The Road To Cheltenham has really cranked up a gear over the past seven days as we have entered December and once again there have been some nice eye catchers for ante post punters to study. There has been plenty of top level action on both sides of the Irish Sea once again this week with a plethora of Festival clues on offer at Newbury and Newcastle on Saturday and at Fairyhouse on Sunday afternoon.
There is no doubt that the Hennessy Gold Cup was the feature race of the weekend action and we saw a highly impressive winner in the form of Bobs Worth. The Nicky Henderson horse has won at the Cheltenham Festival for the past two years and he now looks to be a major Gold Cup contender. Barry Geraghty gave the horse a great ride in the Hennessy and in the end he won a touch cosily in testing conditions to see his Festival price slashed. The bookmakers were suitably impressed with the run from Bobs Worth and he is now as short as 7/2 for the Gold Cup with Paddy Power having been 6/1 before the Hennessy.
The other big name on the card at Newbury on Saturday was the incomparable Big Buck's who made his seasonal debut in the Long Distance Hurdle. The Cheltenham Festival legend hacked up to win his 18th race on the bounce and that coupled with the below par run from Voler La Vedette on Sunday ensured his World Hurdle price contracted into odds on.
We had a slightly surprise winner of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle up at Newcastle on Saturday as Countrywide Flame cruised to an excellent success. He was the Triumph Hurdle winner last season but all the talk was surrounding Cinders And Ashes who was making his first start of the season for Donald McCain. Cinders and Ashes won the Supreme Novices Hurdle last season but found nothing off the bridle when challenged by Countrywide Flame who is now available at single figure prices for the Champion Hurdle having been as big as 33/1 for the race on Saturday morning
There was a cracking card at Fairyhouse on Sunday with no less than three Grade 1 races on offer with plenty Festival clues floating about. The performance of the day came from Arvika Ligeonniere who simply dotted up to win the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase for Champion Trainer Willie Mullins. Jockey Ruby Walsh sent the horse straight to the front and some very good horses simply couldn't live with the pace as he marked himself out as one to watch. This win came over 2m4f but Mullins indicated after the Fairyhouse race that the Arkle is his likely Cheltenham race and bookmakers slashed him into 7/1 from 14/1 for the Festival as a result.
Elsewhere on the Newbury card we saw a potential challenger to Big Buck's emerge for the World Hurdle in the form of the Willie Mullins trained Zaidpour. He beat last year's winner Voler La Vedette to win the Hattons Grace Hurdle with a fine turn of foot and connections are convinced he will stay the three mile World Hurdle trip. There is no doubt that he has plenty to find with Big Buck's but he looks a good each-way prospect with the bookmakers trimming his World Hurdle price to 16/1 from 33/1 to reflect those chances.
We also want to give a special mention to Jezki who won the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle on the Fairyhouse card for Jessica Harrington. He picked up really well after the final fence to power past Champagne Fever over the minimum trip in testing conditions. It's fair to say that Champagne Fever is likely to be better over further but the performance of Jezki was very pleasing indeed and he has now won three races already this season with the Supreme Novices Hurdle his likely target. The bookmakers are certainly sweet on his chances and reacted accordingly by trimming his price for the Supreme to 10/1 from 14/1 and its clear that Jezki is a horse to follow with the Festival in mind.