The busy Christmas period is now just around the corner for racing fans but once again over the past week we have been enjoying some terrific action before we get stuck into our tinsel and turkey. The Cheltenham Festival remains on the horizon and we have been scribbling down plenty of clues this past week with that firmly in the front of our mind. There has been some excellent fixtures on both sides of the Irish Sea recently and as always, we have them all here on one place for your delectation.
The column this week is dominated by one meeting as Prestbury Park hosted its two day International fixture over the weekend and as you would expect, there were plenty of excellent performances to take note of.
International Meeting Eye Catchers
We have seen countless Cheltenham Festival winners emerge from the International meeting down the years and it will be fascinating to see if that trend continues this season. The feature race on Saturday was the International Hurdle and once again it was The New One who secured the victory for the second year in-a-row for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The 6-year-old produced his best performance of the season to win his third race of the winter and the Champion Hurdle remains his clear target in the spring. He dispatched a solid horse in Vaniteux, giving 8lbs away, with the minimum of fuss and The New One was cut from 7/2 into 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle in the aftermath of this success.
It was a very important success for Nigel Twiston-Davies who had a great day all round on Saturday with Blaklion also entering the winners enclosure at Prestbury Park. The novice hurdler was stepping up to three miles for the first time and he seemed to love it as he won the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle in fine style and he was cut from 33/1 into 12/1 for the Festival race of the same name after this win which looks more than fair.
We saw an old favourite return to the scene of his greatest triumph on Saturday and Rock On Ruby proved that the fire still burns bright in his belly. The 9-year-old travelled and jumped with enthusiasm before puling clear of some good horses to win the Relkeel Hurdle over 2m4f. The Harry Fry trained former Champion Hurdler is being stepped up in trip this season and although he still needs to prove himself over 3m, Rock On Ruby was cut from 50/1 into 20/1 for the World Hurdle as a result of this taking success.
Elsewhere on Saturday at Cheltenham we saw Champagne West win the Ryman Stationery Novices Chase as an odds on favourite for Philip Hobbs. The RSA Chase remains the most likely aim for this 6-year-old although he will need to improve his jumping if he is to win at the Festival in March. It was a win nevertheless though and Champagne West is a best price 20/1 for the RSA chase with Betfred which remains fair enough.
We saw another potential RSA Chase contender strut their stuff at Cheltenham on Friday with Kings Palace continuing his unbeaten career over fences. The David Pipe horse pulled well clear of Sausalito Sunrise to win the Cheltenham Business Club Novices Chase over 3m and he was cut from 10/1 into 5/1 for the RSA Chase by Bet Victor in the hours after this win.
We should also give a mention to Any Currency who finally got the win he deserved at Cheltenham on Friday as he won the Cross Country Chase. The Martin Keighley trained horse has gone close on countless occasions but he was far too good on Friday and he will be aimed at the Cross Country race in March for which he is the current 7/2 favourite for which looks plenty short enough at this stage.
Nicky Henderson has perhaps had a slightly slow start to the season by his standards but on the evidence of this weekend, the Seven Barows team certainly have a couple of top notch juvenile hurdlers on their hands this season. Hargam was the first to impress as he won the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial on Saturday at Cheltenham under a good ride from AP McCoy. He was all out to beat Karezak on ground that was soft enough for Hargam and he is now a best price 14/1 for the Triumph Hurdle in March.
Other Eye Catchers This Week
Hargam was a very nice winner for Henderson but a matter of minutes later we saw an even better performance from a Henderson juvenile as Peace And Co hacked up on British debut at Doncaster. The juvenile spent the entirety of the trip pulling the arms of Daryl Jacob out before simply bounding clear on the bridle to destroy a very good horse in Starchitect of Donald McCain's. It was impossible not to be impressed by this run and Peace And Co was slashed from 20/1 into 9/2 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle with Bet365 as a result of this taking win.
Over at Bangor on Friday afternoon we saw Melodic Rendezvous making his chasing debut for connections. He was a Group 1 winning hurdler and looked reasonably comfortable over the fences as he won the CES Novices Chase over 2m1f having to be pushed out. His jumping was only ok though which would be a slight worry and with that in mind a price of 25/1 for the JLT Novices Chase in March looks about right on this evidence.
As always on a Sunday there was some top action over in Ireland and this time it was Navan who hosted the feature card. The Navan Novice Hurdle has produced some excellent winners down the years but we saw a mild upset this year as odds-on favourite Shaneshill had his colours lowered. It was the Gigginstown owned No More Heroes who showed the greater stamina over 2m4f to reel in and pass the favourite and these two horse are unlikely to meet again after this showing.
Shaneshill looked outpaced for Willie Mullins and could drop back to two miles, while the winner is surely an Albert Bartlett horse, for which Bet365 cut him into 6/12 from 12/1 for as a result of this nice success.
Willie Mullins may have been slightly disappointed with Shaneshill at Navan on Sunday but that was not the case later on the card as Bordini took the eye in the last. The 4-year-old was happy in front as he won his second race of the season and he is a best price of 14/1 for the Champion Bumper in March which is a race that Willie Mullins always targets.