The cream of the crop in the staying chase division turned up to contest the 2023 Cheltenham Gold Cup and a worthy champion was crowned as Galopin des Champs (181 from 178p) produced an outstanding performance to register an emphatic seven-length success over Bravemansgame (174 from 173), with Conflated (168 from 166) a further six and a half lengths back in third at the end of race run at a sound gallop.
Galopin des Champs, a Grade 1-winning novice hurdler a couple of seasons ago, had looked something special on his chasing debut at Leopardstown last term and only an unlucky fall at the final fence when clear in the Turners Novices' Chase prevented him from going through that campaign unbeaten.
There was to be no final-fence heartbreak for Galopin des Champs' connections this time around, however, as he was fast and accurate at the last and accelerated away afterwards in impressive fashion.
Galopin des Champs – who was winning his third Grade 1 of the season having claimed the John Durkan and Irish Gold Cup on his two previous outings – ran to a level in the Cheltenham Gold Cup that very few horses reach. Only around 20 chasers in Timeform's experience have achieved a higher rating than 181, while in the last 10 years – in the post-Kauto Star era – only Don Cossack has posted a Gold Cup performance to match that produced by Galopin des Champs.
A soundly-run race contested by so many high-level opponents – the race featured the last two Gold Cup winners, plus the winners of the Grand National, King George and Savills Chase – provided the platform for Galopin des Champs to produce such a high level of form. And the visual impression was backed up by the clock with his timefigure of 179 the highest posted this season and matched by only his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Allaho in the Ryanair Chase across the last two campaigns.
King George winner Bravemansgame had to settle for second, but he arguably enhanced his reputation in defeat, proving his effectiveness over the longer trip as well as around the undulating track, while Conflated also ran a career best over the longest distance he has tackled.
Last year's impressive winner A Plus Tard (remains 177), who hadn't run since disappointing in the Betfair Chase, was well backed with the Henry de Bromhead yard in such good form, but he was badly hampered at the seventeenth fence when Ahoy Senor fell and brought down Sounds Russian and that cost him all chance. He was in last place at the time but had yet to be asked for his effort, and he may get another chance to show whether he's back at his brilliant best at Aintree.
A Plus Tard's connections had better luck the previous day when Envoi Allen (166 from 162) took advantage of a shoddy round of jumping from Shishkin (176+ from 179) to land the Ryanair Chase.
Envoi Allen had run poorly when last seen in the King George VI Chase, failing to beat a rival home, but he had been freshened up since then and produced a career best on Timeform's figures to register a third Festival success, adding to his wins in the 2019 Champion Bumper and 2020 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
He was never in a rhythm at Kempton but went with much more verve at Cheltenham, travelling powerfully and putting in a near-faultless display of jumping, with a stumble at the third-last the only brief cause for concern.
Shishkin, on the other hand, failed to jump with any fluency and it is testament to his ability that he was able to get to within two and three quarter lengths of the winner after putting in such a sloppy round, with a terrible blunder at the third last proving especially costly.
The way he rallied and stayed on strongly up the hill leaves little doubt that he'll be suited by stepping up to three miles, with the Bowl at Aintree looking like the obvious target. However, he'll need to be more accurate whichever distance he competes over, while it was also a bit disconcerting that he required some early encouragement from the saddle.
Shishkin took a bit of time to warm to his task in the Ryanair Chase but at least he eventually went with some purpose, unlike last season when he was pulled up in the Champion Chase, which left the door open for Energumene (180 from 178) to capitalise. Energumene again benefited from his main rival failing to fire in the Champion Chase – this time around it was Edwardstone – but he still deserves plenty of credit for the style of success, quickly putting a disappointing display in the Clarence House Chase behind him and looking right back to his best.
Energumene impressed with how strongly he travelled and quickly put the race to bed when quickening entering the straight, passing the post 10 lengths clear of Captain Guinness (162 from 160) with Greaneteen (remains 166) a further 24 lengths back in third. Only Sprinter Sacre and Altior – when winning their first Champion Chases – have put up a better performance in the race in the 15 years since Master Minded's first stunning success.
Energumene's big rival next year could be his Mullins-trained stablemate El Fabiolo (175p from 165p), who put in a top-class display when winning the Sporting Life Arkle by five and a half lengths from Jonbon (167 from 163p).
