The middle couple of weeks of January are relatively quiet when it comes to top class jump racing but there has still be plenty of action to take note of over the past seven days and they all feature in the latest of our Road To Cheltenham blog series.
The rain is continuing to fall across the UK and Ireland which has made the conditions very testing which does always need to be taken into account with the Festival in mind but nevertheless there was still some nice performances to pick over this Monday morning.
Min Steals The Show at Punchestown
This weekend was not jam packed full of superstar names but we did see one shining light at Punchestown as Min made his second start of the season on Saturday. The highly touted Willie Mullins trained Novice Hurdler made a big impression when winning a Maiden on his first start last month and he stepped up in class on Saturday to win the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle in even more impressive fashion.
Min has been the talking horse of the season and this performance was a potentially breathtaking one, despite the limited opposition. Very keen early on, Ruby Walsh looked to have little choice but to let Min open up a decent lead and a normal horse may have paid for those early exertions.
Not Min though as he simply hacked clear of the field over the past couple of fences to win with the minimum of fuss. We should say that the field was a small and limited one and he will still need to prove himself away from Punchestown but all the signs suggest this is a very special horse in the making. Vautour and Douvan both won the Moscow Flyer before winning the Supreme Novices Hurdle and Min is now a s short as 5/4 (from 7/4) with Bet Victor to emulate those illustrious stable-mates.
Min was hugely impressive at the weekend and the news is that he will now go straight to the Festival in March;
The other Willie Mullins winner on the Punchestown card on Saturday was Measureofmydreams who won the Beginners Chase over 3m. No doubt a very dour stayer, the Gigginstown owned horse should have loads more improvement in him and although he might not be a Cheltenham horses this season, he could be a sayer for the notebook.
Thrilling Welsh National The Chepstow Highlight
The re-arranged Welsh Grand National fixture at Chesptow on Saturday just survived the weather on this occasion and it really was worth it as we saw some brilliant racing.
The Welsh National itself was of course the highlight and in near bottomless ground we saw a famous result and one that left the heart warm at the same time. Kerry Lee, in her first season as handler having taken over the licence from her father, saddled Mountainous to win the race for a second time and it was a well deserved victor for a terrific horse.
Given an excellent ride from Jamie Moore, Mountainous travelled and jumped with great style before pulling clear of the field and it was hard not to have a smile on your face as he came back into the winners enclosure. Lee was quick to say that Mountainous will be given an entry for the Aintree Grand National and as such he is a best price 40/1 for that race with Bet365, which could be a big price, especially if the rain falls in Liverpool this April.
Tom Lee (CH4) plants a kiss on sister Kerry Lee after Mountainous wins the Welsh Grand National for the 2nd time;
We should also mention the performance of Adrien Du Pont who won the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle in decent fashion. At one stage, the Paul Nicholls trained horse looked well beaten but he showed great heart to close the gap with the leader and in the end it was impressive. He doesn't look like a Triumph Hurdle winner but he is clearly a brave horse and Paddy Power are best price 33/1 about him winning the big Juvenile hurdle in March.
There was a also a decent little card at Fairyhouse on Sunday afternoon with two horses in particular making a decent impression on those watching.
The Gordon Elliott trained Myztique won the Maiden Hurdle in decent fashion and she could well be a decent type for connections to go to war with over the coming months. It remains to be seen whether or not she goes to the Festival in March although Elliott did say after the race that she would travel to England for a Novice Hurdle soon so she could be worth keeping an eye on.
There was more success for the unstoppable Willie Mullins on the Fairyhouse card as McKinley won the 2m1f Beginners Chase in more than decent fashion. Far from one of the best horses in the Mullins yard, McKinley is a more than decent animal though and it showed it here in ground that was near bottomless. He was only 11th in the Martin Pipe race at Cheltenham last year and it remains to be seen if he will return to Prestbury Park this March for something like the JLT.
Road To Cheltenham Summary This Week
Money pours in for Min in the Supreme Novices Hurdle beting after Moscow flyer success
Mountainous wins the Welsh Grand naitonal for a 2nd time in very testing conditions at Chepstow
Adrien Du Pont wins the Juvenile Hurdle at Chepsot but is unchanged at 33/1 with Padyd Power for the Triumph Hurdle.