The last weekend of racing in January brought contrasting fortunes for two of the biggest jumps trainers in the game, as their runners looked for big victories in the build up to the Cheltenham festival races betting.
Alan King enjoyed a fantastic day, enjoying a hat-trick of wins at Cheltenham, as well as a two timer at Cheltenham. Yanworth was arguably his most impressive winner of the day, as he cruised to victory on the Grade 2 Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. He is now the favourite for the Neptune Hurdle at the festival, after his odds came in from 8/1 to as low as 9/4 with some bookmakers.
Smad Place was 9/2 second favourite behind the odds on Djakadam in the big race of the meeting, but after took advantage of his Cheltenham rivals misfortune, stretching away from Many Clouds to win the BetBright Trial Chase by 12 lengths. After the race, King refused to confirm which race Smad Place would run in at the festival, but this win has seen his Gold Cup odds shorten to as low as 8/1 after being at 25’s earlier in the week.
Annacotty took the FreeBets.com Trophy Chase for the second year in a row, as she held off a brave effort from Tenor Nivernais to win by just over a length. His odds for the Ryanair have slightly improved based on this result, but can still be found amongst the outsiders at his lowest available price of 20/1. King’s other two winners of the day came at Doncaster, with 9/1 shot McCade Creek taking the opening Hurdle of the day, before Ziga Boy made all and pulled clear to win the big pot of the meet, in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase.
Ben Pauling’s unbeaten hurdler Barters Hill came through a tough test in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Doncaster. The odds on favourite overcame very game efforts from Up For Review and Ballydine to eventually win by three quarters of a length. His odds for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the festival have stayed the same at the head of the betting, a best price 3/1 favourite.
Nicky Henderson had a win to celebrate at Doncaster, as his seven year old Vaniteux was driven out to win the Grade 2 Lightening Novices Chase. Brian Ellison’s Smart Talk continued her impressive start to the season at Cheltenham, as she held off Lily Waugh to win the OLGB Mares Hurdle. Vaniteux remains the 7/1 third favourite for the Arkle, but Smart Talk has come in from 20’s to 8/1 to be the first winner of the Mares Novice Hurdle.
Thistlecrack kept up his impressive form with another majestic performance to claim the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. Colin Tizzard’s festival hopeful cruised around the track for most of the race, jumping really well before pulling effortlessly away from the pack for 12 length victory, enhancing his clear World Hurdle favouritism in the process.
However, it was a weekend to forget for Willie Mullins. The Champion Irish trainer sent over a trio of highly rated favourites, but to his despair, none of them managed to win.
The most surprising incident came in the BetBright Trial, as odds on favourite Djakadam looked comfortable half way through the race, but reached a little as he approached the 10th and was sent crashing to the ground. He now finds himself third in the Gold Cup betting at, slipping from the 7/2 favourite earlier in the week, down to a best price of 5/1.
Morning Run was next up at Doncaster, looking to bounce back from her third place at Leopardstown last time out. Once again she went off as the odds on favourite, but history repeated itself, as she weakened significantly down the final few furlongs to add a second consecutive third to her form card. At the start of December, she was the 4/1 second favourite for the Mares Hurdle at the festival, but these two poor results have left her languishing amongst the also-rans at 25 and 33/1.
Appearing earlier on the Doncaster card was Shaneshill, who won both his previous rans over fences. Despite being pushed into the lead half way round, he couldn’t match the speed and stamina of his rivals, eventually finishing fourth out of five. His odds for the JLT have fallen from 4/1 to as low as 12/1 with some bookies.
Myska was up on Sunday, a general 6/1 shot for the Mares Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival, was unbeaten in three and sent off the 8/13 favourite for the Listed Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. She jumped poorly and emptied quickly, struggling a long way out, and was later reported to be coughing after the race. She’s now 14/1 best price for the Festival race.
There were two consolations for Mullins would have been the win for Limini in a Grade 3 Hurdle at Fairyhouse. The 4/5F was rarely troubled, eventually winning by 11 Lengths to further enhance her favouritism for the Mares Novices Hurdle at the festival.
Felix Yonger drifted out to evens following Myska’s run but travelled beautifully and jumped well. He had to battle to fight off recent Grade 1 winner Flemenstar but he did it well. He was cut from 20/1 to 16/1 for the Champion Chase and from 25/1 to 20/1 in the Ryanair Chase betting, although it’s worth noting he skipped Cheltenham entirely last year and Willie Mullins is considering sending him to compete in Japan.
David Pipe’s Un Temps Pour Tout gave away a huge weight advantage going into the Timeform Novices Handicap Chase at Cheltenham. The weight proved decisive as he failed to make any impression and could only manage fourth behind Kings Odyssey. He can now be found at around 33/1 in the betting for both the RSA and the World Hurdle.
There was also Cheltenham disappointment for Philip Hobbs, as another jumping blunder from 2/1F Champagne West ruined his chances of a win, failing to recover from the mistake and eventually being pulled up. His odds for the Ryanair have moved out from 16’s to 25/1.