Festival Fans
March 10, 2024

With multiple odds-on shots and short priced favourites, many of the experts have already made some pretty big assumptions about this year’s Festival.

But WHAT IF they’re wrong?

With just a couple more sleeps before Cheltenham, there might never have been a Festival where the experts have reached a consensus so easily.

Whether it’s at the preview nights, in the media, or on the socials, there are a lot of short priced horses who Festival pundits have already got striding effortlessly past the post.

State Man, El Fabiolo, Ballyburn, Fact To File, Dinoblue, Galopin Des Champs - we've not encountered too many who don’t think they are all going to be adding their names to the Festival roll of honour this week.

Inevitably, the only uncertainty among all the certainties is what sort of mood Willie Mullins wakes up in when it comes to declaration time (rumour has it he’s just supplemented Gaelic Warrior for the Puissance at the Horse of the Year Show).

But what if the experts, the previews and the commentators who’ve made all these assumptions about the big races at Cheltenham have group thinked their money straight into the bookmaker’s satchels?

At the risk of having to get second jobs at the Cheltenham McDonald's, here are some arguments to consider that go well and truly against the Festival crowd.

As the great man (no doubt currently thinking about diverting Ballyburn into the Celebrity Big Brother House) said recently, “that’s why we run the races”.


Everyone thinks that with Constitution Hill out of the Champion Hurdle, State Man is now a certainty.

But WHAT IF he’s just been outclassing the same Irish horses, over and over again?

Since the beginning of last season, State Man has been unbeaten in no less than seven Grade One races in Ireland, and visually he’s been clinical, efficient, consistent, and relentlessly classy – everything you’d want in a racehorse.

But when you have a poke into the races themselves, it tells a slightly different story.

If we threw the figures: 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 3, 3 at you, it’s not the number of Guinnesses you’re going to drink between each race on the first day of the Festival, it’s the number of horses State Man has beaten in each of those races.

Just 25 rivals in seven Grade One races!

It gets even more interesting if you look at who those defeated rivals are, because it’s a long way from 25 different horses.

The admirable but limited Pied Piper accounts for four of them. State Man also defeated Sharjah and Vauban three times each in those seven Grade One's, with Zanahiyr, Impaire Et Passe and Echoes In Rain all getting turned over twice.

Far from a string of victories in competitive contests, it’s the same group of horses State Man is beating over and over, in a sort of equine version of Groundhog Day.

The only outliers of Champion Hurdle class were an ageing and past her best Honeysuckle and the mercurial Bob Olinger, running over a trip too short for him.

It’s also worth considering that when State Man finally did encounter a rival with more class than him in Constitution Hill in last year’s Champion Hurdle, it wasn’t even close.

But check out who State Man was actually able to beat that day - yep, old rivals Zanahiyr and Vauban.

Now don’t get us wrong, State Man is a worthy favourite for Tuesday’s Champion.

But he’s going into a race as a 4/11 chance where many of the horses he’s been disposing of so impressively in small field Irish Grade Ones aren’t turning up, and where younger, progressive horses in a potentially double figure field are ready to give him a completely different test to what he’s used to.

So, do you want to back the horse that’s spent the last two years beating up the same inferior rivals for their lunch money?

Or the up and coming one like Iberico Lord, who’s won historically significant Champion Hurdle graduation contests like the Greatwood and Betfair Hurdles this season?

Or maybe one beaten just a short head in the Royal Bond last season by subsequent Supreme winner Marine Nationale, like Irish Point?

That’s not to mention any late change of heart by Willie Mullins when it comes to Lossiemouth (we hear it’s the Mares, the Champion, or Britain’s Got Talent, currently).

Maybe State Man will win easily, but there are plenty of new lines of very progressive form about to collide with him, and we're not 4/11 certain that one of them won’t prove to be better than endlessly strolling past Pied Piper and Zanahiyr in a small field Irish bog.


Everyone thinks the impressive Willie Mullins novices who won at the Dublin Festival are going to repeat their victories at Cheltenham.

But WHAT IF he was the only trainer who was seriously targeting the meeting?

You don’t need us to tell you that Willie Mullins takes the Dublin Festival very seriously.

We all know the song by now – the DRF, Cheltenham and then Punchestown are the three meetings the Champion Trainer targets at the start of each season.

The Dublin Racing Festival isn’t just a stepping stone to Cheltenham for Mullins - he’s on record more than once as saying that, for his horses, it’s a big target in itself.

No surprise then, that he dominated again this season.

But lots of evidence suggests that his major rivals aren’t taking the meeting anywhere near as seriously. Even if you take into account the relentless quality of Mullins’ team, the numbers are pretty startling.

In the five years before this one, Mullins has had 29 Grade One winners at the meeting. Gordon Elliott has had four. So has Henry De Bromhead and three of those were Honeysuckle.

This season Elliott and De Bromhead had zero each, and Mullins won every single Grade One contest.

So, while Ballyburn was skipping clear of four stable companions at the DRF, It’s a fair bet that he was primed and ready for his mid-season target.

But how about Henry De Bromhead’s runner up Slade Steel, having his first run for nearly two months?

Or the Gordon Elliott trained King of Kingsfield, held up at the back of the field and hoping for a nice mark in the County Hurdle, who finished third.

With Elliott’s Grade One winner Farron Glory finishing distressed, what did Ballyburn actually have to beat on the day?

Is he really an odds-on shot to defeat the likes of stablemate Ile Atlantique, just touched off in the Grade One Lawlers of Naas?

It's the same story with Fact to File, who looks likely to start a very short price for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase.

