When the Storyteller produced arguably one of the best performances of his career in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in October, it is safe to say not many people thought the Stayers’ Hurdle would be his Cheltenham Festival target.
The 10-year-old has mixed it up over both sets of obstacles this season, making starts over hurdles and fences.
The slightly unorthodox approach has intriguingly returned strong results, as the gelding has finished in the top two places in seven of his nine starts so far this term, winning four of them.
Owned by the Sloan family, his season started all the way back in July in the week-long Galway Festival where he made two starts in the space of 48 hours.
After being pulled up relatively early by Davy Russell in the Galway Plate on Friday, the 10-year-old’s connections opted to keep him entered in the Arthur Guinness Chase on Sunday.
The gelding rewarded them with an almost-instant return to form, clearing away from the field in the home turn and staying on strongly to win by just under 10 lengths.
The Storyteller returned to Galway only five weeks later, this time to compete over the smaller obstacles in the Deacy Gilligan Hurdle.
He overcame market favourite My Sister Sarah in the final stages, running on well to win by four lengths.
It was not long before the gelding went back to tackling fences, facing a tough contest in the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park in early October.
The Cullentra yard talent finished second to Willie Mullins’ Easy Game, but it was a huge improvement compared to the season previously, when he finished last of eight runners in this contest.
The winning form over the larger obstacles returned only 11 days later, when the ten-year-old won the three-mile Grade 3 Chase at Punchestown in comfortable fashion, bolting clear of Tout Est Permis in the closing stages.
It was less than two and a half weeks later when he produced his most impressive performance to date in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at the Down Royal Festival.
The ten-year-old made headway just before three out and pushed ahead of stablemate Presenting Percy on the run-up to the last, with only Chris’s Dream remaining ahead of him.
Henry De Bromhead’s mount tried to pull away from the gelding in the home straight, but The Storyteller battled back bravely and snatched the lead with only a few strides left, prevailing by a neck.
After a 58 day break, he made his return over the festive period, participating in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle.
The Grade 1 winner ran yet another cracker, making up an incredible amount of ground to finish second behind the rapidly improving Flooring Porter.
His final Festival preparation race came at the Dublin Racing Festival, switching back to fences to compete in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.
Once again, the 10-year-old fought his way into the top two, producing another strong performance to finish two lengths behind Kemboy.
The Storyteller was reverted back to hurdles for the Cheltenham Festival, where he would take on Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
He ran well once again, staying on in the closing stages to claim fifth.
The 10-year-old will be switching to fences once again, as the Irish runner holds an entry in this year’s Grand National, rounding off an incredibly versatile campaign from the gelding.
Could we see Denise Foster record her first Grand National success with The Storyteller?
His stamina is questionable for this contest, but he has shown hints that he can run further than the usual three-mile distance he likes to compete at.
Seven of the last 15 winners of the National Hunt Showpiece have carried more than 11st. However, there has only been one winner since 1978 with a weight higher than 11st 8lbs, which is what the 10-year-old has been given by the handicapper.
The Irish runner will make his maiden run at Aintree here, which could benefit him. 10 of the last 12 winners were making their first start in the contest, but only three of the last 11 victors had not run at the Grand National meeting previously.
It looks like a big ask of The Storyteller to claim success here, but it would be an incredibly versatile rise to the top if he is to win the biggest race of them all.