Thursday 16 March 2023 10:42, UK
Galopin Des Champs can live up to the hype by providing Willie Mullins with a third win in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This will be the seven-year-old's third visit to the Festival and it is fair to say he has suffered contrasting fortunes. Two years ago he lined up for the conditional jockeys' race without a win in four previous outings for Mullins, including being sent off at 100/1 in a Grade One won by stablemate Appreciate It.
Ridden by Sean O'Keeffe, he bounded clear of Langer Dan, who was chasing the bonus having won the Imperial Cup at Sandown a few days earlier. On to Punchestown and back in Grade One company, Galopin Des Champs proved he belonged when winning by 12 lengths.
He took to fences brilliantly, winning his first two by wide margins before, in what became a match race against the previous season's Ballymore winner Bob Olinger, he stumbled upon landing over the last when well clear.
This season has confirmed that promise, with wins in the John Durkan and Irish Gold Cup and while he does have to prove his stamina over an extra quarter of a mile, those closest to him have no doubt he will stay and he has certainly shaped as though he will this season.
The likes of Noble Yeats, Sounds Russian and Ahoy Senor will be waiting should there be a chink in his armour, while King George winner Bravemansgame has his own stamina question to answer.
Mullins should already be on the mark on Friday in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. He fields seven in total, including the two fillies, Lossiemouth and Gala Marceau, who dominated the finish at the Dublin Racing Festival, but preference is for Blood Destiny.
Only seen twice, he has looked a relentless galloper in beating the useful Sir Allen at Cork and then cruising to an 18-length win at Fairyhouse. Taking that form literally, with third-placed Nusret subsequently winning the Adonis at Kempton, he may be the one to beat and will surely be better suited by softer ground given his relentless galloping.
Arguably the best bet of the day, though, is David Christie's Vaucelet in the St. James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase. Christie must have thought he had the race won 12 months ago with Winged Leader, who looked the winner everywhere bar the last stride when reeled in by Billaway.
Christie has made no secret of the regard in which he holds Vaucelet and the eight-year-old, who won Stratford's Champion Hunters' Chase last season, has youth on his side.
Sharjah can defy top weight in the McCoy Contractors County Hurdle to give Mullins another winner. He brings very similar credentials to the table as 2017 winner Arctic Fire, who also lumped top weight to victory for Mullins having finished second in the Champion Hurdle the year before.
Sharjah has won six Grade Ones and been second in the Champion Hurdle twice, but he should really have this race run to suit. Such a strong traveller, he has spent most of his life in small fields but as his victory in a 20-runner Galway Hurdle shows, he will be better suited covered up in a big field.
One who may outrun his huge odds in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle is Paul Nicholls' lightly-raced Stay Away Fay. This race often throws up a shock result with Very Wood (33-1), Penhill (16-1), Kilbricken Storm (33-1), Minella Indo (50-1) and The Nice Guy (18-1) all winning in the last 10 years.
That makes it easier to look away from the top of the market and Nicholls has said that Stay Away Fay had excuses for his only defeat at Doncaster. There was no disgrace in losing to Donald McCain's prolific winner Maximilian, but Stay Away Fay did not enjoy a clear passage. He should be staying on when others have cried enough.
Impervious can get the better of Allegorie De Vassy in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase. It looks a match on paper but Allegorie De Vassy's tendency to jump out to her right will make life difficult on a track always turning left and in any case, Impervious has rock solid form to her name having beaten the boys last time out.
Gordon Elliott should win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle with Imagine. Elliott loves nothing more than winning the race named in honour of his former mentor, and Imagine began this season with aspirations of being rated higher than the 139 off which he runs here.
CHELTENHAM: 1.30 Blood Destiny, 2.10 Sharjah, 2.50 Stay Away Fay, 3.30 Galopin Des Champs, 4.10 VAUCELET (NAP), 4.50 Impervious, 5.30 Imagine.
DONCASTER: 1.20 Moon Hunter, 2.00 Big Changes, 2.40 La Pagerie, 3.15 Macavity, 4.00 Horacio Apple's, 4.40 Hasty Brook, 5.15 Easter Junction.
DOWN ROYAL: 1.50 Macdermott, 2.30 Duffys Getaway, 3.10 Bella Bliss, 3.50 Farclas, 4.30 The Greek, 5.10 Lord Schnitzel, 5.50 Cuta Des As.
FAKENHAM: 1.00 Al Zaraqaan, 1.40 Mixedwave, 2.20 Bugle Major, 3.00 Le Tueur, 3.45 Parramount, 4.20 What Will Be, 5.00 Mister Whitaker.
NEWCASTLE: 5.05 Rock Chant, 5.45 Qaasid, 6.15 Yaanaas, 6.45 Point Lynas, 7.15 Kraken Florida, 7.45 Venturous, 8.15 Seagrave Fox.
WOLVERHAMPTON: 4.35 He's Our Star, 5.20 Desert Miracle, 6.00 Cliffs Of Malta, 6.30 Jenny Ren, 7.00 Open Market, 7.30 One Hart, 8.00 Dreams Delivered, 8.30 Poetic Force.
DOUBLE: Vaucelet and Sharjah.