Inclement weather conditions over the last seven days has produced some testing ground and it was the battle-hardened, gutsy performers that have taken centre stage and the star performance of the weekend's racing came from the exciting mare Gitane Du Berlais. A week where the novice hurdle entries were released for the Cheltenham Festival, there was also an Alan King-trained duo who have been handed their retirement, and this all features in our weekly round up.
Gitane Emerges As JLT Candidate With Convincing Scilly Isles Win
Willie Mullins sent over Gitane Du Berlais to Sandown Park more in hope than in confidence as his progressive mare looked to step up into Grade 1 company and feature prominently in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase. However, she put in an exquisite front-running display to down her male adversaries and she was immediately slashed from 50/1 to 16/1 for the JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The likes of Irish Saint and Champagne West had shown a decent level of form over the larger obstacles, but whilst the latter of that pair fell in the middle of the race, Mullins' mare eased clear of the former to win by a convincing eight lengths. Receiving weight from her rivals, Gitane Du Berlais was always on the front end and Daryl Jacob eased her clear as they approached the final fence and she strode clear to put herself firmly in the Cheltenham picture and Mullins could well have another exciting mare on his hands. Irish Saint was eased to 25/1 for the JLT, whilst Champagne West who was travelling well when falling is a best-priced 33/1 for the opening race on day three of the festival on March 12.
Cyclone Storms To Victory In Tied Cottage At Punchestown
Hidden Cyclone propelled into the 2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase picture with a top notch five-length success in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown, and the Shark Hanlon-trained 10-year-old is now a best-priced 14/1 for the 2m Championship race on the second day of the festival in the spring. Well supported before the off, he was sent to the front from the flag fall and duly pulled comfortably clear of Bright New Dawn and Twinlight in the closing stages and with the two-mile division having such a wide open look to it then he could be a prominent figure come that contest in just over a month. A race that has been won by the likes of Moscow Flyer, Big Zeb and Sizing Europe in the past, it's one of the premier trials in the Emerald Isle for the Champion Chase and Hanlon's veteran will need to come under consideration for the event.
Hargam Adds Depth To Henderson's Triumph Team After Musselburgh Romp
Nicky Henderson already dominates the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting with his exciting juvenile Peace And Co, but the Seven Barrows handler's strangehold at the head of the betting became stronger on Sunday as Hargam was an impressive winner of Musselburgh's trial race for the four-year-olds. He was sent off a 4/11 shot for the Listed event and AP McCoy was never made to get busy on the red-hot jolly as he eased clear of his inferior rivals to beat Donald McCain's Starchitect by six lengths and Hargam was instantly cut to a best-priced 10/1 second favourite with Ladbrokes, for what is an intriguing Triumph Hurdle market. With Bristol De Mai failing to land a blow in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park on Saturday, then Hargam could well be the alternative to the aforementioned Peace And Co for the Friday curtain-raiser.
Mullins Dominates Novice Hurdle Entries For Festival
Willie Mullins' embarrassment of riches within the hurdling division were highlighted last week as the County Carlow handler was the dominant figure amongst the entries received for the Graded novice hurdle events at next month's Cheltenham Festival. A staggering 18 entries of the 83 received for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle belonged to the Irish luminary, whilst he has pencilled in 24 of the 109 runners for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurde, whilst 21 of the 97 entries for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle belong to the Irish heavweight. A modest four of the 70 entries received for the JCB Triumph Hurdle belong to Mullins, but with the likes of Douvan and Black Hercules are just two of the star names amidst a flurry of Mullins-trained entries for the festival.
King Forced To Retire Two Stable Stalwarts
Alan King was forced to call time on two of his prominent figures this week as loveable greys Walkon and Medermit were seen for the last time on a racecourse. The former was pulled up at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day and his career that saw him win the Grade 1 4-Y-O Hurdle at Aintree was brought to an end. Medermit was found to have picked up an injury after his run in the Sky Bet Chase and the former Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase winner was another who will be given a well-deserved retirement for what has been a cracking career in the National Hunt sphere.