A jam-packed weekend of racing saw impressive victories for the likes of Vintage Clouds and Defi Du Seuil, whilst some connections would have been encouraged by their representatives runs on ground softer than they may prefer.
The build-up to the spring festivals ramps up another gear this weekend, with Cheltenham hosting their Festival Trials Day on Saturday – our free horse racing tips will provide selections alongside runner-by-runner previews for all seven races on the card.
Taking a closer look at the weekend just gone, our Joe Eccles has identified five talking points to take away from the action – read his views below.
Defi a stronger Champion Chase contender than Altior?
Arguably the most anticipated race of the weekend was Saturday’s Clarence House chase – which was dubbed as a match between three-time winner Un De Sceaux, and the upwardly mobile Defi Du Seuil.
The market spoke strongly in favour of the veteran, but Defi Du Seuil proved that to be ill-judged – jumping impeccably and pulling clear with minimum fuss to score by just under three lengths.
The Champion Chase now looks his likely target – where his main opposition is set to come from Altior – with the ante-post markets currently siding with Defi, can he provide owner JP McManus with a first win in the race?
Thomas Darby back to winning ways, but should he still be chasing?
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle second Thomas Darby got his head back in front in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, having been a beaten favourite over fences in both starts prior.
Trainer Olly Murphy had a quiet end to last year, however, which perhaps provides excuses for those chasing efforts, and there appears no obvious race at Cheltenham for the seven-year-old – so would he have been better staying over the larger obstacles for a tilt at the Arkle – or Marsh – Novices’ Chase?
Steel the Real deal? Or Footpad not the force of old?
Sunday’s Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles provided trainer Willie Mullins with a 1-2-3, albeit not in the order the market expected, with odds-on favourite Footpad occupying the runner-up berth behind stablemate Real Steel.
It was a fair performance from the latter conceding five pounds to his higher-rated rival, and those figures would suggest it was a performance of Grade 1 standard.
The form looks open to question, however, and Real Steel will have questions to answer if taking in any of the Grade 1’s at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals – having shown a preference for right-handed tracks in the past.
Can Goshen make all in a Triumph?
The enigmatic Goshen maintained his unbeaten hurdles record with an impressive victory at Ascot on Saturday.
Gary Moore’s charge was cut to a best-priced 7/1 for the Triumph Hurdle on the back of that performance, but his free-running style would be a concern at Cheltenham, as would his tendency to jump out to the right.
If connections were able to iron out those kinks, however, they could have a serious racehorse on their hands.
Does Pentland still fall short of Champion Hurdle class?
Despite the ground looking softer than he would prefer, and blunders at the third and second-last flights resulting in valuable losses of momentum, Pentland Hills appeared to come with a winning challenge at Haydock on Saturday, only to be nabbed on the line by Ballyandy.
Despite that defeat, the run did appear to put his bid for Champion Hurdle glory back on track.
If sent to Cheltenham without another run, however, he will be bidding to become the first horse since Hardy Eustace (2004) to win the Champion Hurdle having not won over hurdles already that season.