The Cheltenham Festival really is just around the corner now with just a couple of weeks left of meaningful trial races on both sides of the Irish Sea. Trainers, fans and owners are all busy preparing themselves for the the biggest four days in the sport but there was still time for some decent action over the weekend. We have been on the Road To Cheltenham since October and once again we have kept across all of the sport as we aim to find as many potential Festival winner as possible next month.
It may have been a relatively quiet week in terms of top class racing but there has still been more than enough to keep us busy and as always, we are featuring as many of the eye catchers as possible.
Eye Catchers on the Road To Cheltenham this Weekend
The big card in the UK on Saturday afternoon came at Sandown Park as they hosted one of their better days of National Hunt racing and there were some very interesting performances at the Esher track. The first race on the card was Juvenile Hurdle and we saw a nice performance from the Alan King trained Pain Au Chocolat who went well clear of a decent field to enhance his reputation.
Pain Au Chocolat jumped pretty well after they went pretty slowly through the early stages and he certainly didn't do anything wrong in recording this win. Alan King is hopeful that this horse will benefit from a quicker pace at Cheltenhamand he is on target for the Triumph Hurdle for which he was cut from 33/1 into 16/1 for that race after this decent success,
The Contenders Hurdle is also a decent race and we saw a nice winner on Saturday in the form of Garde La Victoire. The Philip Hobbs trained hurdler won the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham back in November and this was his first win since as he held off Jollyallan on the run in.
Garde La Victoire is a rock solid horse at this level and he now looks likely for the County Hurdle at the Festival with Paddy Power currently offering a best price of 20/1 about him winning that one. Jollyallan went into this race as novice with a big reputation but he looked a little green throughout for Harry Fry and he is surely a chaser in the making. He didn't disgrace himself though and remains on course for the Supreme Novices Hurdle with Paddy Power also going 20/1 about his chances in the Festival opener.
The feature race on the Sandown card on Saturday was the Scilly Isles Novices Chase and we saw a slightly surprise winner of the Grade 1 this season. Willie Mullins has been sending more and more horses over to the UK this season and this was another example as Gitane Du Berlais produced an excellent display to claim the win.
The mare made it 2-2 over fences with a fine round of jumping to dispatch some decent horses in very nice fashion. Champagne West never travelled before falling while Irish Saint and Grumeti never looked like dangers to the five-year-old who now appears to have plenty of options open. Gitane Du Berlais has an entry to all three novice chasers but the JLT looks the most likely after this one with Bet365 slashing her price for that race from 66/1 into 14/1.
Musselburgh hosted their Cheltenham Festival Trials card on Sunday afternoon with many of the northern handlers and owners getting the chance to give their horses a run before heading south for the Festival. The Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices Hurdle was the first race ans we saw a nice winner emerge in the form of the Tom George trained Some Plan.
The seven-year-old was given a soft lead lead before pulling well clear of The Grey Taylor and connections are hopeful that a stronger gallop will see him to even better impact the Festival. The Supreme Novices Hurdle does appear to be the target for Some Plan and although this form is unlikely to match up to top level, he is decent nevertheless and he has been cut from 66/1 into 25/1 for that race with Bet Victor.
Elsewhere on the Muselburgh card we saw Hargam win his second race on the bounce for Nicky Henderson with the Seven Barrow trained strengthening his juvenile hurdle hand even further. The JP McManus trained horse won this one without coming off the bridle and there is no doubt that he is a classy animal with a biig future. Starchitect is a decent form line back in second place and Hargam is a best price of 10/1 from 12/1 for the Triumph Hurdle with Henderson not wanting to split this horse with stable-mate Peace And Co, in public at least, right now.
Nicky Henderson also had another winner on the Musselburgh card in the form of Dawalan who won the Pertemps Qualifier. The five-year-old was up 9lbs for a win at Aintree before Christmas but that didn't hold him back here as he improved over three miles and he looks a fair price for the Pertemps Final at 12/1 after this one.
Lucy Wadham looks to have a nice novice on her hands this season in the form of Shanroe Santos who won the Albert Bartlett Scottish trial in decent fashion. It was a second quick win on the bounce for the 6-year-old who stayed on really well and although this form is hard to quantify, Shanroe Santos is clearly an improver who is now 33/1, from 50/1, for the Albert Bartlett in March.
The big race over in Ireland on Sunday was the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown and there was a very popular winner of the Grade 2 race this season. Hidden Cyclone has been something of a brides-maid during his career but he finally got back to winning ways as he travelled and jumped in good style before pulling clear of Bright New Dawn and Twinlight. The Shark Hanlon horse was clearly too good for this field and he is now on target for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, for which he was cut from 20/1 into 12/1 for the that contest after this win, which might attract some each-way money.
One other horse we should mention from the past week is the impressive Sail By The Sea who was an eye catching winner at Chepstow on Friday. The David Pipe trained seven-year--old won the Abergavenny Hotel Novices Chase on heavy ground and he is now on target for the Arkle. He is a versatile horse when it comes to underfoot conditions and he showed he he is a solid jumper although it should be said that this only looked like an average race. The same connections won the Arkle last season with Western Warhorse and punters who fancy Sail By The Sea to follow up can currently get a best price of 66/1, which looks rather juicy at this stage.
Tied Cottage Chase winner Hidden Cyclone cut from 20/1 into 12/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Nicky Henderson trained Hargam the second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle after Scottish juvenile success at Musselburgh
The Willie Mullins trained Gitane Du Berlais won the Scilly Isles Novices Chase on Saturday and has been cut from 66/1 into 14/1 for the JLT Novices Chase