The Cheltenham Festival is upon us, with both casual and avid fans of jumps racing alike itching for the iconic four-day meeting at Prestbury Park to get underway.
There are 14 Grade 1s amongst the 28 contests, but the biggest race of the week is, of course, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and this year’s favourite is the incredibly short-priced Galopin Des Champs.
The Willie Mullins-trained horse is just 7/4 to win the Blue Riband on the final day of the meeting, making him one of the shortest-priced favourites for the race this millennium after the legendary duo of Best Mate — who was 8/11 when he won the Gold Cup back-to-back in 2004 — and Kauto Star — who was the 5/4F for the first of his two successes in 2007.
Galopin Des Champs is certainly a worthy favourite for the showpiece, winning five of his six outings over fences — with the only blemish on his chasing career coming at Prestbury Park 12 months ago, when he was 12 lengths clear and going away from rival Bob Olinger up the hill before agonisingly falling upon landing at the last after getting his hoof caught in the reins.
The seven-year-old has since proved that that was nothing more than a freak accident, winning three straight Grade 1s since that infamous Festival tumble. The first of which came on his final outing of last season, when he streaked 18 lengths clear of Master McShee to win the Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.
Galopin Des Champs is two for two now this season, winning by 13 lengths from Fakir D’oudairies on his reappearance in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase in December before landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival on February 4.
Not everyone is convinced with his performance in the latter, as he had to be shaken up in the latter stages of the race. However, he made a challenge at the last and was ridden clear in the final 110 yards to stay on and win by eight lengths from stablemate Stattler, who simply didn’t have the pace to compete on the run-in.
The performance at Leopardstown was no concern whatsoever for the Closutton boss though, with Mullins claiming: “Galopin Des Champs won the Irish Gold Cup and did it well. It probably wasn't as flashy as a lot of people were hoping but I don't think he needed to be. We were concentrating more on settling him and getting him to race.”
Some have also questioned his ability to stay the additional two-and-a-half furlongs as the furthest he has travelled thus far in his career is three miles. But the way in which he was still going well at the line in the Irish Gold suggests that there is nothing to worry about in regard to the trip.
Galopin Des Champs won’t be without his fair share of challengers however, with last year’s winner A Plus Tard back close to his best despite a disruptive season according to Henry de Bromhead, while Bravemansgame is a British danger from Paul Nicholls’ yard and Grand National winner Noble Yeats could also be in contention.
While 7/4 is perhaps a bit on the short side for a race as competitive as the Gold Cup, Galopin Des Champs is arguably the best horse in the race and deserves the favourite tag. He’ll be the one to beat on the day, but it wouldn’t be a massive shock if he is to be pipped to the post.