This week on the Road To Cheltenham we have once again been across all of the eye catchers and market movers from across the UK and Ireland as the stars have once again been out to play. The majority of the focus over the weekend was on two day Cheltenham Meeting but there was still plenty of sport elsewhere including over the sea in Ireland despite the weather playing havoc with the fixture list over there.
International Meeting Eye Catchers
The December International Meeting at Cheltenhamis always a terrific two day card for jump racing fans and it was once again a quality couple of days of sport. The Channel 4 cameras were in attendance for both days and they, and we, got to see some very good horses strut their stuff, especially with the Festival now fast approaching.
The action kicked off on Friday afternoon with a quality looking 3m1f Novices Chase and it turned out to be a cracking contest. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Blaklion produced a terrific round of jumping before powering up the hill to claim the win and he now jumps straight into contention for the RSA Chase in March.
Blaklion was a good hurdler but looks even better over fences and although it is hard to equate this form with the Irish contenders, it looked good on the eye and as such Blaklion was cut from 33/1, into 20/1, for the RSA Chase with Sky Bet which looks more than fair.
Fletchers Flyer ran well for most of the way before being done for speed up the hill and he remains a nice prospect for Harry Fry, while it is back to the drawing board for Minella Rocco, who took a bad fall,
The other performance of note on Friday at Cheltenham came in the Cross Country Chase as Josies Orders confirmed his potential as a potential star in this sphere. The Enda Bolger trained horse was given a typically excellent ride by Nina Carberry and after his win at Cheltenham earlier in the season, he now looks the one to beat in March, and is a best price 4/1 for that race with Ladbrokes.
The action at Cheltenham cranked up a notch on Saturday as the crowds poured in and they were treated to some great sport. The big race of the day was the International Hurdle and there was a surprise winner in the form of Old Guard for Paul Nicholls. The Greatwood Hurdle winner produced a career best to pull clear of the field and he now looks a genuine Champion Hurdle contender in March with Bet365 cutting his price for that race from 33/1, into 20/1 as a result of this win.
The big shock came as Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co finished stone last on his first start of the season for Nicky Henderson. Prior to the race he was touted as a major opponent for Faugheen but he pulled way to hard on Saturday and his Champion Hurdle price is now out to 20/1 from 7/1 with Paddy Power as a result of this disappointing return.
2014 World Hurdle winner More Of That won the 2m5f Novices Chase on Saturday and he remains a potential star over the fences for Jonjo O'Neill. He jumped solidly to beat just two rivals before pulling comfortably clear and his Festival options remain wide open at the moment. More Of That remains a best price 5/1 for the RSA Chase in March , while he has also got quotes for the JLT and even the Gold Cup in the wake of this more recent success.
Philip Hobbs dominated the December Gold Cup as Village Vic and Champagne West completed a 1-2 for the handler and they are both horses to keep an eye on whilst it was also a good day for Alan King. The Hennessy gold Cup winning trainer saw two of his juvenile hurdlers win and both could be Triumph horses. Sceau Royal won the Triumph Hurdle Trial in decent fashion at Cheltenham and is 20/1 (from 25s) for March, whilst Who Dares Wins was ultra impressive in winning up at Doncaster and was installed as a 25/1 shot for the Triumph Hurdle by Betfred as a result.
More Success For Mullins In Ireland
Last Thursday at Punchestown we saw a potential superstar unleashed as the Willie Mullins trained Min finally made his long awaited debut. His form in France was nothing to write home about but the hype looked justified as he stormed to victory in the Maiden Hurdle and this could be a serious horse.
We mustn't get carried away given the field he was up against but Min couldn't have looked any better in the process and he was slashed into 5/1 (from 14s) for the Supreme Novices Hurdle by Paddy Power as a result of his debut success. The next Douvan?
Willie Mullins sent out one of his other Novice hurdles on Sunday in the form of Bellshill who won the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle. It was an impressive display from Bellshill as he pulled clear of the highly touted Tycoon Prince to win his second race over hurdles and he is another one with the world at his feet potentially. This win came over 2m4f and as such he was cut into 7/1F (from 10s) for the Neptune by Bet Victor, while the same firm make him a 10/1 shot for the Albert Bartlett after this latest success.
Elsewhere on the Navan card we saw a very impressive display from the Jessie Harrington trained Ttebbob who stormed to victory in the 2m1f Novice Chase. In testing ground, the 6-year-old destroyed two decent rivals with a terrific display of jumping and he is an interesting horse to follow. A winner over 3m as a hurdler, he showed plenty of speed here and a current best price of 25/1 for the Arkle with Paddy Power looks a fair price at this stage for an improver like him.
The final horse we want to mention from Navan on Sunday was Death Duty who impressed in the flat race for Gordon Elliott. In a tight finish with Our Duke, Death Duty got on top to win his second race of the season and although it remains to be seen where his future lies, Death Duty is certainly one to follow.
Road To Cheltenham Summary 1th Dec
The Willie Mullins trained Min wins a Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown & is a general 5/1 shot for the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a result
Old Guard wins the International Hurdle and is cut into 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle
Alan King has two juvenile winners this weekend with Sceau Royal and Who Dares Wins and both are cut for the Triumph Hurdle
Bellshill the 8/1F for the Neptune Novices Hurdle after Navan Novice Hurdle win on Sunday