Willie Mullins and Paul Townend have a special talent on their hands and the horse can add his name to storied Cheltenham Festival history
It’s all about the Gold Cup on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival as Galopin Des Champs bids to back up the hype by etching his place in racing history.
Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old looks to have the world at his feet, but can he cement his place among the greats with blue-riband success?
1.30 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m179yds
THE opener throws up a rematch from the Dublin Racing Festival between Lossiemouth and Gala Marceau, with the latter getting the better of the duel on that occasion.
Lossiemouth suffered bad luck in running before getting going much too late, and Mullins has the top four in the betting, with Zenta – a French recruit that landed a Fairyhouse Grade Three, 20 days ago, on her first start for him – also in the mix.
The vibes have also been very positive about another stablemate Blood
Destiny after he put some decent rivals to the sword in a Fairyhouse event in January, so he must command the utmost respect.
Paul Townend has opted for Lossiemouth, with Patrick Mullins on Blood Destiny; the latter will have to give away 7lbs to his three market rivals, with the same winning connections as last year edging this Closutton derby through Lossiemouth.
Verdict: Lossiemouth can bounce back for the Mullins/Townend axis.
2.10 McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle 2m179yds
Mullins has had four of the last eight winners of this race – including two favourites in the past three years – and he has some outstanding chances once again, with Hunters Yarn, an unexposed novice, open to huge improvement.
The six-year-old has come home alone in his last two starts – including a Listed event at Navan – and Townend’s mount has a handy weight with another bold bid expected.
Mullins has also landed this prize with the top weight (Arctic Fire in 2017) and will try to do so again with Sharjah stepping back into handicap company for the first time since taking the 2018 Galway Hurdle.
Given that he was twice runner-up in the Champion Hurdle (2020 and ’21), the 10-year-old is certainly in the mix under regular rider Patrick Mullins, while his cousin Emmet holds leading claims through Filey Bay.
The improving seven-year-old was snapped up by JP McManus after routine wins at Doncaster and Wincanton, before producing an excellent effort when second in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last time out.
Dan Skelton’s Pembroke is also respected, given the trainer’s excellent record in this contest. However, Hunters Yarn can defy inexperience to follow in the hoof prints of last year’s winner State Man.
Verdict: Hunters Yarn can take this ultra-competitive affair.
2.50 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 2m7f213yds
McMANUS has been busy picking up emerging young talent from Emmet Mullins and Paul Byrne (owner), and purchased Corbetts Cross after a jaw-dropping display over 15 furlongs in the Grade Two Johnstown Novice Hurdle at Naas.
The six-year-old gave the impression that he could be anything, given that so much was against him, and he’s back just 19 days later. He could prove to be special but was all out to win that day, which may have left a mark.
There have been some surprises in this with 50/1, 33/1, 18/1 and 14/1 winners obliging in the past five years – and there are plenty to note at larger prices, with the Willie Mullins pair of Shanbally Kid and Seabank Bistro coming in under the radar like last year’s surprise winner, The Nice Guy.
The Paul Nolan-trained Sandor Clegane and Mullins’ first string Embassy Gardens are also respected, but everything points to the prospects of Three Card Brag.
Elliott’s six-year-old will revel in the soft ground, and looks tailor-made for this stamina test. Twice placed at graded level over shorter trips, this step up in trip will bring further improvement and Adrian Heskins’ mount can outlast his 19 rivals.
Verdict: Three Card Brag can prove best for Elliott.
3.30 Grade One Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup 3m2f70yds
FEW would have predicted that A Plus Tard could go off at around odds of 7/1 when bolting up in this race 12 months ago, but preparations have been anything but straightforward.
That 15-length success is the best form on offer, but Henry de Bromhead’s nine-year-old has had just one run this season and comes here under a cloud after the Betfair Chase.
A Christmas run was aborted also, so it will be a masterful training performance from the Waterford trainer if were he to work the oracle on the biggest occasion again.
There is much to like about Galopin Des Champs, with Mullins’ brilliant novice confirming his class in open company after commanding successes in the John Durkan before stepping up in the Irish Gold Cup.
Stout stayers like Aintree National hero Noble Yeats and stablemate Stattler will try to make this a dour test to examine the stamina of Galopin Des Champs, while Savills Chase winner Conflated represents a strong each-way play for Elliott.
King George hero Bravemansgame and last year’s third Protektorat are respected for the home team without being likely winners, while it would be foolish to discount the place claims of 2021 winner Minella Indo.
The fairy-tale winner would be Hewick for John ‘Shark’ Hanlon, but this looks at the mercy of the brilliant Galopin Des Champs and he can dispel any stamina doubts with a memorable display under Townend.
Verdict: Galopin Des Champs oozes class and can prevail under Townend.
4.10 St James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase 3m2f70yds
TWENTY-FOUR go to post in the amateur’s Gold Cup, with Billaway back for more after a heart-stopping success 12 months ago. Patrick Mullins is in the saddle again, but the 11-year-old isn’t in the same form as last year – and has something to find with Vaucelet, based on their Punchestown clash.
David Christie’s charge is a nine-time winner and looks braced for a career-best under Barry O’Neill, while the Chris Barber-trained Famous Clermont comes here on the back of successive wins in hunter chases.
That younger pair head the betting, but there may still be another sting in the tail from the veteran Chris’s Dream.
Along with The Storyteller (both rated 155), he is best based on ratings, and has shown plenty of life recently. De Bromhead’s 11-year-old ran in the 2020 Gold Cup and returned to winning ways on the point-to-point scene, so he can soar under Maxine O’Sullivan.
Verdict: The classy Chris’s Dream can bounce back to his best.
4.50 Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase 2m4f127yds
IT’S seven years since Colm Murphy had his last Festival winner, having also left the training ranks during that time, but he has high hopes in the shape of Impervious.
The seven-year-old has been brilliant over fences, making it three from three when scoring against the boys in a Grade Three at Punchestown in January, despite having conditions against her, and has been purchased by McManus since.
Her jumping is not in doubt as Brian Hayes chases Festival success, but you couldn’t say the same about Mullins’ Allegorie De Vassy after some sketchy leaps in her Grade Two success at Thurles last time out.
She may be the classiest act on show, but Townend’s mount cannot afford to throw in a blunder here, while the 3lbs penalty she carries, along with Impervious, gives their seven rivals plenty of hope.
Jeremys Flame dwarfs her rivals in terms of experience and is in the form of her life, but this race is up another few notches, while last year’s winner Elimay and Elliott’s Riviere D’etel deserve respect at bigger prices.
However, jumping tips the balance narrowly in favour of Impervious.
Verdict: Impervious can score for Murphy and Hayes.
5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m4f56yds
THERE hasn’t been a winning favourite in the last 12 years of this contest, but that may change here.
There was a glint in Mullins’ eye when describing the chances of Spanish Harlem, with the Closutton maestro keen to get the requisite four runs under his belt to qualify.
The five-year-old looks treated fairly off 135, and if he can brush up on his jumping, Michael O’Sullivan may be smiling again, with the Cork rider easily one of the best riders in this field, having scored twice on Tuesday.
Imagine has been another buzz-horse in recent weeks, and with good reason, given that Elliott’s charge has been runner-up at Listed and Grade Three level already this season.
Ben Harvey’s mount should be in the mix, while the Meath trainer also has Cool Survivor with the six-year-old, owned by Gigginstown House Stud, bringing Grade One form to the table with Sam Ewing in the plate.
Verdict: Spanish Harlem can be king in the Festival finale.