Due to some rescheduled racing taking place following the Equine Influenza outbreak, it was a bumper end to the week. Quality galore and plenty of clues for the Cheltenham Festival with the showpiece event just three weeks away. The most impressive performance of the weekend, and probably season, has to be Cyrname who put up a simply sensational display in the Ascot Chase. It looks like he’ll be missing Cheltenham with Nicholls stating that it’ll come too soon plus he needs to go right-handed anyway.
There has been a relatively murky picture to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle picture this season with there being no standout favourite from Willie Mullins’ stable. But Al Dancer could hardly have been more impressive in winning the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He travelled so well prior to quickening smartly after the final flight to readily come away from the field. It was a standard setting performance and you could argue that the current 4/1 available about him is generous. Getaway Trump is definitely one to take out of the race though having run on well into fourth. The three that finished ahead of him were up with the pace throughout, whereas Paul Nicholls charge was held up in a race which wasn’t run to suit.
Grand Sancy is taking a different route to the Supreme as he beat more experienced horses in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. To concede weight to a horse as experienced and as good as Sceau Royal is no mean feat, particularly for a novice. He showed a great attitude to hold on near the line. His form ties in closely with Elixir De Nutz and that pair look lively contenders for the curtain raiser at Cheltenham.
A number of horses are crammed into a relatively short space in the market for the Ryanair and not all of them will turn up. The Gold Cup and Champion Chase are viable other options for a number of them, but this seasons Ryanair should be a cracker regardless. Monalee was a comfortable winner of the Red Mills Chase at Gowran in the absence of Presenting Percy, holding off last years Gold Cup third Anibale Fly. Henry De Bromhead’s charge has the possibility of the Gold Cup, but he’s been a touch keen over three miles in the past and whether he’d see out the extra trip on the Friday of the Festival would have to be a question mark. The extended two and a half mile trip of the Ryanair should prove ideal for him.
In the Ascot Chase, Waiting Patiently and Fox Norton both shaped encouragingly in behind Cyrname. Whether the former will turn up at Cheltenham has to be in doubt given that connections have always been fairly quick to suggest the Prestbury Park track won’t suit him. Fox Norton loves it round Cheltenham with form figures of 2311121. He was off the track for a while but has returned with a pair of promising efforts, suggesting that he retains all his ability.
A few Gold Cup hopes have fallen by the wayside, but one that hasn’t is Clan Des Obeaux. He backed up his smooth King George success with a facile defeat of Terrefort in the Denman Chase, winning with any amount in hand. Doing what his odds suggested he should, he still had to go and do it to confirm his status near the head of the Gold Cup market. The way in which he’s won his last two starts has been that of a very talented, improving horse. You could argue that he should be favourite and he is possibly the most solid option. As Presenting Percy is yet to run over fences this season and Native River hasn’t won since the Gold Cup last year, there are question marks about his close rivals.
It possibly wasn’t a vintage renewal of the Reynoldstown, but Mister Malarky was a deserved winner. Looking like a thorough stayer in the process, he looked to be idling after the last and found extra when Now McGinty got to his quarters. He would probably lack the gears for an RSA, but the slower tempo of the National Hunt Chase would suit him far better.
The Irish appear to hold all the aces in the Triumph Hurdle, but Quel Destin could be there to spoil the party. He’s only lost once since joining Paul Nicholls and that was on his debut. Winning his last five, the ability is clearly there in abundance but what’s so likeable about him is his attitude. He just knows how to win and he battles all the way to the line, as he showed when beating Adjali at Chepstow. His win at Haydock on Saturday was pretty routine, but it should have put him spot on for the Triumph and he should give the likes of Sir Erec something to think about.
Often a very open contest, the Albert Bartlett was last won by a favourite back in 2013, which coincidentally was At Fishers Cross, who was trained by Lisnagar Oscar’s trainer, Rebecca Curtis. He’s taken a bit of time to come to himself, but everything fell right for the six-year-old at Haydock on Saturday. Going further and further away from the field after the second last hurdle, he looked better with yard covered. The test of the Albert Bartlett should suit his evident stamina, plus the trainer certainly knows what it takes to win this contest.
Having headed the market for the novice handicap chase on day one of the Festival for some time, that looked the likely route for Glen Forsa. But following his demolition job in the Kingmaker, where he readily got the better of Kalashnikov, the Grade 1’s await Mick Channon’s charge. His jumping is a huge asset and having won over three miles as well two miles over fences, he’s extremely versatile. He holds entries in both the Arkle and JLT, with the former seemingly more likely at this stage. Whatever one he turns up in, his jumping will put his rivals under pressure and they’ll have to be at the top of their game to match him.
The legend that is Tiger Roll added yet another win to his remarkable CV in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday. As a prep run for the Cheltenham Festival, it was everything you’d want to see and more. He cruised into the lead and won the race with plenty to spare. On the back of that he could probably turn up in any race connections wanted in three weeks time. But a repeat bid in the Cross Country is on the cards and it’ll take a brave one to beat him.
The exciting Laurina looks set to have her preparation for the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Wednesday. A comfortable win there will hopefully see her onto the road to take on Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade. Kempton are holding some key trials on Saturday with three Grade 2’s plus a Grade 3 Handicap Chase.
Cheltenham Clues 11th February