** This article was first published on Monday - updated on Thursday
The Goffs Thyestes Handicap Chase is one of Ireland’s biggest staying handicap chases and, perhaps predictably, runners trained by Willie Mullins are the first place to look when trying to identify the winner.
Mullins has scooped the spoils a record eight occasions this century, including with Hedgehunter (2004), On His Own (2012 and 2014) and Djakadam (2015). But his five contenders 12 months ago all returned home defeated, and it was the same story in 2021.
The maestro could will field three challengers in the maximum field of 18 at Gowran on Thursday, possibly five if his reserves sneak in. However, what looked his main contender, Franco De Port, who was runner-up last year, is not among the final declartions. Another leading fancy, Diol Ker, also misses the race.
Meanwhile, Gordon Elliott has a squad of nine to juggle in his bid to win the race for a third time since 2018.
It must be short odds that Mullins or Elliott has the winner, but they might not have things all their own way. Here are three for any shortlist, with the ante-post staking plan that I suggested on Monday.
Trainer: Henry de Bromhead. Best odds: a general 14-1
Champagne West won this race in 2017 for Henry de Bromhead, having previously looked a clumsy jumper. Could history repeat itself with Gabbys Cross?
A feature of her first eight races over fences have been mistakes, including last time when she was an eye-catching fifth in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.
The way she got into contention from well off the pace in that ultra-competitive contest was most taking but she didn’t spot a stride heading to last and negotiated it in awkward fashion, having already slowed into it. In the circumstances, the Roger Brookhouse-trained eight-year-old performed wonders to rally and be beaten under four lengths.
Gabbys Cross is going to have to jump better but that is offset by the 20/1 on offer. What we do know is that when everything clicks, her 6lb rise for winning a 20-runner contest at the Galway Festival in July is not going to be beyond her.
She remains unexposed over staying trips and is at home in the mud. Moreover, Rachael Blackmore has been aboard for her four previous wins and seems likely to be reunited with her. Blackmore was not on board over Christmas, preferring a much better-fancied stablemate who finished fourth.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott. Best odds: a general 15-2
Watch a full replay of last year's renewal
Given all his undoubted ability, it is something of a mystery that Escaria Ten has won just once over fences since being switched to the larger obstacles more than two years ago.
He’s hinted more than once he has a big staying prize such as this in him, including when an eye-catcher in this race last year. Turning for home, he looked the most likely winner as he eased into contention – reflected by his in-running odds shrinking to about 6/4 – but he was having his first run in ten months and lack of peak fitness seemed to find him out in the closing stages. He faded to finish eighth.
Escaria Ten will run off the same mark on Thursday but should not be so rusty, having run well in defeat on his return at Thurles in December. His connections seemed pre-occupied by the Randox Grand National for him last term but he didn’t shine at Aintree. Therefore, you would think races such as the Thyestes are high on his agenda.
One niggle is that Elliott has had just three winners from 56 runners since January 2. Twenty-seven of those went off at single-figure odds, although a short-priced double at Down Royal on Tuesday suggests his lean patch may be coming to an end.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott. Best odds: 11-1 with bet365
He ended up winning his last three completed starts over hurdles in the 2019/20 campaign – a good effort given he never ran beyond 2m4f when he looks all about stamina.
The nine-year-old has been something of a slow-burner over fences, with an upturn in form coinciding with his switch to Elliott this season.
A near-miss at Cheltenham’s November Meeting was followed by an early exit in the Troytown Chase at Navan. But he showed no ill effects at Fairyhouse a week later when outstaying his stablemate, Fakiera, in a €45,000 contest over 3m5f.
The bare form suggests an 8lb rise is a little harsh – Fakiera has since been beaten again – but he won with a bit to spare and there may still be more to come.
It will be a case of the softer the better for Punitive on Thursday. I’m not sure he’s got the class to win, but it would be no surprise if he is on the premises.
How To Bet £20 ante-post on the Goffs Thyestes Chase (suggested on Monday before the final declarations were known)
£6 win and £5 each-way on Gabbys Cross at 20/1
£2 each-way on * Diol Ker at 8/1 plus Escaria Ten at 10/1
Select any odd to add a bet