Gordon Elliott and his team will be dreaming of Cheltenham Gold Cup glory this season with the hugely-talented Gerri Colombe, but it remains a stiff challenge.
Gerri Colombe only has a couple of defeats on his CV from an 11-race career, but the latest of those was a wide-margin thrashing from the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup king Galopin Des Champs at Leopardstown.
Elliott and owners Robcour will be pinning hopes on something having been amiss with their star that afternoon and it could yet be a major spring in store for Gerri Colombe, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday 15th March still very much on the radar.
Gerri Colombe is one of a long line of outstanding point-to-point winners to emerge from the Colin Bowe yard at Kiltealy in Co Wexford.
From there, Gerri Colombe was sent out for a winning debut between the flags at Lingstown on 8th March 2020, just before lockdown came into effect.
Owners Robcour snapped him up for £240,000 not long after and he made his first appearance under Rules when landing a Fairyhouse bumper by some 24-lengths in January 2021.
He followed it up at Naas in February and would make his hurdles bow at Down Royal on Boxing Day 2021, once more impressing on his jumping bow in a clear cut success.
He remained lightly-campaigned and, after stepping up to 2m4f for a Thurles novice hurdle in January 2022, he was once more put away for the season. The imposing and scopey sort always, he seemed destined to really come into his own once he went chasing.
The next phase of his career began with a pleasing success in a Fairyhouse beginners contest in November 2022 over 2m5f and, from there, little time was wasted in testing Gerri Colombe out at the highest level.
The result was a St Stephen's Day victory in the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase (2m3½f) at Limerick as Jordan Gainford took over riding duties for the first time with Jack Kennedy needed at Leopardstown.
Gainford kept the ride as Gerri Colombe began 2023 with a visit to Sandown and a second Grade 1 win with a polished display in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase in February over two-and-a-half-miles.
All roads led to Cheltenham from there and Gerri Colombe was a warm order for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase over the extended three-miles in the Cotswolds.
He was, however, turned over by The Real Whacker that afternoon in the first defeat of his career. Gerri Colombe got slightly outpaced three fences from home and, while he rallied in gutsy fashion, he ran out of yardage and was a diminishing short-head down at the line – losing no caste in defeat.
At Aintree the following month, he contributed to a perfect send-off for the retiring Davy Russell, as the pair emphatically won the Mildmay Novices' Chase over 3m1f, signing off a first season over fences that yielded three Grade 1 wins.
Gerri Colombe stepped out in open graded company for the first time on his seasonal return at Down Royal and he came out with their Champion Chase crown despite a race that was not really run to suit him.
It turned into a dash for home and, despite once more getting done for toe briefly, Jack Kennedy switched him inside runners and they powered home to get the best of defending champ Envoi Allen by a neck.
It was a meritorious effort and teed up a showdown with Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The Willie Mullins star came into that contest after successive defeats and with questions to answer, with little to split the pair in the market beforehand.
On the track, Galopin Des Champs delivered a statement performance, surging clear under Paul Townend to score by a whopping 23-lengths, leaving Gerri Colombe to scrap it out with Capodanno for the silver medal – a duel he just about won.
It was a very testing surface at the Foxrock venue over Christmas and, while Gerri Colombe has won in the mud before, connections will likely be feeling he did not give his true running in the Savills.
One under-par showing is unlikely to define this hugely talented staying chaser, but there's no doubting the gauntlet has been thrown down in front of him for the spring campaign ahead.
He's likely to see plenty more of Galopin Des Champs in the coming months and Gerri Colombe is now 6/1 to win the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Saturday 3rd February, while he trades at 10/1 to give Elliott a second Cheltenham Gold Cup come 15th March, eight years after Don Cossack landed jumps racing's most coveted prize for the Cullentra House supremo.
Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.