Jonbon had narrowly beaten El Fabiolo when the pair met in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree last season, but that had come early in the career of El Fabiolo who arrived at Cheltenham on Tuesday on the back of a wide-margin win in a high-quality edition of the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
El Fabiolo raised his game again in the Sporting Life Arkle, impressing with how well he coped with a strongly-run race over demanding fences, and only Sprinter Sacre has put up a better performance in the race this century, which is quite the compliment given the illustrious roll of honour.
Mullins was also successful on Tuesday's card with Gaillard du Mesnil (157 from 158), though he was arguably a fortunate winner of the National Hunt Chase as Mahler Mission (149 from 146) still held a healthy advantage and was responding to pressure when coming down at the second last.
Gaillard du Mesnil, who held outstanding claims on form, produced a rather laboured display, failing to jump with any fluency and looking in trouble on the turn for home before rallying under pressure to overhaul Chemical Energy (145 from 143+) on the run-in. He was about 10 lb below the pick of his form, which includes a Grade 1 win at Leopardstown after Christmas.
Sticky jumping nearly cost Gaillard du Mesnil, but a good round helped The Real Whacker (158p from 153p) land the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase the following afternoon. The Real Whacker, who typically jumped soundly out in front, was given a well-judged ride by Sam Twiston-Davies, who quickened the tempo coming down the hill, and he just managed to cling on from the fast-finishing Gerri Colombe (158p from 159p).
Gerri Colombe, the 5/4 favourite, was tapped for toe when the pace initially quickened but stormed up the hill to force a photo-finish, failing by only a short-head and losing his unbeaten record on his eighth start under Rules. The winner’s rating was the lowest in the race since Blaklion scored in 2016, but we have been spoiled by some high-quality renewals of late and the first two may still do better (they both have retain the ‘p’ symbol for potential improvement).
The Real Whacker is trained in Yorkshire by Patrick Neville and there was also success for a British-based trainer in the Turners Novices' Chase the following afternoon with Stage Star (157p from 154p) scoring for Paul Nicholls under what was also a well-judged front-running ride from Harry Cobden. Stage Star, like The Real Whacker, was aided by making the running in a race where a prominent position proved an advantage, but there was a lot to like about how boldly he jumped and how he forged three and a quarter lengths clear up the hill.
Mighty Potter (161 from 162p) had won Grade 1s in impressive fashion on his two previous starts and was consequently sent off a short-price favourite for the Turners, but he failed to run up to his best in third, hanging badly right on the run-in. It's worth noting that he bounced back from a poor effort at the Cheltenham Festival with a victory at Punchestown last year.
Gordon Elliott may have suffered some frustrating reverses with Gerri Colombe and Mighty Potter, but he still had three winners at the meeting, including Delta Work (166 from 165) who led home a one-two for the stable in the Cross Country Chase, getting the better of Galvin (163) who pulled 26 lengths clear of the third.
Delta Work and Galvin, both Grade 1-winning staying chasers, proved a class apart from their rivals and had the race to themselves as they entered the straight. Delta Work had edged out Tiger Roll in last year's edition and he again came out on top, finding plenty to assert in the final 50 yards. This was just about the best performance in the race's history and sets Delta Work up nicely for another crack at the Grand National, in which he was third last year, while Galvin is also bound for Aintree on the back of this encouraging return to form.
There was also a good tussle in the Mares' Chase with Impervious (remains 156p) rallying to get the better of Allegorie de Vassy (153p from 155p).
The field were well bunched turning for home, but the two market leaders were going notably well and soon settled down to do battle. A much better jump at the last appeared to hand Allegorie de Vassy the initiative, but Impervious knuckled down well to go clear inside the final furlong, scoring by two and a half lengths. Given the level they ran to, and the fact they would have been receiving 7 lb from the geldings, Impervious and Allegorie de Vassy would probably have been very competitive had they run in the Brown Advisory or Turners.
The pick of the performances in the handicaps was produced by Corach Rambler (157p from 149p) who followed up last year's victory in the Ultima, scoring off a 6 lb higher mark. Corach Rambler only won by a neck but he was value for more like a couple of lengths as he idled badly in the lead after an impressive turn of foot had carried him to the front.
His come-from-behind style means he'll be reliant on some luck in running in the Grand National, but he'll have an obvious chance at the weights - he's top of Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings - while the very smart level he ran to on Tuesday suggests he'll be competing in open graded races next season. Runner-up Fastorslow (160 from 149p) should be doing likewise after producing much his best effort over fences so far, relishing the step up in trip and emerging with plenty of credit for one so short on experience as a chaser.