The rain is starting to fall and the stars are coming out to play! The majority of racecourses across the UK and Ireland now have proper winter jumping ground and that means the top class action is coming thick and fast. It has been another terrific week on the Road To Cheltenham with a mixture of old favourites and new names making their mark on the sport.
As always on a Monday morning, we are rounding up all of the big performances from the past seven days as we look to assemble the biggest Cheltenham Festival notebook in history.
Two Gold Cup Winners Return With A Bang
The Cheltenham Gold Cup roll of honour is perhaps the most famous in the sport and we saw two names from that famous group make their seasonal debuts this past weekend. The first of them came on Saturday as Bobs Worth rolled back the years with a typically game performance to win the Betfred Hurdle up at Aintree.
In truth, Bobs Worth had looked gone at the game for much of the past 18 months but he showed much of his old enthusiasm and bravery here as he out-battled the returning Simonsig to claim a very popular win. Bobs Worth was slashed into 14/1, from 25/1, for the Hennessy Gold Cup after this win while the rest of his season and career might hinge on how he runs at Newbury.
Current Gold Cup winner Coneygree made history last season when he won the race as a Novice and he was out for the first time since at Sandown as he won the Future Stars Chase in stunning fashion. The Mark Bradstock trained 8-year-old jumped and travelled with all of his usual enthusiasm to destroy some very good horses including RSA runner-up Southfield Theatre and there is still a chance he could be getting better.
It was hard not to be impressed by Coneygree and the bookmakers agreed with his Hennessy Gold Cup price trimmed into 5/1, from 7/1, with Bet365, while his price for the Gold Cup in March is now as short as 5/1 with the same firm.
Coneygree was the talk of social media after his win at Sandown on Sunday, with racing tipster Bill Esdaile among those impressed with him;
It has been a packed week on this side of the Irish Sea and it started last Monday as Silviniaco Conti made his seasonal debut for Paul Nicholls. The Dual King George winner ran a perfectly respectable race as he finished 2nd in a Pertemps Hurdle race and he will now move onto the Betfair Chase, for which he is a best price 2/1 favourite for after this early season work-out.
On the same card we saw a very good chase as Smad Place scored in impressive fashion for Alan King and he is another one with plenty of big targets ahead of him. The grey horse jumped well before pulling clear of Fingal Bay and he is another one with the Hennessy in his sights with 14/1 the best price in the village about him winning the big handicap race at Newbury.
The action in the UK moved to Exeter on Tuesday as they hosted their big Haldon Gold Cup day and it did not disappoint, despite the fog almost ruining the day.
The big race was of course the Haldon Gold Cup iself and we saw a very nice performance from Vibrato Valtat who jumped and travelled in very taking fashion and he could be a major player in the two mile division this winter.
The Paul Nicholls trained horse was installed as the 3/1 favourite for the Tingle Creek with William Hill after this win, while he is a best price of 25/1 with Betfred for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the moment, which looks more than fair at this stage.
The other notable winner on the Exeter card was classy bumper horse Yanworth who won his hurdling debut very easily for Barry Geraghty and Alan King and he is very much one to follow. It was hard to tell what the JP McManus horse beat but he did it well and is a best price of 25/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle in March, while the same horse can be backed at 20/1 for the Neptune.
We must also mention the win of Irving at Wincanton on Saturday as he won the Elite Hurdle in some style for Paul Nicholls. A red hot novice hurdler, Irving has perhaps disappointed since then but he looked very good on Saturday as he powered clear of the field to win the Elite off of top weight and he will now go to the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle where he will test his Champion Hurdle credentials.
We have already mentioned that Simonsig was narrowly beaten by Bobs Worth in the Betfred Hurdle at Aintree but it is worth emphasising his performance. It was his first start since he won the 2013 Arkle and overall it was a pleasing enough debut for the Nicky Hendserson trained chaser. He did travel feely which was too be expected and may have been a factor in him finding very little off the bridle but he should improve plenty.
Simonsig is sure to be suited by the 2m chases and the Tingle Creek looks like his next target, while ultimately it would be great to see him run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March, for which he has been cut from 14/1 into 12/1 for by Sky Bet.
Following his return, we asked our followers on @jumpsracingcouk if they believed Simonsig would be a Grade 1 contender this season. Here are the results;
The action has been just as exciting over in Ireland this past week with some very interesting runners and performances to be scribbled down in the old notebook. There was a particularly great card at Navan on Sunday with some top class action to take in including the Grade 2 Fortria Chase over 2m.
It looked a fair contest on paper and it turned out to be with Hidden Cyclone far too good in the end in testing ground. The 10-year-old has been a solid chaser for some time now and comfortably beat the likes of Special Tiara, Flemenstar and Days Hotel and there could be some decent races left in him yet, although it is hard to see him winning a Champion Chase.
The other Grade 2 race at Navan was the Lismullen Hurdle with the top class Arctic Fire getting his head back in front for Willie Mullins. The Champion Hurdle 2nd often finds one too good but not here as he battled all the way to the line and he is now a best price 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle in March which looks more than fair given his form behind Faugheen of late.
The Edward O'Grady trained Kitten Rock was 6th in the Champion Hurdle last season and he made a very eye catching chase debut at Navan on Sunday afternoon. The JP McManus owned horse took to the larger obstacles like a duck to water to beat Sizing Titanium in the 2m Beginners Chaser and his Arkle price of 12/1 (from 16s) with Hills looks a decent one if this first start is anything to go by.
There was a big upset at Navan as red hot novice hurdler Tycoon Prince had his colours lowered in the Grade 3 2m race. Hotly tipped for a big future, Tycoon Prince was held up but he looked a little one paced as Three Stars streaked clear and it would be a major surprise if Tycoon Prince was seen down at the minimum trip again any time soon and he deserves a second chance.
Summary This Week
Simonsig 2nd on first run for over 900 days and could go to the Tingle Creek at Sandown next month
Coneygree hacks up on season debut and his now a 5/1 shot for the Gold Cup in March
Edward O'Grady trained Kitten Rock into 12/1, from 16/1, with Hills for the Arkle Chase after a winning chase debut
Paul Nicholls trained Vibrato Valtat the favourite for the Tingle Creek Chase after his win in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.