The final edition of ‘Cheltenham Clues’ with the Festival just a couple of weeks away. As we’re so close to ‘The Greatest Show On Turf’, check out our antepost previews for the major Cheltenham Festival races!
The key contests last week came from Kempton with arguably the performance of the weekend being delivered by Fusil Raffles in the Adonis Hurdle. But unfortunately, he suffered a nasty cut during the contest which has been deemed bad enough by the veterinary team at Seven Barrows to rule him out of Cheltenham. It’s a massive shame considering how taking that British debut was.
A talking horse for much of the season, we finally got to see Angels Breath out on the track again. Sent off the 8/11 favourite for the Dovecote, a win was expected, but when delving into the race, second is nothing for connections to be disheartened about.
He will have gained vital experience for just his second outing on a British racecourse and having stuck on steadily to the line after being tapped for a bit of speed around the home bend, the more testing nature of Cheltenham should see him to better effect.
The time of the race was good and he was conceding five pounds to the winner, who clearly appreciated the fast underfoot conditions.
Chef Des Obeaux has taken his time to warm up to chasing, as his first two tries in the sphere haven’t gone to plan. He made it third time lucky on Saturday, jumping better and staying on stoutly over the three mile, two furlong trip. He holds entries in the National Hunt Chase and Ultima Handicap at Cheltenham, for which he’d be of more interest in the former given his lack of fencing experience.
Exciting hurdler Dickie Diver built on his debut promise when comfortably getting the better of Kingsplace. Travelling superbly well throughout, he evidently has bundles of latent ability. Having only been beaten by a subsequent Grade 2 winner on his prior start, his form reads well and a tilt at the Albert Bartlett looks on the cards.
A dominant front running display saw Philip Hobbs’ Samburu Shujaa book his place in the Pertemps Final. Jumping well throughout, it was an assured effort on his handicap debut. Since stepping up to around three miles his form figures read 211 so he’s clearly improved for it. There should be more to come at the distance and this improving handicapper could have a big say.
Cap York was seen finishing a close fourth in Grade 2 company prior to winning a Pertemps Qualifier off a mark of 132 at Punchestown on Wednesday. His chance was aided by the final flight fall of Choungaya, but nonetheless won well. He’s clearly a strong stayer and having just had the four starts over hurdles, there could be more in the locker.
Epatante did what she was entitled to do at Exeter when sent off the 1/6 favourite, but she couldn’t have done it any better. Travelling and jumping impeccably, she put herself at the head of the market for the Mares’ Novices Hurdle.
Sent off even shorter at Newcastle on Saturday, Lust For Glory also won as she liked at odds of 1/8. It didn’t tell us a great deal, apart from the fact that she’s fit and well. But she’s part of a strong hand for Nicky Henderson in the division and it’ll be interesting to see where she ranks in the pecking order.
Already a better chaser than hurdler, Clondaw Castle put in an impressive display at Huntingdon on Thursday when running out an easy winner over two miles. His trainer Tom George has previously stated that the Close Brothers Handicap Chase has been a long term target for his charge.
The step up in trip shouldn’t pose a problem for this three mile Point To Point winner and he’s a horse firmly on the upgrade.
Winning his last two starts by ten lengths, Real Steel looks a prime candidate for what looks like a JLT lacking in depth. He was dropped slightly in trip at Thurles on Thursday, but that didn’t stop him gaining a comfortable victory. Looking back to his old self, his jumping is getting better all the time.
Paul Nicholls’ talented former Grade 2 winner, Wonderful Charm produced an emphatic fifty-five length victory at Doncaster on Wednesday to set himself up perfectly for Cheltenham. He’s very much at his best on good ground, so with the winter we’ve had, conditions will be ideal for him, as long as the weather doesn’t change.
Shantou Flyer finished a gallant second in the Ultima Handicap Chase at last season’s Festival, but will contest the Foxhunters’ this time around following a facile thirty-five length victory at Fontwell on Sunday. He’s won twice and finished runner up on five occasions from just seven starts around Cheltenham, so a return to that venue should bring out the best in him.
Following the same route as her illustrious stablemate Annie Power, Laurina eased clear of her rivals at Punchestown on Thursday. She did what was expected of her, but the fashion in which she did it is encouraging for her supporters.
A general 7/2 shot for the Champion Hurdle, that price appears skinny enough considering she’s raced exclusively against her own sex. Her jumping will be tested to the limit, but it may be that the faster they go, the better she’ll jump.
Whatswrongwithyou has always promised to be a talented horse, despite having his quirks. Beating stablemate Ok Corral over hurdles last season in particular, reads as a strong piece of form. Competing in just small fields over fences so far, he’s won two of three starts and was a most impressive seventeen length winner at Fontwell on Sunday.
He races like a horse that would appreciated a strong pace to aim at and needed that win to gain a mark high enough to get into the Grand Annual at Cheltenham. The nature of that race should suit him down to the ground and given the contest is named after his trainer’s father, it’s likely been the target for a while.
Having hit the crossbar in a number of good races so far this campaign, no-one can begrudge Vision Des Flos his big race win. Always travelling the best throughout, he quickened clear for a deserved success.
The Coral Cup looks the most likely destination for him, for which he’s tightened up into as short as 10/1.