Gerri Colombe on his way to a Champion Chase win (JTW Equine Images)
By Tom Williams – JTW Equine Images
Gerri Colombe was already talked about as being a leading contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March long before today, indeed those conversations occurring as the 2022/23 season drew to a close, and the whisps of the then-current season faded into the aurora of history.
And when starting out at 4/7 favourite on Saturday for the feature event of Down Royal’s Festival of Racing, it seemed that anything other than victory was a comfortable sentiment.
By taking the Ladbrokes Champion Chase in the manner the betting suggested, he was going to show his imperious nature and show why he is a leading candidate going into the Blue Riband event in the Spring at Prestbury Park.
But Racing is never simple. And there is no such thing as a certainty in this sport.
Supporters of the strapping, beautiful son of Saddler Maker would have been worried going to the last fence, as he had dropped back to third from being up with the leaders Conflated and Minella Indo for most of the journey, after Conflated had decided to almost curtail his stable companion’s chances by jumping out to his left, much as he had done in last year’s renewal.
Victory was looking to go to last year’s victor Envoi Allen, or one of Gerri’s stablemates in Conflated, if it was he managed to stay straight and not jump into the car park and get on the number 7 service to Belfast for a knees up.
However, credit to the jockey and willing partner in third, they relentlessly charged up the hill after a fine leap at the last to steal victory from the jaws of defeat and overhaul Envoi Allen in the shadows of the post, downing last year’s adored winner and subjecting him to a first defeat at his beloved Down Royal.
Conflated was not far behind in third, the trio well clear of Minella Indo, a former Gold Cup winner who faded late on when push came to shove.
It is more special when you think about who exactly Gerri Colombe has beaten today, despite this being his first time out of the season when every other of his 3 rivals had already had a run to wipe away any post summer cobwebs or condition.
Minella Indo has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Conflated a Savills Chase, and Envoi Allen has won the Ryanair in the last 12 months, to add to his Champion Bumper and Ballymore Novices Hurdle victories of 2019 and 2020 respectively.
It was also more poignant and interesting as the winning rider, Jack Kennedy, has now won a Grade 1 on each of the field in the race today. Minella Indo was his 2021 Gold Cup hero, Envoi Allen his 2020 Drinmore Novices Chase champion and Conflated being his 2022 Savills Chase warrior.
Nice set of stats for those who are looking for some pub quiz trivia.
Speaking afterwards to assembled media, his jockey was full of praise for his partner, who was making his first step out of novice company, and taking on the big guns at their own league.
“For things to go so wrong for him and still win”, he began, showed that the horse was “really good”.
Trainer Gordon Elliott, who was notching up a fourth victory of four on the card and a tenth winner of the two day meeting as a whole, was equally glowing about his charge, saying how he was “delighted” with the son of Saddler Maker.
Gordon did mention that the horse had only been in since the middle of September, which makes the feat of his victory even more impressive, given how usually horses at that stage are not too far off from a run, but not fully wound up to produce such a performance that he did.
Going further, he added his sentiments about the horse who may well be his stable star, if not for the next few seasons but at least the 2023/24 National Hunt seasons.
“He’s a great horse… laid back, but a gentleman”.
“He has showed that he is in the mix for the Gold Cup. He will have one run ( after this ), then the Gold Cup ( at Cheltenham ).
“The sky is the limit!”
Gerri Colombe has only been beaten once under Rules, in which it was the 2023 Brown Advisory Novices Chase. Since then, the focus has solely been on one race, in a bid to lay to rest the hoodoo of his Cheltenham ghost.
“We were all gutted”, Gordon went on to say, reflecting on that day back in March. “But his owner Brian ( Acheson ) said that we would be back in 12 months time”.
One thing is for sure though – in the words of Gordon Elliott, he is “in the mix” for the Gold Cup, in which he is now a general 5/1 chance.
Of beaten horses, trainer Henry De Bromhead was thrilled with the performances that both Envoi Allen and Minella Indo gave.
Of Envoi Allen, he stated that he was “delighted” with last year’s winner, saying it was a super performance, and just a bit unfortunate that he couldn’t emulate his victory of 12 months earlier.
Of future plans, he had nothing concrete in mind, a case of simply seeing what was next when the time comes.
Of Minella Indo, he stated that it was simply and mainly a case of age catching up with his 2021 Gold Cup hero, with the gelding now rising 11 in just over a month and a half’s time.
All the horses who lined up this day however ran with credit, and gave National Hunt fans the feast that they crave on big days like this, something to whet the appetite for bigger banquets as the season rolls on.
But who will be seated at the top if the table at the end of the season is as open as it could ever be.
Galopin Des Champs, the hero of Cheltenham, is the reigning king. He has risen to the top of the hierarchy and is favourite still for the big race. And in a land famous for being a filming location for the Game Of Thrones sagas, a throne is precisely where you will find him.
But in a rival such as Gerri Colombe, he does not sit on that throne very comfortably.