It is Monday morning once again and that means it is time to take stock on the past seven days of jump racing with more than half an eye on the Cheltenham Festival, which is fast approaching on the horizon. The latest in our series of Road To Cheltenham blogs is a packed one thanks to Trials Day at Prestbury Park and that were some truly stunning displays.
Alan Is King For a Day
This column has been dominated by Willie Mullins this season but that is not the case this week as Alan King continues to dominate the headlines after a truly memorable day on Saturday.
King looks to his strongest team in years ahead of the Festival and he proved that in no uncertain terms as he picked up the five winners at Cheltenhamand Doncatser on a thrilling day of sport.
The highlight of the weekend for King came when Yanworth produced a stunning display to win the Neptune Novices Trial in breathtaking fashion on Trials Day. Never off the bridle, Yanwork galloped all over the field in very testing ground on his first time up in trip and it was hard not to be impressed by the way he did it.
Yanworth destroyed a very very good horse in the form of Shantou Village and all systems appear to be go for him ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, with his price of 2/1 (from 8/1) with Bet365 for the Neptune in March making him a warm favourite for that race.
It had already been a terrific season for Hennessy winner Smad Place but the likeable grey took it up a notch on Saturday as he won the Betbright Trial Chase in very taking fashion. Clearly happy at the front, Smad Place travelled and jumped well before pulling clear of the rock solid Many Clouds and 12/1 (from 33s) with Bet365 for the Gold Cup may well attract some each-way support for the Alan King trained chaser.
We should also mention the fall of Djakadam in the Betbright Trial Chase which was hardly the ideal prep for the ante post gold Cup jolly. It was a novicey mistake from the Rich Ricci trained horse and he will now go straight to the Festival and is now as big as 11/2 with Betfair for the big race in the spring.
Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Annacotty was another winner for Alan King and he could now go to a handicap or even the Ryanair Chase in March if the ground comes up soft, while the handler also had two winners up at Doncaster. McCabe Creek won the Handicap Hurdle at Townmoor whilst King also captured the big race of the day at Doncaster with Ziga Boy claiming the Sky Bet Chase.
It was a terrific staying performance from Ziga Boy as he won with more than something in hand and as a result he was installed by one firm at 33/1 for the Grand National which could make some appeal.
Other Weekend Eye Catchers
Alan King was the star of the day on Saturday but there was far more to the weekend than his five winners with some of the other winners making a major impression.
The Cleeve Hurdle is always a key trial for the World Hurdle itself and we saw a remarkable performance from the brilliant Thistlecrack who only enhanced his position as the one to beat in Marchin that division.
The Colin Tizzard trained horse had already won the Long Distance and Long Walk Hurdles this term but this was by far his most impressive display. Hard held the whole way by Tom Scudamore, Thistlecrack galloped all over a decent field before streaking clear up the hill to record his Cheltenham win and a best price of 13/8 with Paddy Power for the World Hurdle is hard to argue with after this display.
Thistlecrack was excellent on Saturday and social media was awash with praise for the Colin Tizzard trained horse.
Nicky Henderson has been a terrific trainer of juveniles during his career and he could have a another one on his hands in the form of Protek Des Flos who won the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on British debut. The French import won the muddling race on very testing ground and was immediately installed as a 20/1 shot the Triumph Hurdle by Bet Victor as he beat Clan Des Obeaux.
Up at Doncaster we saw Barters Hill maintain his unbeaten record in the 3m River Don Novices Chase. It wasn't a pretty performance from the Ben Pauling trained in-mate but it was a game one as he held off all-comers and this horse looks a real stayer in the making. It remains to be seen whether or not he can do the same in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle itself but there is no doubt he is a terrific animal and can be backed at 3/1 (from 4s) with Paddy Power for that contest in the wake of this win.
On the same card we saw Vaniteux impress again to win the Lightning Novices Chase for Nicky Henderson and he could be the best of the home team for the Arkle in March. Shaneshill was a big disappointment in the race and will surely head to the JLT over further whilst Vaniteux was trimmed into 8/1 (from 10s) for the Arkle as a result of this decent win.
Nicky Henderson also had a winner of note last Friday as Beuveur D'Air returned at Huntingdon to pick up another win ahead of a run in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. It was a relatively weak field in the Racing UK Novices Hurdle but Buveur D'Air did it well enough to maintain his unbeaten record over hurdles and he now goes to the Supreme as an 8/1 (from 10s) shot for the Festival opener in March.
Willie Mullins may have had a tough time with his horses in England this weekend with Djakadam, Shaneshill and Morning Run among others to disappoint but it wasn't all doom and gloom for him with two horses in particular worth talking about.
The highly touted Limini finally made her seasonal debut at Fairyhouse on Saturday and she did not disappoint in the Rich Ricci colours. Long talked about as one for the new Dawn Run Mares Novices Hurdle in March, Limini beat the field very easily on Saturday and her price for that Festival race us now as short as Evens (from 7/4) as a result of his taking hurdling debut.
How good was Limini on Saturday? Matt Chapman thinks she could be very good indeed;
Mullins also mopped up the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on Sunday with Felix Yonger picking up athe Grade 2 win in the colours of Graham Wylie. It was a fair display from Felix Yonger who is clearly a decent horse and he could run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase for which he is now a best price 16/1 for as a result of this win although he could go to Japan for a big race there instead.
Road to Cheltenham Summary - 01/02/2016
Yanworth slashed for the Neptune in March after stunning win on Trials Day at Cheltenham
World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack contracts further in price thanks to impressive Cleeve Hurdle success
Limini now an EvensF for the Mares Novices Hurdle in March after impressive hurdling debut win on Saturday.
Gold Cup favourite Djakadam falls at Cheltenham and is out to 5/1 for the big race in March as a result.