The return of hot chaser Flemenstar at the weekend has opened up more questions that it answered. The eight-year-old was having his first run for new trainer Tony Martin at Navan and duly won, although it was a far from impressive performance. His normally slick jumping was nowhere to be seen as he ballooned a number of the obstacles on the way to claiming a narrow win ahead of Days Hotel.
Last season started so well for Flemenstar as he won the Fortria and the John Durkan Chase but his star sunk as connections tested him out over three miles. An infection was blamed for those below par runs and following the decision to move Flemenstar from Peter Casey to Tony Martin, big things are now expected this winter. Connections were quick to say that Flemenstar will improve for his run at Navan but questions do remain as to what is his preferred trip with the Cheltenham Festival in mind.
Potential Flemenstar Cheltenham Targets
At this stage, Flemenstar is featuring towards the top of the betting for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup but where is he most likely to end up? Well, according to the aforementioned markets, it is the Ryanair Chase over 2m 5f that is the most likely with Flemenstar as short as 5/1 with one firm for that race. It is easy to make a case for the Ryanair Chase, with clear stamina doubts surrounding a potential Gold Cup bid while the prospect of locking horns with Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase, is likely to scare most opponents off.
The Fortria Chase came over two miles on Sunday with Tony Martin quick to say that a step up in trip to 2m4f is already on the cards. That could see him head to the John Durkan in a few weeks time and a good run there is likely to see his Ryanair price shorten even further. He won the John Durkan in very impressive fashion last year and if he does turn up to defend his crown, it will offer punters a great yard stick as to his current level of form.
Flemenstar has long been talked about as a strong stayer but so far he is yet to show it on the track. He was third in the Lexus Chase last season on his first try over the three miles before finishing second in the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup in February. An infection has been blamed for those runs although the jury clearly remains out on his stamina. It is possible that Tony Martin will try the horse over three miles one more time which does offer up the possibility of a Gold Cup run in March.
The bookmakers are less convinced though with Flemenstar available at a general 33/1 price for the big race at the Festival. That price reflects the current stamina doubts surrounding the horse and at this stage a run in the Gold Cup appears unlikely.
The same can be said of the Queen Mother Champion Chase with 20/1 the current best price about Flemenstar winning the two mile championship. The feeling at times has been that Flemenstar does possess the necessary cruising speed needed to perform well at the minimum trip. That would favour a run in the Champion Chase but would also mean a clash with Sprinter Sacre, who has been unbeatable over fences for the past couple of years.
There is no doubt that on his best day Flemenstar is one of the very best chasers in training which does make his future all the more fascinating. All the signs suggest that the Ryanair Chase is his likely target in the spring and we would have to agree with that assessment. It is possible that the Champion Chase would come into consideration, should anything happen to Sprinter Sacre, but at this stage there is no sign of that happening.
A Gold Cup run is looking just as unlikely until he proves his stamina, leaving the Ryanair Chase as the clear target if arrives in the spring fit and well. A little bit of cut in the ground is also vital to the chances of Flemenstar who remains one of the biggest enigmas currently in training.