More Cheltenham clues courtesy of action from Newbury and Fairyhouse over an ultra competitive weekend of racing.
Sandown will no doubt hold further clues this weekend, with Defi Du Seuil the current favourite for the Tingle Creek. Be sure to make use of our tips and analysis as well build towards Saturday, including our NAP Of The Day.
Quite clearly not the finished article, but that only serves to enhance his reputation. Nicky Henderson’s Champ made it two-from-two from fences when landing a Novices’ Grade Two at Newbury on Friday.
He beat the 152 rated Black Op, who’d bolted in previously, despite a less than flawless round of jumping, interference from a loose horse and nearly running out late on. There’s plenty more to come when he’s returned to three-miles, a trip he’ll face at the Festival in the RSA (7/2) for which he is favourite.
Another far from straightforward success but we’ve come to expect that from last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle winner. Emma Lavelle’s star was always doing enough to repel the classy Thistlecrack on his return in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle despite giving him six pounds.
The son of Oscar is now as short as 7/4 for the defence of his crown and he made it six from six over the past two seasons. With the staying division looking a little light in quality, this could be a big price on the day.
Willie Mullins’ lightly raced seven-year-old justified favouritism on chase debut at Fairyhouse on Saturday. The 2018 Champion Bumper runner up, placed in a Grade One on just his second run over hurdles, looked far from the finished article but ultimately scored with plenty in hand.
He’s a very interesting contender in staying novice chases to come, with the RSA (25/1) looking the obvious target. Slow ground looks the key to the seven-year-old. Given his untapped potential, he could be a big player come March time if the rain obliges.
Nicky Henderson’s filly made it two-from-three over hurdles, reversing the form with Silver Forever on her second start with an authoritative win. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions regarding the Mares’ Novice Hurdle (10/1) at this moment in time but she’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
Ditcheat and Paul Nicholls have another potentially high class staying chaser on their hands with Danny Whizzbang. The six-year-old took his record under rules to three-from-three with an impressive win on chase debut.
Sent off 9/2 in a three-runner race, ignored in the market behind short-priced favourite Reserve Tank, he stayed on stoutly under Harry Cobden. Posting an RPR of 150, he has just six pounds to find with Champ, and could be an interesting each way bet for the RSA (20/1).
There was no racing from the UK on Sunday but Fairyhouse filled the gap with aplomb. The hugely exciting Envoi Allen is now seven unbeaten as he landed the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle under Davy Russell.
The 2019 Champion Bumper winner has confirmed his earlier promise with two bloodless wins over hurdles this season, quickening impressively to overcome stablemate Abacadabras. He’s now favourite for two of three Novice Hurdles at the Festival – Supreme (4/1) & Ballymore (3/1). Given the puzzling picture amongst the older hurdles, he wouldn’t be out of place in the Champion Hurdle (12/1).
We’re none the wiser to finding out if Samcro is really back to his best. A winner of a weak race on chase debut, he was out jumped by Fakir D’oudairies at Fairyhouse but did appear to be travelling better when falling two out in the Drinmore.
The latter, receiving eight-pounds on the day, jumped superbly but was fortunate that the Gigginstown runner fell. Come Festival time, he won’t receive weight from the older horses so could have a hard job in the Arkle (6/1).
Gordon Elliott’s enigmatic Samcro remains favourite for the JLT (6/1). He certainly has the class to win, but at the moment his jumping isn’t quite up to scratch. The jury remains out for him.
One contender who did confirm her reputation over the weekend was Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle. The mare had plenty to find on figures in the Hatton’s Grace in which she faced Bacardys and Apple’s Jade, but she proved more than a match for Ireland’s best hurdlers with a facile nine-length success.
Connections have since stated that she’ll most likely be sent to the Mares’ Hurdle (2/1) for which she is now favourite. As previously mentioned, the geldings aren’t really up to too much, so a shout at the Champion Hurdle (10/1) has to enter calculations.
The previously peerless Apple’s Jade has come up short in her last five starts. It’s a wonder how long she’ll remain in training. Whatever the outcome, she’s been a fantastic servant to connections.