The Goffs Thyestes Chase is one of Ireland’s biggest staying handicap chases of the season and, perhaps predictably, runners trained by Willie Mullins are the first place to look when trying to find 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 it’s rarely that straightforward, and last year his five contenders all returned home to Closutton defeated.
He will again saddle five challengers on Thursday (possibly six if Stones And Roses, a reserve, gets in) with stable jockey Paul Townend on Franco De Port, suggesting he is the stable’s No 1. Franco De Port has a Grade One win on his CV and his past seven races have been at the top level but he’s not for me as he’s still inclined to nudge the odd fence and has to prove he stays this far in a race where stamina is vital.
Mullins popped cheekpieces on Class Conti and Saturnas for the first time in last year’s race and the pair both made the frame, finishing third and fourth respectively. This time, he’s trying the same trick with Brahma Bull and Ontheropes but, unless the headgear completely transforms them, I’d say a place is probably the best that either can hope for in a deep renewal.
Class Conti had also finished runner-up in 2020 and, only 1lb higher, merits a second look at a general 22-1. He ran poorly in the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas but had also cut no ice in that race before his past two bold runs in the Thyestes.
Longhouse Poet has been an ante-post market mover, with his odds shrinking from 25-1 to 6-1 in the past week. He shaped as if need of his comeback run at Limerick over Christmas, which was his first start since beating Run Wild Fred and The Big Dog on level weights at Punchestown a year earlier. That latter effort suggests he’s on a potentially handy mark but all the value has now been squeezed out of him.
Braeside (7-1) and Eklat De Rire (8-1) are also prominent in the market. The former has looked a different horse this season and commands respect after his staying-on fourth in the Paddy Power, while everything had been positive about Eklat De Rire before he fluffed his lines when going off favourite for the Ladbrokes Trophy.
Watch a full replay of last year's renewal
Coko Beach (14-1) was a good winner 12 months ago, when equipped with first-time blinkers, but even after a tepid effort last time – pulled up in the Paddy Power Chase – he is 9lb higher in the ratings. It could also be that the benefits of headgear have worn off.
Gigginstown have three other candidates in the race and, from a betting perspective, it’s Diol Ker and Death Duty who interest me the most.
Diol Ker, available at 7-1, has sneaked into the race at the foot of the weights and the novice, up in trip on his handicap bow, is one of the few in the field open to significant improvement. He’s yet to win in seven races over fences but that masks the fact that he ran creditably behind Bob Olinger at Gowran a couple of months ago, when not far behind subsequent Grade One winner Master McShee, and that he chased home the exciting Jungle Boogie at Fairyhouse last time.
He should relish being unleashed beyond three miles and his rating over fences is more than a stone below his hurdles mark. His exploits over the smaller obstacles included a defeat of Monkfish of Escaria Ten at Fairyhouse and he ran in top company at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring, albeit without being involved in the business end.
“If you wanted to paint a horse to make a chaser, you'd paint him - he's the most gorgeous horse,” said trainer Noel Meade after that Fairyhouse success. “He's a horse for the future and it might take fences before he gets to the very top.”
Perhaps Diol Ker will not live up to those early expectations but it’s too early to be making definite conclusions about him. For instance, On His Own won his first Thyestes Chase off a mark of 125 and went on to be beaten a short head in the Gold Cup a couple of years later.
Death Duty is at the opposite end of his career although a lengthy period on the sidelines means that he’s got less miles on the clock than many of his age. Having slipped in the weights, he ran a cracker to be fifth in the Paddy Power Chase on his first run for 13 months.
If he can build on that performance, then he’s a big price at a general 16-1, especially with the excellent Jordan Gainsford easing his burden by another 3lb. His stablemate, Braeside, only passed him late on at Leopardstown, yet is half his price.
Two others who deserve a mention are Chris’s Dream, an undoubted class act, and Escaria Ten, a leading novice last season who has more to offer. However, they appeal as Grand National candidates and I imagine they are using this race as a stepping stone towards Aintree. Any rise in the weights would jeopardise their prospects in that £1 million showpiece.
Diol Ker to win at 7-1 with Coral, Ladbrokes and bet365
Death Duty at 16-1 with Sky Bet and William Hill (both firms are offering six places)
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