The Road To Cheltenham is coming towards its conclusion with just over a couple of weeks to go now until the Festival gets underway. The bookmakers are going NRNB, punters are making their final ante post selections and horses are being readied for their big day but despite that we still saw one or two performances over the weekend that are more than worth their place in our notebook.
The majority of the attention was on Kempton Park on Saturday but there was some nice performances elsewhere as well with a number of Festival hopefuls having their final runs before heading to Prestbury Park.
Festival Clues At Kempton
This meeting is traditionally one of the last big ones before the Festival and although we did'nt see any real star names on show this year, we did see some interesting action. There is no doubt which horse punters left the track with on their minds as Zubayr impressed to claim the Adonis Hurdle for Paul Nicholls.
A big money purchase, Zubayr was making his first start in the UK at the weekend and at a big price of 9/1 he did cause something of an upset. Nicholls achieved the Adonis/Triumph double a few years back with Zarkandar and the trainer will be hoping to do the same again this season with those two horses very similar according to the Ditcheat handler.
Zubayr looked in trouble as he was held up for the early stages but he quickened nicely when asked the question and in the end he won more than a touch cosily. Zubayr looked a real stayer and should improve again for the run which means his Triumph Hurdle price of 6/1 (from 16s) with Hills looks more than fair on the basis of this run.
Zubayr won the Adonis Hurdle and he is already being compared to Zarkandar who was also trained by Paul Nicholls;
We should also mention Gibralfaro who disappointed for Alan King having started as a warm favourite and one of the ante post market leaders for the Triumph. Gibralfaro failed to land a blow really and has been pushed out to 16/1 (from 8s) for the Triumph although he is far from sure to even go to that race now.
Elsewhere on the Kempton card we saw Winter Escape claim the Dovecote Novices Hurdle to maintain his unbeaten record for Alan King. He was made to work hard for this win but did it well in the end and his price of 25/1 with Paddy Power for the Supreme would appeal although he is far from a certain Festival runner, with a trip to Aintree perhaps on his agenda instead according to King.
The Pendil Novices Chase often produces a decent winner but it remains to be seen how good the race was this season with winner Killala Quay heading for one of the handicap races at Cheltenham. The Charlie Longsdon horse gave a very game performance in a poor quality race on the face of it, with his price of 20/1 (from 33s) for the Novices Handicap Chase at the Festival about right.
The Betbright Chase at Kempton is always one of the big handicap races of the season and we saw a truly excellent performance at the weekend as Theatre Guide smashed a good field up to claim the win. The Colin Tizzard trained horse jumped and travelled with enthusiasm before pulling clear and he now goes to the Cheltenham Festival with every chance in something like the Kim Muir or the Festival Handicap Chase.
Other Eye Catchers This Weekend
We did see some nice performances away from Kempton as well at the weekend with Seeyouatmidnight winning his third race on the bounce up at Newcastle on Saturday one of the more important performances.
The Sandy Thomson trained novice chaser won as he liked at 1/8F on Saturday which will have sharpened him up ahead of the RSA Chase for which he is currently a best price 12/1 for with Hills and he remains a an interesting prospect for a small yard.
The Gordon Elliott trained General Principle made his first start over hurdles at Navan on Saturday and he is another one for the notebook, although he could be one for the future, rather than the Festival next month. He won a maiden hurdle with the minimum of fuss on Saturday on his first start since he finished 11th in the Champion Bumper, with Elliott suggesting afterwards that he will be stepped up in trip at Fairyhouse over Easter rather than head to the Festival.
Fontwell Park hosted one of their big fixtures of the season on Sunday with the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle the highlight and we saw a nice winner claim the pot. The Neil King trained Lil Rockerfeller was well on top when he got to the line and he was trimmed into 16/1 (from 20s) by Paddy Power for the Coral Cup which looks about fair.
There were a couple of performances of note at Leopardstown on Sunday in the form of Alisier D'Irlande and Aspen Colorado. The Henry De Bromhead trained Alisier D'Irlande has impressed with two wins from three this season and he looked very good again here to raise hopes of some big spring performances. He is a best price 50/1 for the Arkle which would be a massive price based on his potential although he is more likely to go to Aintree according to connections. One to watch.
Aspen Colorado is a son of Galileo for the O'Brien team and he made it 2-2 in workmanlike fashion on Sunday at Leopardstown. He idled in front which should be considered and in truth this horse could be anything or nothing at this stage which makes his current Champion Bumper price of 8/1 (from 10s) a touch on the short side although he certainly adds an extra angle to the Festival flat race this term.
Road to Cheltenham Summary - 29/02/16
Zubayr into 6/1 for the Triumph Hurdle following Adonis Hurdle success at Kempton
Aspen Colorado wins his second race of the season and is an 8/1 shot for the Champion Bumper next month.
Alan King trained Winter Escape makes it 3-3 over hurdles at Kempton but looks likely to swerve Cheltenham
Seeyouatmidnight on course for the RSA Chase after easy win at Newcastle for Sandy Thomson