Winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup is a dream that every owner hopes to realise as soon as they dip their toes into the world of racehorse ownership. Unfortunately, this is a race that eludes even the most successful owners, trainers, and jockeys. Even the all-conquering Willie Mullins had to wait until the 2019 Cheltenham Festival to taste his first success in the race courtesy of Al Boum Photo. With the Festival creeping ever closer, let's take a closer look at this year's contenders in what is shaping up to be a race to savour.
There is every chance that we could see a potential superstar on St. Patrick's Day in the shape of Galopin Des Champs, who heads the market on horse racing betting sites. The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old has taken to fences like a duck to water, and his novice chase debut at Leopardstown last year will live long in the memory. He should be arriving here a dual Cheltenham Festival winner after he was desperately unlucky to come down at the last in the 2022 Turners Novices’ Chase when having the race sewn up.
He is yet to tackle the extended 3m2f Gold Cup trip; however, he’s learned to settle a lot better in his races this year, which will give him every chance of lasting home. The way he hit the line in the Irish Gold Cup will also dispel any stamina doubts that some people may have had, for all that they didn’t go a strong gallop at Leopardstown. There is a strong likelihood that this horse proves a class apart, but there is enough depth in this year’s renewal to try and take him on.
Last year’s winner A Plus Tard is available at 8/1 with many betting sites, and if you told me he would be that price straight after his 15-length demolition job in last year’s race, I’d have said you were mad. However, everything that could have gone wrong, has gone wrong for A Plus Tard this season. We’ve only gotten to see him once when he was pulled up in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. His Gold Cup supporters would have been comforted by the excuse that he suffered from an allergic reaction that day, and they’d have been looking forward to redemption in the Savills Chase at Christmas.
Unfortunately, Christmas time wasn’t overly kind to A Plus Tard either. In a series of unfortunate events, he banged his joint en route to Leopardstown, meaning he had to miss his Christmas engagement. Connections then decided that they would go straight to Cheltenham instead of locking horns with Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival, which looks a far from ideal preparation to my eye. I’d have rather seen him get beaten by Galopin de Champs at the DRF, and arrive here with a run under his belt. Trainer Henry de Bromhead doesn’t seem to share my concerns and is confident he can have him primed for the day, and who am I to question him? If he arrives in the same form as last year, then his current price will look like a gift. However, it’s an enormous ‘if’.
Conflated carries the hopes of Gigginstown House Stud, who have opted to run here instead of the Ryanair - the race which they sponsor. I originally felt that he would be much better suited to the 2m4f Ryanair trip, and he was probably booked for second before coming down at the second last in the race last year. The resurrection of Shishkin probably killed any faint hope of them rerouting Conflated to the Ryanair, and I’m now confident that as it stands, he would win neither race. I have serious stamina doubts for the horse, and also think he may be a bit of a Leopardstown specialist.
Paul Nicholls has referred to his King George winner Bravemansgame as his best chance of a winner at the Festival. Considering Nicholls’ Hermes Allen is a 5/2 favourite for the Ballymore, this was a quote that pricked my ears. Bravemansgame ran out a convincing winner at Kempton, and that run left Nicholls in no doubt that the Gold Cup was the next port of call. I had previously been very sceptical of the horse up until his King George romp. I always had him down as a speedy animal who needed a flat, tight track to excel. I was also convinced he would find zero off the bridle when asked, and I was shocked to see him battle as well as he did when L’Homme Presse eyeballed him at Christmas.
He arrives at Cheltenham unrecognisable to the horse that finished a tired third in the 2021 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on his last visit. Admittedly, it’s hard to get away from Galopin Des Champs in this race, however, I feel Bravemansgame has enough about him to give the favourite something to think about. Paul Nicholls is convinced he’ll have no trouble staying the trip, and has said that he’s probably his best chance of winning the Gold Cup since Kauto Star. Having won the Gold Cup on four occasions, Nicholls knows what it takes to win Cheltenham’s Blue Riband, and it could be foolish to ignore the bullish vibes coming out of Ditcheat this year.
Other contenders to note are the 2022 Grand National winner Noble Yeats, who I think will be out of his depth in this company despite staying on nicely under a big weight in the Cotswolds Chase. Stattler ran an admirable race behind Galopin Des Champs at Leopardstown, however, surely last year’s National Hunt Chase winner will find a couple too good in this competitive field. Dan Skelton seems sweet on the chances of Protektorat, who took full advantage of A Plus Tard’s off-day in the Betfair Chase with an authoritative win. He has since flopped in the Cotswolds Chase, though if he can return to his Haydock form, he could easily run into a place.