To call the weekend just gone an informative one, would be a massive understatement. Three days of the November meeting at Cheltenham plus the small matter of the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown – it was heaven for National Hunt fans! It was also a good weekend here at myracing, with us landing a 204/1 Accumulator tip on Saturday.
Count Meribel was an extremely gutsy winner of the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase on Friday, having made a serious error at the penultimate fence. He fought back gallantly under Mark Grant to fend off Le Breuil and Mr Whipped. However, the unluckiest horse in the race is undoubtedly White Moon. The stunning grey looked to be staying on best approaching the final fence before Le Breuil jumped across him, leaving him completely unsighted of the last obstacle. Unfortunately he took a crashing fall when looking the most likely winner. Hopefully he’s none the worse following the incident as he appears to have serious potential over fences. The JLT is a potential target, for which he’s a healthy 33/1, but he’s a Point to Point winner so shouldn’t have any problem stepping up to three miles for the RSA where he’s a 40/1 shot.
After being off the track for nineteen months, Baron Alco returned at Chepstow in October where he was an excellent second which put him spot on for the Betvictor Gold Cup. Competing off the same mark as when second to Road To Respect in the Brown Advisory And Merriebelle Stable Plate in 2017. On that form alone he was entitled to go well at Cheltenham on Saturday and duly did. That same contest could be on the radar in March but that could be difficult off what would be a higher mark. Although he has only had seven starts over fences so is likely still open to some improvement.
Barry Geraghty very much had his hands full before, and during, the Triumph Trial on Saturday aboard Never Adapt. She was free to post and incredibly keen at the start of the race, pulling herself into a clear lead before dropping back just ahead of the second last hurdle. But what was impressive was how she stuck on after seemingly appearing well-beaten. Staying on into third after the last, she demonstrated an abundance of ability and had she not have been so keen in the early stages, would have gone very close to winning the race. Nicky Henderson had Apple’s Shakira for the Triumph Hurdle last season and could have another smart one here.
Having travelled into the race much the best, First Assignment was an emphatic nine length winner of the Regulatory Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle. The three mile trip really brought out the best in him and if he were to run in a Pertemps Qualifier he could definitely be a viable contender for the final given his improving profile.
Last seasons Top Novices’ Hurdle winner Lalor was an emphatic winer of the Arkle Trial on Sunday. Having stalked the leaders for the majority of the race, he took control after the third last flight and with two terrific leaps, powered up the Cheltenham hill to record a resounding success. The best horse in the race by some margin, he has shortened into 6/1 in the Arkle market and deservedly so, now sharing joint favouritism with Kalashnikov. Not many other challengers have emerged for that race yet so at present the two market leaders look by far the most appealing.
Having jumped spectacularly almost all the way round, Sceau Royal confirmed that he’s a genuine contender to Altior in the Champion Chase. A Grade 1 winner last season, it was a shame he couldn’t take his chance in the Arkle but he showed on Sunday that he’s none the worse for his injury. With Footpad underperforming on reappearance, Sceau Royal could be the leading contender in the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede silks. The 14/1 currently available for the Champion Chase could be an appealing each way play for a lot of people.
The initial entries for the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday were brilliant, but the nearer we got to the race, the less competitive it appeared to become. Melon, Laurina, Samcro and Supasundae all fell by the wayside leaving a field of just four. Faugheen was the odds-on favourite and despite shaking off the challenge of Tombstone, couldn’t cope with the turn of foot of his stablemate Sharjah. The 2015 Champion Hurdler didn’t seem to have a change of gear and after his performance over further at the end of last season, his future definitely lies over staying distances. He actually drifted in the market for the Stayers Hurdle to a general 10/1 which doesn’t look unreasonable.
In terms of Sharjah and a bid for the Champion Hurdle, he has a bit to find and the odds of 33/1 reflect that. But as we know, the race can cut up and he could outrun those odds if the ground is good.
The Betfair Chase takes place at Haydock on Saturday and being the first leg of the million pound bonus, a strong line up is in the offing. Might Bite, Native River, Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai, among others, look set to start on their road to the Gold Cup. There are also a couple of Grade 2’s at Ascot with the Christy 1965 Chase and the Coral Hurdle which will make for great viewing on our ITV Racing tips.