We are now less than six weeks away from the Cheltenham Festival and final preparations are being made across the country for the biggest meeting of them all. We have once again seen a number of Festival contenders have a run over the last week and we have picked out some of the horses to have caught our eye both in the UK and Ireland.
The Arkle Chase is always one of the highlights of the Festival and Overturn enhanced his claims for the 2m race over the weekend. The Donald McCain horse simply hacked up by 29 lengths to win the Scottish Arkle Novices Chase at Musselburgh to enhance his star yet further. The bookmakers were suitably impressed with the run with one firm cutting his Arkle Chase price from 5/1 into 7/2 as a result of his third chase win on the bounce.
It is fair to say that Overturn didn't beat much at Musselburgh but he couldn't have been more impressive in doing so and he offers a nice alternative to odds on shot Simonsig. Punters should remember that Overturn was good enough to finish second in a Champion Hurdle last season and that form should put him right in the mix with the grey favourite. Another Arkle contender to win over the weekend was Captain Conan who just got up to win the Scilly Isles Novices Chase but the bookmakers were unimpressed with the horse drifting out to 12/1 from 9/1 for the Festival.
We have once again seen plenty of good racing over in Ireland over the last few days and we would love to point out the performance of Pique Sous in particular. This is a horse who finished third in the Champion Bumper last season but has been off track since winning over hurdles back in October. Connections have been waiting for better but ground decided to run him on the flat at Dundalk with the horse duly winning in impressive style. His target is the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Festival and although his 16/1 price remained unmoved following his Dundalk win, Pique Sous could well be sneaking under the radar for Willie Mullins.
Elsewhere in Ireland, we saw a cracking card at Punchestown on Sunday with Sizing Europe racking up his umpteenth Grade 1 victory in the Tied Cottage Chase. The Henry de Bromhead horse lead from start to finish but his potential Cheltenham Festival race remains unclear at this stage. Sizing Europe has been a two mile horse for some time now but has little chance of beating Sprinter Sacre ensuring that a tilt at the Ryanair Chase remains a real option for the double Festival winner.
Elsewhere on the Punchestown card we saw an excellent novice hurdle with another Willie Mullins in-mate in the form of Mozoltov claiming a hard fought victory. The horse, under a good ride from Ruby Walsh, held off hot favourite Don Cossack in the Moscow Flyder Hurdle over two miles and the Supreme Novices Hurdle is his likely Festival aim. The bookmakers reacted to the win by slashing Mozoltov to 16/1 from 33/1 for the Supreme and marking himself out as a nice each-way chance at the prices in the process.
One other horse we should mention with the Festival in mind is Arabella Boy who produced a fine display at Punchestown over the weekend to win the Cross Country Race. Enda Bolger is something of a specialist trainer when it comes to the Cheltenham Cross Country Chase and his charge is now priced at 5/1 from 7/1 for the Festival race. Nina Carberry is likely to take the ride which is another major plus when it comes to the Festival and given his credentials he has to be a major Cheltenham player next month.
On Monday at Doncaster, the re-arrnaged Champion Hurdle trial took centre stage and whilst last year's Cheltenham winner, Rock on Ruby, won the race it was the fatal fall of leading 2013 Champion Hurdle fancy, Darlan, that stole the headlines for the wrong reasons. The Nicky Henderson trained runner fell at the last and he will be a sad loss come the first day of the Festival next month.