2024 Cheltenham Festival: What to expect
Posted in: Cheltenham Festival News
Constitution Hill was the star of the 2022/23 National Hunt season, notching four Grade 1 wins and there is a strong argument you can make for him being the best hurdler of all time despite still being a six-year-old.
He is certainly one of the most natural hurdlers seen for a long time, the pace and accuracy in which he glides over his obstacles nothing short of sublime, and it is very hard to see him losing his crown in the Champion Hurdle if connections decide to stay over hurdles.
That is a big ‘if’ though, with Nicky Henderson and more so owner Michael Buckley suggesting before his win at Aintree that there is a possibility that Constitution Hill will switch to fences in the autumn. He was reportedly set to school over fences at home after Aintree – nothing has surfaced around this since – and if everything went to plan then he would be more likely to pitch up in the Sporting Life Arkle than Champion Hurdle at next year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The layers seem divided, with several firms going as big as 6/4 for Constitution Hill to win another Champion Hurdle (he’s as short as 4/6 in places), while he is a general 7/4 for the Sporting Life Arkle. I would personally love to see him over a fence, and I have a feeling that is the way connections will go, which would leave the 2024 Champion Hurdle market wide open.
The horse who would be top of my list at the time of writing for the 2024 Champion Hurdle is Impaire et Passe, who won all four of his starts for Willie Mullins last season and looked a novice hurdler right out of the top drawer when winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. The dogs were barking about him prior to the Cheltenham Festival and he certainly lived up to expectations, showing bags of speed over the intermediate trip and proving in a different league to stablemate Gaelic Warrior.
That form took a big boost at the Punchestown Festival and, while Impaire et Passe was more workmanlike when signing off with another victory in the Champion Novices' Hurdle at the same meeting, he can be excused a below-par performance given it came at the end of the season and he had produced a big effort at Cheltenham a month earlier.
Impaire et Passe also has the option of going chasing, but if Constitution Hill takes that route, you would imagine Willie Mullins will aim him at the Champion Hurdle, for which he has an excellent profile for, and seems sure to put it up to stablemate State Man – he is rated only 5 lb lower on Timeform ratings, but still has the Timeform small ‘p’ attached to his rating, indicating that he is open to further improvement.
The 2024 Champion Chase may also be dominated by a horse who also wears the double-green of owners Munir and Souede and that is El Fabiolo, who enjoyed an excellent first season over fences. He only had three starts over hurdles for Willie Mullins, notably being beaten a neck by Jonbon in a Grade 1 at Aintree on his middle run, but he quickly developed into a much better chaser, building on his debut win when forging clear to win a very strong renewal of the Irish Arkle.
El Fabiolo exacted his revenge on Jonbon when proving five and a half lengths too strong in the Sporting Life Arkle next time, producing a top-class effort on just his third start over fences. There was a lot to like about how well he coped with a strongly-run race over demanding fences on such little experience, too, and he cemented his position as the leading novice chaser of last season when completing a four-timer at Punchestown. He didn’t need to improve on his Cheltenham effort, but he has the potential to dominate the two-mile chase division for a while, and he looks a very worthy favourite ahead of Energumene and Jonbon.
With the Ryanair Chase having quite a murky look to it at present, Jonbon actually appeals as an ideal type for that race. He has boosted the Sporting Life Arkle form by winning a couple of Grade 1s since, including in open company in the Celebration Chase at Sandown, but he is still a little way behind the top two-milers on the figures.
The option to step up in trip is there and with Allaho turning 10 next year, current Ryanair holder Envoi Allen not the most consistent, and Stage Star not an out-and-out star, it may prove to be a smart move. Jonbon is yet to race beyond two miles but would have no trouble staying the intermediate trip and, in fact, it could be the making of him. It is no surprise to she he has been chalked up as ante-post favourite for next year’s Ryaniar and he is the one for me at this stage.
The Stayers’ Hurdle division remains one of the murkiest and is crying out for a horse to come through the ranks and dominate it. Which horse that will be is near on impossible to suggest, given Teahupoo looked the obvious one when bolting up in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran.
He didn’t at all run badly in the Stayers’ Hurdle afterwards, suffering some interference in the closing stages, but his latest effort at Punchestown suggested he really does need testing conditions to produce his best form. It is worth remembering that Teahupoo is still only a six-year-old, however, and remains totally unexposed at around three miles. A quick look at the ante-post market reveals how open the division is and, given there is no rush, the percentage call is to wait until the autumn before getting involved.
Galopin des Champs put up one of the best performances in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in recent years when he beat Bravemansgame by seven lengths this year, his jumping no more than ordinary but the manner in which he travelled and finished his race marked him out as the best staying chaser around.
He has since met with defeat in the Punchestown Gold Cup, confirming form with Bravemansgame by the narrowest of margins, but having no answer for Fastorslow, who confirmed himself a most progressive chaser by recording his first top-level success. However, you have to be wary of such form which came at the end of a long season, and you would expect Galopin des Champs and Bravemansgame to turn it around next time, though that is taking nothing away from him.
Galopin des Champs remains a short price for the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup and rightly so given what he has achieved, but at much bigger odds The Real Whacker looks overpriced. He hasn’t put a foot wrong since switched to fences, recording all three of his wins at Cheltenham, and his bold jumping and front-running style makes him a horse who is hard not to warm to.
The Real Whacker narrowly beat Gerri Colombe in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and was all out to hold on at the line, but he got that rival out of his comfort zone, and the form has been boosted at Aintree since. It is interesting to see that Gerri Colombe is a much shorter price than The Real Whacker for the Gold Cup, which is probably down to who is trained by, but there is no doubt The Real Whacker is a most promising horse, and one who has Gold Cup written all over him – connections did ponder with the idea of running him in the race as a novice this year. You could do far worse than getting him on side at around 20/1 and he looks the best ante-post bet for the 2024 Cheltenham Festival for me.