We really are now getting down to the final stages of the countdown towards the Cheltenham Festival and the hype is now being cranked up another notch thanks to yet another thrilling weekend of jump racing on both sides of the Irish Sea. This Monday we are of course once again taking a few minutes out to take a look back at the best and worst of the action with at least half an eye on five weeks time.
This week the column is dominated by a number of favourites being beaten at odds on with more than one or two big bubbles being well and truly burst along the way..........
Irish Gold Cup Card Produces Shock Results
The feature card of the weekend came at Leopardstown on Saturday as they hosted their brilliant Irish Gold Cup card and it really was a bookies day as a number of short priced favourites got beaten.
The big race of the day was of course the Irish Gold Cup itself with Road To Riches starting that race a very warm favourite at 5/4 for Noel Meade. The gold Cup 3rd from last year was expected to be too good for this field but he was off the bridle early on and in the end was well beaten into 2nd place by the fast finishing Carlingford Lough who was a shock winner of the race for the scond year on the bounce.
Carlingford Lough was last going into the home straight but finished like a steam train to win going away and in truth, Road To Riches was well beaten in the end. They did go a fair old pace and the ground was perhaps softer than Road to Riches which would have liked and as a result, his Festival target is now up in the air.
Road to Riches was pushed out to 20/1 (from 12s) with one firm for the Gold Cup after this run whilst his Ryanair price contracted slightly as a result of this slightly disappointing run. The winner Carlingford Lough showed his stamina and his ultimate target this term could now be the Grand National for which his price has been halved into 25/1 (from 50/1) in the wake of this impressive return to form.
The other horse to take out of the Irish Gold Cup was Valseur Lido was was cantering coming to the last before un-seating Ruby Walsh and it was hard not to be impressed by the way he was travelling. It is impossible to say if he would have won the race but he and Carlingford Lough would have had a fair old battle and his price of 20/ (from 40s) for the Gold Cup with Sky Bet now looks a fair punt given the way he galloped all over this field.
Road To Riches wasn't the only favourite beaten at Leopardstown on Saturday as Ivanovich Gorbatov and Bellshill both suffered shock defeats despite being very well backed for their respective races.
Would Valsuer Lido have won if he hadn't unseated Ruby Walsh? Mark Walsh ddoesn't think so;
Ivanovich Gorbatov started odds on for his second start over hurdles for Aidan O'Brien in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle but he never landed a blow and has been pushed out to 6/1 (from 5/2F) for the Triumph Hurdle as a result although he should be better on some decent spring ground. Footpad was the winner of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle for Willie Mullins, he is clearly a nice juvenile and it is hard to argue with his current price of 10/1 (from 20's) for March, especially in a wide open looking Triumph.
As for Bellshill, he never ran his race in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle and was beaten a long way out which means it was hard to know how to take his form. Bleu Et Rouge was the winner of the race ahead of Tombstone, who lost very little in defeat, and both of those have chances at the Festival in March you would think.
Bleu Et Rouge was slashed into 12/1 (from 66s) by Sky Bet for the Supreme after this win which puts him in the frame, whilst Bellshill was pushed out to 10/1 (from 3s) for the Neptune by Paddy Power who also trimmed Yanworth into Even money at the same time.
We also want to mention the Flogas Novice Chase over 2m5f which was won by Outlander and Willie Mullins ahead of Monksland, Pont Alexandre and Zabana. This looked like a very decent race in terms of form but Outlander was too good as jumped the best before pulling clear and he now looks like a real RSA contender for the spring.
Eye Catchers Away From Leopardstown
Leopardston was certainly the weekend highlight but there were plenty of big races this side of the Irish Sea with Sandown in particular grabbing the headlines on Saturday afternoon.
The Scilly Isles Novices Chase over 2m4f is always a solid contest and we saw another terrific round of jumping from Bristol De Mai who continues to impress. A very good hurdler, Bristol De Mai looks every inch the star over fences and that was the case at Sandown as he flew over the railway fences before pulling clear of some good horses like As De Mee and Tea For Two.
The bare form might not be quite enough to win at the Festival but the way he jumps has to give him a chance in whatever race he runs win with his current price of 6/1 (from 12s) for the JLT with Bet365 a more than fair one at this stage.
Gina Harding was clearly taken by Bristol De Mai at Sandown this weekend;
Elsewhere on the Sandown card, the Contenders Hurdle was the big race with all eyes on Peace And Co as a red hot favourite for Nicky Henderson. The Triumph Hurdle winner bombed out on his first start but was expected to bounce back this time at a very short price. He certainly ran better than he did at Cheltenham last time but he still wasn't good enough as he was beaten into 3rd place to the disappointment of punters.
The race was won by a classy juvenile in the form Connetable for Paul Nicholls who took advantage of his weight allowance and he is now on target for the Triumph Hurdle with his price of 12/1 (from 25s) for that race with Bet Victor making some appeal to some given this display.
Another Novice Chaser to impress in the UK on Saturday was Blaklion who won the Towton Novices Chase up at Wetherby, also for Nigel Twiston-Davies, who had a great day on Saturday. Blaklion appears to be improving with every run this season and he was too good hear for a very nice horse in the form of Definitly Red thanks to a strong round of jumping. He certainly looks like an RSA horse for March and although he might lack the class of a More Of That, it is hard to find too many holes in Blaklion at a price of 12/1 (from 16s) with Hills.
Road To Cheltenham Summary - 8th Feb 2016
Road To Riches only 2nd in the Irish Gold Cup and is out to 20/1 for the Gold Cup
Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co beaten for the 2nd time this season at odds on
Ivanovich Gorbatov failed to land a blow in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle having started odds-on
Bristol De Mai cut for the JLT after impressive Scilly Isles success at Sandown Park.