The sand is starting to run out now on the egg timer to the Cheltenham Festival with just three weeks to go until the four day Prestbury Park spectacular. The hype and ante-post betting is beginning to reach fever pitch this week but as always we are taking a look back on the last seven days of action in the sport with at least half an eye on the upcoming Festival.
We might be a day late with our Road To Cheltenham column but all of the normal content is in there with some eye catching displays to take note of from a betting point of view. The real stars of the sport may now be safely tucked away ready for Cheltenham but there has still been more than enough action for us to dissect.
Ascot Card Steals The show On Busy Saturday
The majority of the attention at the weekend was stolen by a very good card at Ascot as we witnessed more than a few nice displays. The first race on the card was the 2m3f Neptune race and in pretty testing conditions we saw Venetia Williams claim the win thanks to the very good Yala Enki.
The 6-year-old showed himself to be a strong stayer in soft ground to claim the win by just under a length and this horse could be an outsider in the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett with some cut in the ground. He showed some fine battling qualities here against an average field and although you would think he might be out of his depth next month, he deserves to take his chance and as such Yala Enki was cut from 50/1 into 40/1 for the Neptune and 40/1 into 33/1 for the Albert Bartlett.
The Reynoldstown Novice Chase has produced some decent winners down the years including Albertas Run and O'Faolains Boy to name just two and we saw a very nice performance on Saturday as Vyta Du Roc claimed an impressive win. The Nicky Henderson trained Novice Chaser jumped and travelled well to claim the victory whilst Minella Rocco ran a big race in 2nd and he is another one for the notebook next month for one of the handicap contests.
Vyta Du Roc is a rock solid jumper and a strong stayer who sets a very good yardstick in the stayers division and he was cut by Bet Victor into 14/1, from 20/1, for the RSA Chase, whilst he is a best price 20/1 for the four miler with connections yet to make the decision.
It was a solid display from Vyta Du Roc on Saturday and there was plenty of response on social media;
The big race of the day was the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over 2m5f and we saw a terrific performance from Silviniaco Conti who looked back to somewhere near his best to the delight of Paul Nicholls. The dual King George winner jumped this field into the ground before pulling clear and although he will now swerve Cheltenham, he has been cut from 20/1 into 12/1 for the Grand National as a result of this perceived return to form.
Perhaps the performance of the day at Ascot though came from Different Gravey who won the 2m3f Casino Handicap Hurdle in stunning fashion for Nicky Henderson. The 6-year-old oozed class as he powered clear of the field to blow his handicap mark and there is even talk of a potential Champion Hurdle run for Different Gravey, although he may well miss the Festival with a Chasing career in the offing for the horse.
Other Eye Catchers This Week
The ground was very testing indeed up at Haydock on Saturday afternoon which needs to be taken into account but we still saw some performances worthy of at least a second look. The Betfred Juvenile Hurdle was the first race on the card and we saw something of a shock as Fixe Le Kap was beaten at 1/4F by the interesting Frodon who is now a potential Triumph contender himself.
In the end it was a slightly messy tactical race which must make the form a little suspect but Frodon still did it nicely as he got the better of the sprint finish having needed his first run last time out. Frodon was cut from 40/1 all the way into 16/1 by Bet365 for the Triumph Hurdle as a result of this win whist it would be foolish to give up on Fixe Le Kap on the basis of this defeat although he was pushed out to 12/1 (from 7s) for the Triumph by Sky Bet.
The Prestige Novices Hurdle over just shy of 3m was a real slog in heavy ground and we saw a decent looking winner for Rose Dobbin as Jonniesofa stayed on best of all to claim the win ahead of more fancied horses like Duke Des Champs and Vintage Clouds. Jonniesofa will need much more to win an Albert Bartlett but if the ground came up testing he might have an outside squeak of a place and as such we saw his price for that race slashed into 40/1 from 100/1.
There was some decent sport over at Naas on Sunday afternoon as we have come to expect and a few of the winners are more than worthy of a mention in this column. The Dermot Weld trained Vigil only won a relatively weak looking 2m Maiden Hurdle but his bumper form was excellent which means this is a serious horse for a master trainer. Vigil has finished 5th in the Champion Bumper for the past two years and as a result of this win he was cut into 25/1, from 40/1, for the Supreme Novices Hurdle with Sky Bet which might prove to be a big price.
Gordon Elliott is having his best season ever and that continued as Ball D'Arc won the Grade 2 Novice Hurdle over 2m on the Naas card and he looks another quality Gigginstown horse. Ball D'Arc was smashed up by Min earlier in the season but he is clearly improving and showed that here as he passed plenty on the home straight and Sky Bet were impressed enough to cut him into 33/1 (from 66s) for the Supreme, with Min given yet another form boost in the process.
Ball D'Arc was an impressive winner at Naas on Saturday and once again delivered a form boost to Min;
We saw a potential star of the future win the Bumper at Naas and unsurprisingly it was Willie Mullins who saddled Avenir D'Une Vie. Ridden by Patrick Mullins, the 6-year-old bounced back from defeat last time out with a very taking display on the eye as he pulled clear of the field and although he is not going to the Champion Bumper, this is a good horse and one that is sure to be on plenty of ten to follow lists next Autumn.
Road To Cheltenham Summary - 23rd Feb
Silviniaco Conti hacks up in the Ascot Chase and is cut for the Grand National as a result - will miss Cheltenham
Red hot jolly Fixe Le Cap out to 12/1 for the Triumph Hurdle after being beaten at Haydock Park
Ball D'Arc cut for the Supreme Novices Hurdle after Naas win and boosts the form of Min in the process
Vyta Du Roc into 14/1 for the RSA Chase after impressive Reynoldstown Novice Chase success at ASCOT.