Ross Millar takes a closer look at the key clashes between British and Irish-trained horses at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival plus provides his verdict.
🇬🇧 Jonbon vs El Fabiolo 🇮🇪
When: 2.10pm, Tuesday.
Past 10 years: UK 5, IRE 5.
A race that I very much look forward to each year, with this renewal looking no different as we have a fascinating clash to savour.
Jonbon and El Fabiolo are hard to split in the market, and it is easy to see why. Jonbon has looked a superb jumper of fences in his three chase wins, though his effort last time at Warwick, where he momentarily struggled to get to grips with Calico, cooled a few opinions. Personally, I wasn’t so bothered.
El Fabiolo has, in contrast, made a few jumping errors but has undoubtedly run to a higher level in his two chase wins. The Irish Arkle was run at a fierce pace, and there was no fluke about the finishing effort El Fabiolo posted. It was a huge effort.
We also have a form line between these two, from the Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree last year. Jonbon prevailed by a neck on that occasion, although that was only El Fabiolo's second hurdles start. That argument can be countered by the fact that Jonbon had run at the Cheltenham Festival the previous month, so might not have been at his sharpest.
Verdict: Jonbon’s superior jumping can see him beat El Fabiolo. However, both had better ensure they do not give the explosive Dysart Dynamo an easy lead.
🇬🇧 Constitution Hill vs State Man 🇮🇪
When: 3.30pm, Tuesday.
Past 10 years: UK 3, IRE 7.
In a normal year, State Man would be a short price to build on Ireland's good recent record in this race. However, this is not a normal year and in Constitution Hill he meets a rival that is about as far removed from a normal horse as you are ever likely to see.
Both won at the Cheltenham Festival last year. State Man made a mockery of his rating of 141 to win the County Hurdle, while Constitution Hill pulverised his opposition in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, which included the aforementioned Jonbon, who was made to look distinctly moderate.
In his two starts this year, Constitution Hill has jumped brilliantly en route to easy victories, twice putting wide-margins between himself and Epatante. In Ireland, State Man has looked equally flawless winning all three starts without having to be fully exerted.
Verdict: State Man is a worthy opponent, but provided Constitution Hill is on his A game, he is simply in a different league. Sit back, and enjoy his brilliance.
🇬🇧 Epatante vs Honeysuckle 🇮🇪
When: 4.10pm, Tuesday.
Past 10 years: UK 2, IRE 8.
These two classy mares have already met each other on three occasions, with Honeysuckle coming out on top each time. They are, however, yet to race over this trip and I believe that holds the key in finding the likely winner of this.
Honeysuckle is undoubtedly not the horse she was two seasons ago but, more crucially, it’s her finishing efforts that look to have regressed the most. She ran honourably behind State Man last time out at Leopardstown, but in the final 100 yards, I believe she was treading water, and was all out to hold off Vauban for second place.
Equally, I thought that Epatante posted the second-best performance of her career when winning over this trip at Aintree last year where she travelled supremely well and won on the bridle. She failed to back that up at Punchestown, but that came just three weeks later, and I’m certain she’s better with a bigger gap between races.
Verdict: A win for Honeysuckle would be a popular result, but Epatante possibly retains more ability of the two. She’s unexposed over this trip, and can show her brilliance here.
🇮🇪 Impaire Et Passe vs Hermes Allen 🇬🇧
When: 1.30pm, Wednesday.
Past 10 years: UK 2, IRE 8.
The first thing to highlight here is the name of the Paul Nicholls-trained runner, Hermes Allen, and therefore no thought needs to be given to the performance of Bravemansgame in this race two years ago!
I think it is fair to say that Hermes Allen has surprised his trainer, who has admitted to having concerns about what he was showing prior to him bolting up on his hurdles debut at Stratford. He’s followed that up with easy wins at Cheltenham, and in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
I have reservations over the level of form he’s shown, though, as I believe Weveallbeencaught, who finished third behind Hermes Allen at Cheltenham, isn't the quickest and he only finished ten lengths behind him having jumped moderately.
Hermes Allen appeared to handle the very soft ground the best at Newbury when others didn’t, which makes it a form line I’m cautious of.
Harry Cobden has had the luxury of bossing those races, too, and I’m not sure he will manage that here, given Willie Mullins is sure to run at least a couple.
Impaire Et Passe has impressed me with his strong travelling and slick jumping. It is true that the bare form of his wins do not jump off the page, but sometimes you have to believe your eyes and back your judgement. He’s been doing it all with ease and has plenty more to give.
Verdict: Impaire Et Passe has untapped potential, and he can continue Ireland's great record in this race.
🇮🇪 Energumene vs Edwardstone 🇬🇧
When: 3.30pm, Wednesday.
Past 10 years: UK 7, IRE 3.
A race in which both market leaders arrive on something of a retrieval mission, a statement that would have seemed unfathomable just seven weeks ago.
When Tom Cannon and Paul Townend are both retired, I doubt they will reminisce over the 2023 Clarence House Chase, as they were both guilty of delivering sub-par rides.
Edwardstone suffered the least damage to his reputation in finishing second, and Tom Cannon probably focused on Energumene too much which allowed Editeur Du Gite (under a brilliant ride from Niall Houlihan) to slip the field. However, Edwardstone got within striking distance up the hill and I thought it was a disappointing effort that he couldn’t get past.
Energumene failed to jump with his usual fluency and zest, which connections attributed to the white boards. The margin he was beaten was exaggerated by a severe error at the last, but that was born out of desperation on Paul Townend as he tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Verdict: I expect Energumene to receive a more positive ride this time. He will strike for home earlier than Edwardstone, and I expect him to prove too difficult to pass.
🇮🇪 Galopin Des Champs vs Bravemansgame 🇬🇧
When: 3.30pm, Friday.
Past 10 years: UK 3, IRELAND 7.
A clash between two high-class chasers. Both jump for fun, and both are trying this trip for the first time.
Bravemansgame embodies the training talent of Paul Nicholls as he’s slowly nurtured this good-looking, embryonic three-mile chaser through his formative years.
That patient approach reaped its reward at Christmas when, despite a less than perfect passage through the race, Bravemansgame was a ready winner of the King George at Kempton. I had reservations about his stamina ahead of that race, but he proved those to be misplaced.
His pinpoint jumping will stand him in good stead in a race that looks sure to be run at an honest pace. I expect him to travel well to two out, but will he have the reserves to see him home?
I have been a fully paid-up member of the Galopin Des Champs fan club since 2.56pm on December 28, 2021, as I watched him soar over his first fence in public.
He has been flawless since then, bar his heart-breaking capsize after over jumping the last in the Turners Novices' Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival when in the process of recording a bloodless win.
He had looked exuberant last season but has been transformed this season. He jumps fences in a measured, economical style, and showed real fight to win the Irish Gold Cup on his last start. But can a horse with such pace really stay the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip?
Verdict: Galopin Des Champs holds the X-factor, and his stamina will be tested, but his reformed racing style gives him every chance. He has the beating of Bravemansgame, while Stattler, also from Ireland, could be victorious if the Galopin Des Champs' petrol tank runs dry.
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✍ DAN OVERALL STUDIES THE 9 HANDICAPS
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😲 WINNERS WHO HIT 999-1 IN-RUNNING AND EPIC LOSERS
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✍ CHAMPION HURDLE RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
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