It has been another thrilling week of action in the world of National Hunt racing with a number of nice horses staking their early season claims. We have been keeping across the action, as always, on the road to the Cheltenham Festival, with a number of horses making an impression on the various Festival markets over the past seven days.
We have seen one of the most exciting bumper horses of last season make his debut over the hurdles and as expected, Oscar Rock was highly impressive. The horse moved to the Malcolm Jefferson stable over the summer and connections were delighted with the way he won the Novice Hurdle over 2m4f at Wetherby on Friday. He didn't beat too much to win on his hurdling debut but he certainly did it very well and is very much a potential star of the future.
The bookmakers were reasonably impressed with Oscar Rock at Wetherby with Bet365 cutting him into 8/1 from 12/1 for the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdleat the Festival. He is certainly a classy horse who remains one to watch as we head towards those big races in the spring.
Over in Northern Ireland on Friday, we saw Champion Hurdle fancy, Jezki, make a winning return to the track for Jessie Harrington. The JP McManus horse won the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal with AP McCoy on board and that did his Cheltenham claims no harm. It was a workmanlike performance from Jezki on his seasonal debut and he remains a general 8/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle at this stage of the winter.
The action continued at both Wetherby and Down Royal on Saturday with the Charlie Hall Chase and the JNWine Champion Chase topping the bill. Harry Topper was a slightly surprise winner of the Charlie Hall Chase for Kim Bailey and he now enters the Gold Cup picture. The progressive six year-old made a couple of jumping mistakes at Wetherby but soon warmed to the task to claim the win by a neck from Wayward Prince.
The disappointment of the race was hot favourite Long Run who ran a stinker back in fifth place for connections. Nicky Henderson said that the horse scoped dirty after the race but he will need to prove himself again at this level in the near future. As a result of the the Charlie Hall, Harry Topper was cut into 20/1 from 33/1 for the Gold Cup, while Long Run drifted to as big as 20/1 for the same race as result of his poor performance.
Over at Down Royal we saw Roi Du Mee claim an impressive win in the JNWine Champions Chase over three miles. The Gordon Elliott horse jumped with enthusiasm to win the race ahead of Sizing Europe who once again finished back in second place in the race. Roi Du Mee is now as short as 20/1 in the Gold Cup betting while Henry de Bromhead confirmed that Sizing Europe is likely to be aimed at the Ryanair Chase in the spring.
On the same card at Down Royal we saw Paul Nicholls win the Grade 2 Powers Irish Whiskey Chase for the sixth year on the bounce. The 2m4f race was a tight affair but it was Rolling Aces who stayed on the best to claim the win under a good ride from Nick Scholfield. The seven year-old is available at 50/1 in the Gold Cup betting although Bet365 go as short as 25/1, which looks more than skinny enough.
There was more success for Paul Nicholls at Wetherby on Saturday with the popular Tidal Bay claiming a good win over hurdles.The 12-year-old won the Lexus Chase last season and looked in good shape once again as he beat a horse half his age in Medinas, to win the Bet365 Hurdle over 3m1f. The Betfair Chase is now his next target at Haydock and if he gets some cut in the ground he will continue to be a major threat at the top level.
As well as the more established names, there are also a number of slightly younger horses who have made an impression on the sport over the last week. One of those is certainly Cockney Sparrow who won the Mares Race at Wetherby on the weekend for for John Quinn. It was a good win by the mare and as a result she is available at a best price of 14/1 for the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Another horse worth a mention is Sizing Rio who won in good style for Henry de Bromhead at Cork on Sunday. The five year-old won the 2m4f Novice Chase by ten lengths and he looks like an improving horse with plenty of potential. He will need to step up again in better company but he is clearly a classy horse who could still be anything. With that in mind, Sizing Rio is now as short as 16/1 for the Jewson Novices Chase at Cheltenham as a result of his Cork success.
On the same Cork card there was a taking performance from Azorian who won the Paddy Power EBF Maiden Hurdle over 2m4f in some style. The Gigginstown Stud owned horse slammed his rivals to win by 21 lengths for trainer Eoin Griffin. Paddy Power were quick to install him at 20/1 for the Neptune at Cheltenham while connections did say that he could also get further in time.