The Cheltenham Festival always saves its best for last with the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup taking centre-stage on the final day.
There’s been no more than a dozen runners in the past three renewals of the £625,000 showpiece but a final field of 13 has been declared.
The field won't be quite as big as in 2007, when Kauto Star won as a seven-year-old after being sent off the 5-4 favourite despite having fallen at the Festival 12 months earlier.
On Friday, a similarly exciting seven-year-old, Galopin Des Champs, seeks to emulate him as a hot favourite after also falling at the meeting a year earlier.
Here’s a guide to all the possible runners.
Official rating: 161. Festival form: 2 Odds: 16-1.
One of those horses I’ve never been able to get right. Back him and he fluffs his lines. Don’t back him and he delivers, such as when he landed the Cotswold Chase last time. He’s been rubbing shoulders with the best for a couple of years now but there’s still an air of unfinished business about him, which has clearly crossed the minds of his connections, too, as headgear was contemplated before his tame King George surrender. Gives the impression he could gallop all week but, increasingly, clumsiness looks part of his make-up. If he can get in an early rhythm, then his backers could be in for a fun ride. But he won’t be carrying my cash, which is probably good news for him!
Official rating: 180. Festival form: 1321. Odds: 15-2.
Was gaining his second win at the Festival when surging to a 15-length triumph in the Gold Cup – looking every inch like a champion who could reign for years to come. However, he ran lamentably on his return in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November (excuses offered) and we’ve not seen him since (late non-runner at Leopardstown over Christmas after knocking himself). He wouldn’t be the first Gold Cup winner to leave a bit of himself behind in the Cotswolds and, clearly, he’s had anything but an orthodox preparation. The handicapper believes he has at least 5lb in hand of his rivals and he has gone well fresh in the past – for example he was brilliant first time up last season – but a leap of faith is clearly required to believe he can repeat his heroics of 12 months ago, especially with new kids on the block.
Official rating: 172. Festival form: 4. Odds: 8-1.
Fence makers up and down the country would find themselves redundant if every horse jumped as fluently as him. He seems to find getting from A to B effortless. However, that’s not the only attribute you need to win a Gold Cup and to my eye he’s always looked more of a cruiser than a bruiser. The flat 3m at Kempton played to all his strengths when he won the King George VI Chase in such good style last time and that the extended 3m 2f of the New Course will provide a very different challenge. He’s had two wind operations and was a late non-runner at the Festival last year because of soft going, having finished fourth in the Ballymore 12 months earlier.
Official rating: 168. Festival form: F. Odds: 14-1.
It’s surely no coincidence that his two best days have been over 3m at Leopardstown, when landing the Irish Gold Cup last season and when taking the Savills Chase on his latest start. He always looked like winning last time but his record – he has fallen or unseated on five occasions – indicates he probably wants some space and that he can occasionally take his eye off the ball. The nine-year-old might well have been placed in the Ryanair Chase last season had he not fallen two out but it had hardly looked like love at first sight with Cheltenham before his exit.
Official rating: 162. Festival form: 023. Odds: 100-1.
He’s been placed in the Arkle and Ryanair Chase for the past two years but it’s hard to see him getting into the money here. Chased home Bravemansgame in the Charlie Hall on his return when conceding weight but he does have an exceptional record when fresh. Ran his worst race of the season at Newbury last time.
Official rating: 175. Festival form: 1F. Odds: 15-8.
He’s been imperious since winning the Martin Pipe over hurdles here two years ago. The one blip on his dance card was his unfortunate fall at the final fence in last season’s Turners. He jumped the obstacle well, but almost too well and crumpled on landing. It would have been an emphatic victory, in what would have been a rapid time given the soft conditions. This season, Galopin Des Champs has added a layer of maturity to his performances – winning the John Durkan on his return before pulling clear in the closing stages of the Irish Gold Cup. His ability is not in question, and I don’t think stamina will be a problem, either. If you’ve got doubts about that, look back at how he pulverised the opposition in a Grade One novice hurdle over 3m at Punchestown two years ago.
Official rating: 167. Festival form: --. Odds: 25-1.
His rag-to-riches story has been well documented and he added another chapter when landing the American Grand National on his latest start. Won the bet365 Gold Cup in fine style last season and looked like landing the Kerry National at Listowel in September, only to unship his rider at the final fence. His rating suggests he doesn’t have much to find with the principals, but good ground seems important to him (he’s been a non-runner a couple of times when the going has turned soft) and his lack of any Cheltenham experience is also a concern. He would be the first Gold Cup winner since Cool Dawn, in 1998, not to have won a Grade One race in Britain or Ireland beforehand.