Not a single one of Mullins training rivals wanted to take him on in the Grade One that he won at the DRF, and the subsequent stable match race turned into little more than an exercise gallop after no left turn tearaway Gaelic Warrior quickly ran out of petrol.

Does a race against an underperforming stablemate in a contest in which all the major Irish trainers avoided taking part really make Fact To File an odds on shot at the Festival?

Especially against the likes of last year’s Albert Bartlett winner Stay Away Fay, whose equivalent pre-Cheltenham run saw him finish ahead of Grade One winners Ahoy Senor and Royale Pagaille, in the open company Cotswold Chase?

Impressive though they were, isn’t it more than possible that the market has massively overreacted to the bloodless victories of Ballyburn and Fact To File in races where they may well have come from the only major stable really targeting the meeting.

If you're not convinced yet, check out what Gordon Elliott said in a recent article in the Irish Examiner headlined 'Gordon Elliott hoping conceding DRF battle will help him win Cheltenham war':


No doubt Mullins will have his horses absolutely spot on for their races next week.

But so will Gordon Elliott, Henry De Bromhead and many other Irish trainers who chose to lay down their swords as Mullins was dominating at the DRF – and some of them might just surprise some of the Closutton hotpots.


After the Dublin Racing Festival, everyone thinks that Galopin Des Champs is a better horse than Fastorslow.

But WHAT IF Fastorslow wasn’t fully fit?

It’s now 2-2 in the head to head between Galopin Des Champs and Fastorslow, and no doubt their duels are fast becoming one of the most compelling rivalries in the sport today.

But are we really right to assume that Galopin Des Champ’s victory in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival settles it once and for all?

At the Dublin Festival the old adversaries came round the home turn locked together before Galopin Des Champs pulled away, and while every expert from here to your local podcast studio has put that down to Galopin outsaying Fastorslow, couldn’t it just as easily have been down to better conditioning?

Galopin Des Champs had arrived into the race straight from his brilliant victory in the Savills Chase, on the back of an uninterrupted preparation.

But this was Fastorslow’s first run back on the racecourse since he beat Galopin Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial in November – more than two months previously.

We’ve looked already at how Mullins targets the DRF, and so he would have had Galopin Des Champs fit and ready, but isn’t it just as likely that the super shrewd Martin Brassil was using the Leopardstown race to tune up Fastorslow for the big one at the Festival?

The idea that Fastorslow isn’t a strong stayer at this distance (some people were even talking about switching back to the Ryanair) is a bit of a nonsense if you watch last year’s Ultima Chase at the Festival, when he was gaining at the finish trying to give subsequent Grand National winner Corach Rambler four pounds over three miles and a furlong.

If you want another reason to suspect that Fastorslow is going to be a very big threat to the champion, then consider the fascinating data from the brilliant RaceiQ, whose analysis of each horse’s jumping during the Irish Gold Cup identified that Fastorslow gained 12 lengths in the air over Galopin Des Champs during the race.

That’s a staggering statistic, especially when you think that it’s usually the cleanest round of jumping that wins horses a Gold Cup.

Pretty clearly, Fastorslow is as good as any horse out there today through the air, and that’s going to be a formidable weapon in what looks like a double figure field Gold Cup, where no prisoners are going to be taken.

Galopin Des Champs is a worthy Gold Cup favourite who has only been beaten twice when standing up in his entire career in Grade One chases, but the horse that beat him on both those occasions is going to be primed and ready to take him on this Friday, and Fastorslow is surely far better value at the current 6/1 on the exchanges.


While we are focussed upon ifs and maybe's, let's address a couple of other points of contention amongst Festival fans of late.

Firstly, everyone is moaning about the quality of Festival novice chases being diluted by the number of different options for connections.

But WHAT IF the solution was staring us all in the face?

Just get rid of the National Hunt Chase.

Turn it into a Veterans Handicap, or maybe the Prestbury National for seasoned handicappers over the same 3m6f distance.

That way, the horses who would naturally run in the National Hunt Chase, like Embassy Gardens and Corbetts Cross this season, would have to run in the Brown Advisory.

And if the Brown Advisory was more competitive, perhaps some connections going for that race might think about going for the Turners with their horses instead.

And if the Turners became more difficult to win, then maybe some trainers might go for the Arkle, making that race more interesting.

It’s a sort of trickledown economics, but without the lies.

And let’s be honest, wouldn’t a competitive long-distance chase with seasoned campaigners be a lot more interesting for punters than watching a few staying novices from big stables who’ve cherry picked this target as the easiest Festival option?

It would be a lot safer for jockeys and horses too, and that’s been a big concern about this race in the past.


Many fans are also moaning about Lossiemouth not running in the Champion Hurdle.

But WHAT IF there is an obvious solution?

If there was a bonus of say £250,000 for any mare that can win the Champion Hurdle, the likes of Annie Power, Benie Des Dieux and Quevega would surely have been in the Champion Hurdle field in the years when they went for the Mares Hurdle instead.

No doubt, Lossiemouth would be running this year with that added financial incentive.

Perhaps all of the bookmakers could get together and crowdfund it if they really do want to have more competitive racing at the Festival.

The idea that racing was incentivising females to take on the boys is the sort of Daisy versus Goliath concept that would have real resonance with the mainstream media.

So, there you are, some controversial and perhaps idiotic WHAT IFS for this year’s Cheltenham Festival - along with some hare-brained ideas for the race planning and marketing boys.

If you pop into McDonalds on the way home from Prestbury Park, let us know what you think – we'll probably be the ones in red noses and make-up.