The now traditional Chepstow Jumps Festival took place over the weekend and it once again felt like the unofficial start to the winter National hunt season. Some of the best trainers in the UK sent horses across the Severn to Chepstow and although it is very early, there is every chance we saw one or two real stars make their seasonal debuts.
Once again this season we will be rounding up all of the action from the past seven days of jumps racing in our weekly Road to Cheltenham column so be sure to keep your eyes peeled this winter.
Stars Shine At Chepstow
There were packed stands at Chepstow for both days of their Jumps Festival meeting and there were more than a few horses for the notebook.
The Chepstow card on Saturday kicked off in good style with a potentially excellent 2m Novices Hurdle and on the face of it, we saw some very nice animals take each other on. Last season Altior won the corresponding race and this year it went to Geordie Des Champs who gave Rebecca Curtis a very nice winner and one who shoulkd improve again next time.
The 5YO travelled well before producing a lovely leap at the last and in doing so held off Caspar King and Capeland who both looked very good themselves, and all three will be winning races this season.
The 2m3f Robert Mottram Novices Hurdle looked like a hot contest on paper and it looked exactly that way during the contest with the Philip Hobbs trained Rock The Kasbah claiming the win. A decent hurdler, Rock the Kasbah looked perfectly suited to fences as he held off Our Kaempfer, Theinval and Clan Des Obeaux with all four coming away with credit. Rock The Kasbah is versatile when it comes to ground and as such it was no surprised to see him installed as a 20/1 shot with Coral fir the JLT Novices Chase as a result of this win.
Champion Jockey Richard Johnson rode Rock The Kasbah to win at Chepstow and he was clearly impressed;
Ballyoptic was a Grade 1 winner last season as a novice hurdler and he picked right up from where he left off to win the Silver Trophy on Saturday. Despite an inadequate trip, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained horse was still too good for a decent field and there are worse 16/1 (from 20s) bets for the World Hurdle at this early stage on the basis of this run.
The Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls clearly has his string in fine order at the moment with Ditcheat sending out five winners over the two days at the meeting.
Diego Du Charmill was a Festival winner last term and he once again looked a serious prospect on Saturday as he won the 2m Handicap Hurdle. He travelled like a very good horse indeed before pulling clear and he is one to watch this season with Nicholls highlighting the Elite Hurdle and the Greatwood Hurdle as early season targets for him.
Other winners for Nicholls over the weekend included Dolos, who won the Juvenile Hurdle in decent fashion on Sunday and is a 25/1 shot for the Triumph Hurdle as a result and ElBandit, who won the Perisan War and he is one for fences and a trip with his novice hurdling status running out at the end of the month.
Definite Outcome continued the good weekend for Rebecca Curtis as he won the 3m Novices Chase on the card and he looks a real stayer to follow with Paddy Power installing him into their RSA Chase market as a 50/1 shot this weekend.
Eye Catchers Away From Chepstow
It hasn't all been about Chepstow this past week with some nice horses for the notebook on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Newton Abbot held a cracking card on Friday and the Dan Skelton trained Virgilio was the star as he won the 2m5f Intermediate Chase. He produced a superb round of jumping to win on his first start of the season and few would be surprised to see him take high order in the division this term.
The Dan Skelton trained Virgilio impressed at Newton Abbot with a terrific round of jumping;
We also saw some top jumping action over at Limerick in Ireland on Sunday and there were one or two very nice displays with the rest of the season in mind. On his first start for Henry De Bromhead, SubLieutenant slammed the field in the 2m3f Rated Chase and he looks like a graded performer in the making with plenty more improvement to come following his move from Sandra Hughes.
The big race of the day at Limerick was the Munster National and we saw an old favourite win in the form of former Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll. He had disappointed since that Cheltenham Festival win in truth but he relished going 3m and he could now take in some of the big staying handicap chases this season.