This weekend’s John Durkan Memorial Chase could provide a big hint as to where the Cheltenham Gold Cup is heading this year.
Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar – two of the frontrunners for the trophy – will showcase their credentials at Punchestown and it’s incredibly tough to call which way the race will go.
At 1/1, Flemenstar is the favourite for the four-horse race, yet 15/8 shot Sir Des Champs isn’t far behind him.
Trained by Willie Mullins, you’d naturally be inclined to back the second-favourite, but the Irishman’s CV is notably light on John Durkan wins, which is surprising given that he’s won just about everything there is to win in his homeland. King George-winner Florida Pearl is the sole Mullins inmate to have previously lifted the prize way back in 1991.
Sir Des Champs comes into the race as a course and distance winner, unlike Flemenstar, who will be making his Punchestown debut in this Grade 1 contest.
The undefeated French-bred has also proved himself over longer trips than the two miles four that this race will be ran over, explaining his current 5/1 joint-favouritism for the Cheltenham showpiece.
Flemenstar, on the other hand, has yet to run over a longer distance, tasting a hens-teeth-rare defeat in one of his three outings over two miles four. If there are chinks in his staying armour, they could be exposed in a heavy ground John Durkan, whilst also raising question marks over his claims for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he is currently 7/1 shot.
The seven-year-old was defeated on his solitary run on heavy going, whereas Sir Des Champs remains unbeaten in the same conditions.
The stats point to backing the ever-so-slightly unfancied Sir Des Champs in this race, granting Mullins one of the big wins that has eluded him throughout his career, yet Flemenstar is an exceptional horse to write off.
Likening the clash to the upcoming Manchester derby would not be the most ludicrous thing in the world; it could swing either way, but whoever emerges victorious will be better placed for greater long-term triumphs.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date