A scintillating week of top quality National Hunt action saw Sandown Park and Aintree produce a host of fine spectacles on Saturday afternoon, whilst there was Grade 1 action in Ireland with the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown which saw the return of the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion. We review the last seven days and pick out the five top stories here.
Bullets Hands Nicholls Ninth Win In Tingle Creek
Paul Nicholls enhanced his sensational record in the Tingle Creek Chase as the Ditcheat handler saddled his ninth winner of the Grade 1 two-mile chase as Dodging Bullets fended off Somersby and stablemate Hinterland in a terrfic renewal at Sandown Park on Saturday afternoon. With the well-fancied duo of Balder Succes and God's Own unable to land a blow in the closing stages, it was Dodging Bullets who kicked clear turning for home and fought off his main adversaries to win by two-and-a-half lengths. With the 2m division so open with clouds hanging over Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy the bookmakers were quick to trim the Sandown winner in the betting for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but he is still backable at double-figured odds with most firms.
Cossack The Don In John Durkan At Punchestown
Don Cossack had headed into Punchestown's John Durkan Memorial Chase as the form horse, as he had already bagged a couple of Graded events earlier in the campaign, but he propelled on to the Grade 1 scene with an impressive four-and-a-half length win in the prestigious. A race that has been synonmous as a leading trial for the premier Cheltenham Festival races, the 13/8 joint-favourite kept on well in the closing stages to fend off fellow jolly Boston Bob and the Gigginstown House Stud-owned winner was immediately slashed in the Ryanair Chase betting. Reigning Gold Cup champion Lord Windermere made his seasonal appearance and ran a creditable race to finish third over an inadequate distance and he is next likely to be seen in the Lexus Chase, as he embarks on the Cheltenham trail again.
Veteran Thinking Continues Hobbs Fine Form With Peterborough Win
Wishfull Thinking bagged another valuable Grade 2 prize on Sunday afternoon as the 11-year-old produced a sensational performance to outbattle Eduard and Wonderful Charm in Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase to maintain Philip Hobbs' terrific recent record in major races. Richard Johnson adopted front-running tactics from the flag-fall and the 13/2 shot was headed between the final two fences by Eduard, but he showed immense guts and determination to poke his head in front after the last fence and he fought off his younger rivals to land the prestigious event. He may be in the twilight of his career, but the veteran could still be Cheltenham Festival bound in March and he is a 20/1 shot for the Ryanair Chase with a selected few bookmakers.
Saphir Du Rheu Cut For RSA Chase After Exeter Success
Saphir Du Rheu bounced back from a fall on his chasing debut at Newbury by easing to an 11-length victory in a novices' chase at Exeter on Friday afternoon and the Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old was a mover in the 2015 RSA Chase betting following his West Country win. A top notch hurdler, the Ditcheat inmate produced a sublime round of jumping and Nick Scholfield eased him clear of a decent field that included Deputy Dan, and he is now set to return to Graded action as he tries to continue up the novice chasing ranks.
Johnson To Miss Festive Period After Exeter Blunder
Richard Johnson was in hot water with the stewards on Friday afternoon as the top National Hunt rider took the wrong course in Exeter's Devon National and he picked up a 12-day ban which will see him unable to ride between December 19 and January 2, which will see him miss the busy Christmas period. Piloting the Martin Keighley-trained Benbane Head, Johnson failed to jump the water jump and was forced to immediately pull up the 11/2 shot and he was left red-faced as his rivals jumped the fence. Apologetic in the aftermath, Johnson will now miss a host of key races over the festive period and will be stuck on the sidelines until the New Year when his ban kicks off in around 10 days.