What a weekend of racing that was! Just when you think you can't fall in love with jumps racing any more than you already have, it throws up one of those weekends that will live long in the memory.
Our Road to Cheltenham eye catchers blog is jam packed this Monday with a whole host of star performers and market movers to talk about with half an eye on the future. This week we talk Ascot, Haydock, Punchestown and much more....
Cue Card Stuns Haydock Crowd
Over the past ten years we have seen the Betfair Chase at Haydock grow into one of the best races of the season and we saw a renewal on Saturday that will once again made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree returned from a year off and immediately set a searing pace on the front end and we can expect him to improve for the run which means he is once again a contender in this division. He was no match for Cue Card though as the King George winner simply destroyed the field to bring the Haydock crowd to their feet.
Having disappointed slightly at Wetherby on seasonal debut, Cue Card traveled lovely behind the Coneygree gallop before pulling clear of the tired front runner and in truth he was hardly off the bridle in winning the race. Social media erupted with tributes to one of the most popular horses in training and despite the fact he is rising 11, all of the big staying races are now on his agenda.
It is hard to find a horse to oppose him with when it comes to his King George (2/1 from 7/2 with Bet Victor) defence, whilst the ultimate aim for him will be Gold Cup redemption after his fall last year and in the wake of this win, Cue Card is now a 6/1 shot (from 12/1) with Paddy Power for the ultimate success in March.
Elsewhere on the Haydock card we saw Ch'Tibello claim the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle in testing ground for Dan Skelton and he could now go for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, with Sky Bet installing him as a 33/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle at this stage.
We should also mention the first day of the Betfair Chase meeting on Friday with two highly impressive performances by two exciting novice chasers. Cloudy Dream jumped like a stag to win the Graduation Chase and looks an an ideal Arkle contender at 16/1 (from 20/1) with Paddy Power, whilst Politologue was equally impressive on chase debut over 2m5f for Paul Nicholls and he is one for the staying races going forward.
Yanworth Grinds Out Ascot Win
Most of the Saturday attention rightly fell on Haydock but there was a terrific card at Ascot as well on Saturday and we saw some lovely horses at the Berkshire track.
Chief among those was Neptune 2nd Yanworth who ground out a hard fought win in the Coral Ascot Hurdle over 2m3f. In a tough battle with Lil Rockerfeller, a confirmed stayer, Yanworth was made to work very hard for the win before getting on top and his future plans remains up for debate.
He was itching to go a quicker gallop through the early stages and it would be interesting to see how he would perform down in trip this season but with connections mooting the Long Walk Hurdle back at Ascot as the next target, the World Hurdle (10/1 with Bet Victor) looks the more likely option for an exciting horse.
The other big race on the Ascot card was the 1965 Chase and there was something of a shock as Royal Regatta produced a fine front performance to win the Grade 2 contest. The Philip Hobbs horse was given a terrific ride to hold off the excellent Kylemore Lough, whilst God's Own disappointed off of top weight in 3rd place.
It remains to be seen how strong that race was but it was a cracking spectacle and Kylemore Lough was perhaps the horse to take out with the rest of the season in mind.
Irish Eye Catchers A Plenty This Week
The schedule has been just as busy in Ireland this past week with the weekend meeting at Punchestown taking the lion share of the spotlight.
They hosted three Graded races on Sunday afternoon but thanks to thick fog we were left twiddling our thumbs during the majority of each of those races.
Nichols Canyon came out of the mist to win the Morgiana Hurdle like the good thing he was and it was his 7th Grade 1 in total. The Willie Mullins horse won the race for the 2nd year on the bounce and although it was far from a vintage renewal of the Morgiana, he won it with loads in hand and as a result he was trimmed into 6/1, from 8/1, for the World Hurdle by Bet Victor.
Elsewhere, Identity Thief made it 2-2 over fences to win the Craddockstown Novices' Chase and he remains a high class horse for Henry De Bromhead. He reportedly jumped well in the mist before getting the better of Ordinary World and he remains a live Arkle contender this winter, for which he is now an 8/1 (from 10/1) shot for with Paddy Power.
The Florida Pearl Novices Chase went to Gordon Elliott and A Toi Phil over 2m4f and he remains a lively horse at this level. Disko and Nambour disappointed slightly on the day but credit to A Toi Phil who is clearly a better chaser than he was hurdler and quotes of around 25/1 for the JLT and the RSA Chase in March are more than fair in the wake of this latest win.
One horse that simply has to go in the notebook is the hugely exciting Samcro who won the bumper on Sunday at Punchestown for Gordon Elliott and this lad could be anything. A P2P winner and a big money purchase for Gigginstown, he cruised to this debut victory and although he won't be going to the spring festivals this term, he is a huge prospect for the future.
Landofhopeandglory was an impressive winner of the 3YO race at Punchestown on Saturday for Joseph O'Brien and the former flat horse is now 2-2 over hurdles. This was a step up for the former Ballydoyle horse and a 10/1 (from 12/1) quote for the Triumph Hurdle with Paddy Power is sure to attract some attention in the wake of this recent success.
Later that day it was Let's Dance who claimed the listed mares hurdle for Willie Mullins and she is the latest in a long line of classy ladies to hail from the Closutton yard. She was an excellent juvenile and looked in complete control on her seasonal debut with the new mares novices' hurdle (8/1) at the Cheltenham Festival already looking like the ideal target for her.