We’ll start with the Cheltenham Gold Cup and many will expect GALOPIN DES CHAMPS to return to Prestbury Park and defend his crown. He was a convincing winner of the race this year and he was going away from BRAVEMANSGAME at the finishing line. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Willie Mullins star is the one that they all have to beat.
However, did we see enough at the Punchestown Festival – and to a lesser extent, at the Dublin Racing Festival – to suggest that Galopin isn’t completely bombproof? While he was clearly not his best in April, nobody expected FASTORSLOW to prevail and Galopin had to surge late to confirm Cheltenham form with Bravemansgame.
I was the founding member of the Galopin Des Certainty club in April 2022, but that result at Punchestown raises a few doubts. At the very least, it reminds us that these equine stars are not robots and racing is a sport that throws up shocks on the big stage. With that in mind, I can’t be backing him at 2/1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup six months out. GERRI COLOMBE is second favourite and he looks like a Gold Cup horse. He was the banker of the Festival for many in the Brown Advisory and it was a shock to see THE REAL WHACKER get the better of him – although I do have a soft spot for the Patrick Neville horse. I’d imagine that Gerri Colombe would reverse form if the two met again…
It’ll be interesting to see how Gordon Elliott campaigns Gerri Colombe. There are plenty of options to start off but will he avoid the clash with Galopin Des Champs at Leopardstown in February? Elliott and Robcour will have a plan and he’ll be one to follow closely throughout the 2023/24 National Hunt season.
EL FABIOLO is one of my favourite horses in training and I’ve already coined him as the 2024 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner. I mean absolutely no disrespect to dual champion ENERGUMENE when I say this, it’s more of an indicator as to just how talented I think the Simon Munir & Isaac Souede horse is.
His victory in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival was my performance of the season away from Cheltenham. He dominated a very good field to really stamp his authority on the division and he followed it up with a facile success at the Festival, making light work of JONBON – a horse that had previously finished behind just one other horse: Constitution Hill.
El Fabiolo remains unexposed and the sky is the limit for him. I’d love to see Willie Mullins go for gold with him, aiming him at the biggest two mile races on both sides of the Irish Sea. The Tingle Creek at Sandown Park may come too soon but the Clarence House Chase could be a possibility if Mullins wants to keep Energumene for the Dublin Chase.
A left-field inclusion, MASKADA is a lovely jumper of a fence and I’d love to see connections aim her at the Mares Chase in March. With uncertainty over the fitness of 2023 winner Impervious, the race could be open for a new star and Maskada’s victory in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase puts her in the mix.