GALOPIN Des Champs has been confirmed as top dog in a most healthy staying chase division and he may have more Cheltenham Gold Cup joy to come, according to the Irish handicapping team.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was awarded a rating of 179 - just 1lb behind the previous year’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard, whose figure of 180 was the highest figure for a winner of the race since Bobs Worth in 2013.

Cheltenham runner-up Bravemansgame is 7lb behind on 172, while Gold Cup absentee L’Homme Presse is next in the standings on 170 ahead of Ahoy Senor on 169. Fastorslow, who caused an upset for Martin Brassil at the Punchestown Festival, is on 168, ahead of Conflated, Hewick (both 167), Noble Yeats and Protektorat (both 166).

“Galopin Des Champs has had a great season and was one of the most impressive Gold Cup winners we’ve had in a few years,” said Andrew ‘Sandy’ Shaw.

“What’s interesting to me is that he’s only seven. When Kauto Star won the Gold Cup in 2007 he was the same age. We’ve had other seven-year-old winners in recent years who weren’t quite as good, Sizing John and Al Boum Photo, but I think Galopin has it all in front of him.

“His Punchestown defeat tainted it slightly but I personally think he can go on again and win at least one more Gold Cup, provided he avoids injury.”

On his Punchestown conqueror Fastorslow, Shaw added: “Next season will give us a much better guide to his rating. What I liked about his Punchestown performance was how he travelled in that company. I think there’s every chance he could prove slightly better than the 168 we’ve given him.”

Irish influence

Of the novice chasers in the staying division, The Real Whacker and Gerri Colombe, who fought out the finish of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, emerge as the only candidates to be rated higher than 157 with marks of 162 each.

The Willie Mullins trio of Irish Grand National winner I Am Maximus, Brown Advisory third Bronn (both 157) and National Hunt Chase scorer Gaillard du Mesnil (156) are marginally ahead of unorthodox Punchestown Festival Grade 1 scorer Feronily (155).

“The stayers were the most healthy list of all chase divisions either side of the Irish Sea, using the 160 and above barometer I’ve used for all categories,” said BHA steeplechase handicap team leader Martin Greenwood.

“Eight are from the UK and nine from Ireland, which is good news for both jurisdictions.”

He added: “With hindsight, I personally think Gerri Colombe should have won at Cheltenham. The Real Whacker benefitted from possibly a better ride and jumped better, but he’s still an interesting horse with a willing attitude. He’s progressing nicely and his jumping will stand him in good stead.”

‘He could be the real thing’

Energumene is the standout two-mile chaser on a mark of 175, but Sandy Shaw fears stablemate El Fabiolo could be set to steal his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crown despite having 5lb to find with the dual Cheltenham Festival winner.

A mark of 170 handed to the impressive Sporting Life Arkle hero makes him the joint top-rated two-mile novice chaser, alongside Altior, since the classifications began.

“I think the two-mile chase division is probably going to be the most interesting category next season,” said Shaw.

“Energumene won back-to-back Champion Chases but it was unfortunate that the horses who beat him in the Clarence House, Edwardstone and Editeur Du Gite, didn’t run their races. He then scraped home from Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown when not running up to his best, and next year - at the age of 10 - he’ll try to emulate Badsworth Boy as the only horse to win the Champion Chase three years in a row.

“El Fabiolo is potentially the most exciting two-mile novice chaser we’ve had for a while. He’s full of potential and is only six. Jonbon franked the form of the Arkle at Sandown in open company. I think that shows you the standard of two-mile novice chasers this season.

“We say it a lot about steeplechasers and hurdlers, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but he really does look to be the real thing. I’d be surprised not to see him win a Champion Chase next season, and probably even one or two more.”

Shishkin shines

Betfair Ascot Chase and Alder Hey Aintree Bowl Chase scorer Shishkin leads the way in the two-and-a-half-mile standings over fences on 173 - 10lb superior to his Cheltenham Festival foe Envoi Allen (163).

The Henry de Bromhead-trained nine-year-old disappointed in the Punchestown Gold Cup after his third Cheltenham Festival success when two and three quarters of a length ahead of Shishkin.

It’s a sign of how lowly the handicappers have rated this year’s Ryanair Chase that Stattler’s second to Minella Indo in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore puts him on a par with Envoi Allen on 163. Shay Quinn said the performance was the lowest-rated Ryanair Chase win in 15 years but is eager to see him tackle the Cheltenham Gold Cup next season.

When factoring in the mares’ allowance, Colm Murphy’s star mare Impervious (158) comes out best in terms of the two-and-a-half-mile novice chasers.

“She was handled very well by Colm Murphy all year and there could be improvement in her,” said IHRB handicapper Shay Quinn.

“I’d be surprised if she doesn’t win at the top level next season and she could be an ideal type for the Ryanair Chase.”