Official rating: 168. Festival form: 1212. Odds: 20-1.
If his pattern of Festival runs continues, then he’s in line to become only the second horse, after Kauto Star, to regain his Gold Cup crown. Stats and history are against him though, and so is the formbook. He ended up being no match for A Plus Tard 12 months ago after putting up a bold defence and then ran a stinker at Punchestown when tried in a tongue-tie. That bit of equipment was missing when he edged home in the Savills Chase on New Year’s Day (the version run at Tramore) but he was getting 8lb from Stattler that day and won’t find it easy confirming that form with his younger rival. No ten-year-old has won this century.
Official rating: 167. Festival form: 0. Odds: 10-1.
It’s fabulous to see the Grand National winner in the line-up and, blessed with bottomless stamina with the cheekpieces going back on, plenty of good judges seem keen on his chances. However, I’m struggling to warm to him. He made no impact in the Ultima last year (off a rating of 147) and again didn’t look at home on the track when a staying-on third to Ahoy Senor in the Cotswold Chase. He got going when the race was all over but in a bigger field – which is assured here – might well have completely lost his position. And even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, then you also have to consider that about five lengths covered the first four home in the Cotswold. Ahoy Senor and Sounds Russian finished ahead of him, admittedly in receipt of some weight, and they are much bigger prices.
Official rating: 170. Festival form: 03. Odds: 16-1.
He gave it a good shot when third last year, a blunder at the final fence possibly costing him second. Looked better than ever when an emphatic winner of the Betfair Chase on his return, but that form looks shaky and he was disappointing when fourth in the Cotswold Chase last time – not being beaten far by the finish but never looking likely to win. It’s hard to see him hitting the jackpot after that effort although heavy ground would give him a squeak as he acts well on deep going.
Official rating: 163. Festival form: 65. Odds: 50-1.
Ran better than the bare form suggests when sixth two years ago (hurt himself in-running) and ran well for a long way last year before being outpaced in the straight. He was a distant second to Bravemansgame in the King George VI Chase on his belated return (had missed the Betfair Chase after a setback) and we’ve not seen him in action since. All the evidence suggests he’s not good enough to win at this exalted level. Well served by soft/heavy ground, his connections will be hoping for plenty of rain.
Official rating: 161. Festival form: --. Odds: 20-1.
What a tremendous flagbearer he’s been for Ruth Jefferson. Beaten off a mark of 111 at Sedgefield 16 months ago, he has never stopped improving and deserves his place in the line-up. He ran as well as he has ever done when splitting Ahoy Senor and Noble Yeats in the Cotswold Chase here last time, and might well have won that day had he been ridden with a bit more patience. The eight-year-old has got a bit more on at the weights and probably won’t be good enough but he’s got a smashing attitude and won’t fail through lack of effort.
Official rating: 163. Festival form: 41. Odds: 9-1.
Came up short when favourite for the Albert Bartlett two years ago but made amends in the National Hunt Chase 12 months ago. That was a thin edition of that race but he’s progressed again this term, being touched off by Minella Indo at Tramore when conceding 8lb before chasing home Galopin Des Champs in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last time. This stiffer test will play to his strengths, but he lacks the wow factor of his Leopardstown conqueror (who also thumped him one day over hurdles) and his jumping will be tested in a race run at an end-to-end gallop in a big field. Others make more appeal for each-way purposes.
In the past 40 years, Imperial Call, Best Mate, Kicking King, War Of Attrition, Kauto Star, Sizing John and Al Boum Photo have won chasing’s biggest prize as a seven-year-old. Three of those – Best Mate, Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo – would go on to scoop the spoils at least once more.
Galopin Des Champs will emulate the septet if successful. He’s had six runs over fences and, but for his unfortunate fall at the final fence in the Turners, would be unbeaten. Best Mate had also had six runs beforehand, but Imperial Call (10), Kicking King (11) War Of Attrition (9), Kauto Star (10), Sizing John (9) and Al Boum Photo (7) had more experience.
Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo both fell at the Cheltenham Festival the year before winning the Gold Cup, so don’t let his tumble 12 months ago worry you.
Noble Yeats will emulate Golden Miller and L’Escargot if he adds a Gold Cup triumph to his Grand National victory of last year. The stats are stacked against Minella Indo, the 2021 winner, as Kauto Star is the only Gold Cup winner to regain his crown and the last horse older than nine to win was Cool Dawn in 1998. He was also the last Gold Cup winner not to have won a Grade One race beforehand.
Galopin Des Champs is trading at short odds but he has looked something out of the ordinary and can give Willie Mullins his third triumph in five years.
1 Galopin Des Champs. 2 A Plus Tard. 3 Bravemansgame.
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