Willie Mullins saddles five of the six runners in the John Durkan Memorial Chase (14:30) at Punchestown on Sunday, most notably last year's winner Galopin des Champs (189) who heads Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings.
Galopin des Champs was a top-class novice and he proved himself an outstanding chaser in open company last season, registering decisive victories in this race, the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with his seven-length defeat of Bravemansgame at Cheltenham the pick of his performances.
Galopin des Champs was unable to go through the campaign unbeaten as he suffered a surprise defeat in the Punchestown Gold Cup, finishing two and a quarter lengths behind the much-improved Fastorslow, but he was probably still feeling the effects of his big performance at Cheltenham and he is very much the one to beat on his reappearance in a race in which he was so impressive last season.
Fastorslow (179) left his previous efforts over fences behind him when an excellent second behind subsequent Grand National winner Corach Rambler in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and he took another step forward to spring a surprise in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
Galopin des Champs was some way below the level he had produced in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but it was still a top-class effort from Fastorslow who found a decisive burst from the second-last to assert. Fastorslow will probably have to find even extra against what is likely to be a stronger version of Galopin des Champs but he is still the chief threat and should fare better than he did in this last season when only fifth of six.
Blue Lord (173) was also successful in Grade 1 company last season, landing the Paddy's Rewards Club Chase over 17 furlongs at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival. The pick of his form has come at around two miles but he did win the Clonmel Oil Chase over two and a half miles on his return last season.
Stattler (172) ran well on his first two starts last season, finishing runner-up in a Grade 3 at Tramore and then chasing home Galopin des Champs in the Irish Gold Cup. But he ran no sort of race when pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and makes his return over a trip shorter than ideal.
Asterion Forlonge (169x) has posted some high-class efforts over fences, including over this course and distance, and he was looking like a big threat in this contest two seasons ago until unseating at the third-last. He's an error-prone sort, though, and mistakes have checked his progress as a chaser. He makes his first start over fences since finishing seventh in the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup having been campaigned over hurdles last term (he was runner-up in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown).
Appreciate It (164) was a high-class hurdler and he looked a good chasing prospect when comfortably winning his first couple of starts over fences last season. He came up short in Grade 1 company afterwards and will need to find a lot more here, though it's possible he's better than he showed in the spring.
Timeform's Analyst Verdict:
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS took this event in great style 12 months ago en route to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory and is confidently expected to repeat the feat and put behind him his Punchestown Gold Cup blip when overturned by Fastorslow. Martin Brassil's upwardly-mobile chaser still rates the chief threat to Willie Mullins' top-notcher though, ahead of Blue Lord and Appreciate It.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings:
189 Galopin des Champs
173 Blue Lord
169x Asterion Forlonge
164 Appreciate It
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