry de Bromhead’s gelding at Haydock, where he was pulled up in the Betfair Chase.
He also trades at 6/1 at the time of writing, and connections have to take a chance, for sure, but it’s far from ideal to come to the Gold Cup like this – and his supporters are taking a big leap of faith.
It’s very interesting to see Noble Yeats entered in this, having won the Grand National – and while he’s got a lot to make up on form, it wouldn’t be a shock if he is placed.
Shark Hanlon’s Hewick deserves mentioning and would be a popular winner following his success in the American Grand National Hurdle, although odds of 25/1 are a fair reflection of his chances.
Brave Inca was one of my favourite horses, and I used to have a share of a leg in a horse trained by Colm Murphy, so it’s great to see the Wexford handler, who came out of retirement in 2019, back with a strong fancy in the Mares’ Chase (4.50) in the shape of Impervious.
Allegorie De Vassy will probably go off as favourite for Willie Mullins, but Impervious has shown a similar level of form, with three wins over fences, and should be able to edge it, priced in the region of 9/4.
In the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30), the jockey bookings suggest Lossiemouth is the best of the Willie Mullins runners – but I’m very keen on Blood Destiny, which was available at 7/4 yesterday with Patrick Mullins set to ride.
The one concern is that he raced a little greenly and didn’t jump too fluently last time out at Fairyhouse, but he got the job done and clocked a good time in the process, so should continue to improve.
Willie Mullins won this last year with Vauban and he’s got a strong hand again with Blood Destiny and Lossiemouth. Paul Townend has opted for Lossiemouth, which was beaten by Gala Marceau following interference last time, but Blood Destiny looks exciting, based on his Cork and Fairyhouse wins, and can give Patrick Mullins the victory at 7/4.
Sharjah has been a fantastic servant to Willie Mullins but is now ten, and could struggle with 12 stone. Emmet Mullins’ Filey Bay is respected but short at 5/1 – so, instead, a chance is taken each-way on 100/1 outsider Luttrell Lad, which had some success when trained by Philip Hobbs. His first race for Tom Lacey is overlooked as his jockey lost his irons.
With three wins from four hurdle races, Emmet Mullins’ Corbetts Cross is clearly very talented and will now run in the colours of JP McManus, who bought the gelding following his latest Grade Two success. He makes appeal at 100/30.
You could make a case for more than half the runners in this year’s Gold Cup, but Galopin Des Champs is a worthy favourite for Willie Mullins at 7/4. His record over fences is solid, with five wins from six and a fall, with four of those victories at Grade One level.
Vaucelet (5/2) has obvious claims and is sure to make his presence felt, but at 8/1, there’s a bit more value in Chris’s Dream. Henry de Bromhead’s charge hasn’t raced under rules in some time, but he has won two point-to-points recently.
It’s been a good few years since Colm Murphy had a winner at Cheltenham, but he has a great chance here with Impervious, which trades at 9/4 at the time of writing, in the third running of the Mares’ Chase. She’s won a couple of graded races and looks very smart.
Spanish Harlem and Imagine are a couple for the shortlist as the Festival comes to an end, but at 11/2, Cool Survivor gets the vote for Gordon Elliott under Sam Ewing. The gelding gets a rating of 140 for his handicap debut here, which seems fair considering he’s raced well in Graded company.
While most of the runners in the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (4.10) are usually in the age range of 9-11, we have had some older horses take part down through the years, mostly without success.
Since 1997, some 98 horses aged 12 or above have competed in this race with just one winner – Paul Nicholls’ Earthmover at 14/1, which was aged 13 when crossing the line in front in 2004.
At the other end of the scale, six horses aged six have taken part during that period, and one of them won – Kingscliff for Sally Alner in 2003 at 11/4.
We’ve one six-year-old this year, Emmet Mullins’ Its On The Line, which is 16/1 in the early betting, while seven entries are aged 12 or above, the shortest of which is Harry Derham’s Bob And Co (12/1).