The Monday morning after the Cheltenham Open Meeting is always a brilliant one as we pick over what has been three days of exciting sport at Prestbury Park and that is certainly the case today. The National Hunt season is without question in full swing now and thousands of fans descended on Cheltenham over the weekend to watch some top class action and there were plenty of performances for the notebook.
Regular readers of the Road to Cheltenham blog will know that we always pick out the eye catchers from the last week on a Monday and unsurprisingly we have bumper column for you to study this week! The big races came thick and fast at Cheltenham, while there was also some great action over in Ireland that had an impact on the Festival markets and we have gathered them all here in one place as we continue our mission on the path to March.
Cheltenham Open Meeting
The anticipation was palpable as thousands of punters poured into Cheltenham on Friday for the first day of the Open Meeting and the action certainly lived up to expectations. The Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase has been won by Denman and Imperial Commander among others in recent years and on the face of it we saw another very impressive winner this season. Philip Hobbs had two in the field and thankfully for him both Colour Squadron and eventual winner, Champagne West, pulled clear of the field to fight out the finish on Friday.
Colour Squadron started as the favourite to finally win his first chase but in the end it was his younger stable-mate, under a great ride from Richard Johnson, whp pulled over three lengths clear to mark himself out as one to watch. This success came over 2m4f and he is only likely to improve over further in time with the RSA Chase the aim in March for which Champagne West is as short as 12/1 for with Ladbrokes this morning.
We saw a very eye catching winner of the Hyde Novices Hurdle on Friday with John Quinn saddling the classy Parlour Games to a very taking success. The former flat horse tanked round before streaking well clear of the highly touted Blaklion to win by more than four lengths going away. Pace is clearly the main attribute for Parlour Games and a tilt at the Neptune in March now looks likely for which Paddy Power have installed him in their market at a price of 25/1 for which looks fair.
Johnson and Hobbs tasted more success on Friday with Balthazar King claiming an eighth Cheltenham win with a gutsy success in the Cross country Chase. The 10-year-old was roared up the hill by the packed ground and another tilt at the Grand National looks likely for one of the most popular horses in training.
The action continued at Cheltenham on Saturday with the Paddy Power Gold Cup the big handicap race on the card. It is always a big betting contest and that was the case once again with Paul Nicholls claiming the win with the excellent Caid Du Berlais. Under a great drive from Sam Twiston-Davies, Caid du Berlais got up on the line to beat Johns Spirit and it is easy to see the Nicholls horse running a big race in the Byrne Group Plate or something similar come March.
Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs continued their remarkable weekend on Saturday as Golden Doyen got up on the line following a thrilling battle with Hargam to win the Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle. The pair of them both look excellent horses to follow with Golden Doyen battling on in testing ground to collar the idling Hargam. Both are likely to be aimed at the Triumph Hurdle in March with Golden Doyen cut from 33/1 into 16/1 for that one after this win, while the Nicky Henderson trained Hargam was cut from 16/1 into 12/1 for the same race despite his narrow reverse.
There was a big race success for David Pipe on Saturday as well with Kings Palace claiming a very impressive victory in the Cheltenham Club Novices Chase over 3m. Kings Palace was a crack hurdler and he looks even better over fences if this performance is anything to go by. The 6-year-old jumped and travelled very nicely indeed before beating Sausalito Sunrise with something in hand and he was cut from 16/1 into 8/1 for the RSA Chase as a result of this chasing debut win.
The final day of the Open Meeting was on Sunday and the Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs theme continued with the pair of them claiming a big race double to finish the meeting with six winners. They claimed the day three highlight with Garde La Victoire scoring in the Greatwood Hurdle and it was a gutsy performance from a very nice horse indeed. He held off top weight Vaniteux up the hill with Garde La Victoire installed in the Champion Hurdle market as a 40/1 shot by Hills after this nice win.
Dunraven Storm was the other big winner for Hobbs and Johnson on Sunday with the 9-year-old claiming the Arkle Trophy Trial Novices Chase. He is slightly older than most novice chasers but this is already his second win of the season and he looks a solid type who is now a best price of 25/1 for the Arkle in March which will appeal to some.
Champion Chaser Sire De Grugy missed the Shloer Chase through injury but we still saw a nice winner with Uxizandre scoring for Alan King. The JP McManus owned horse looked happier down at two miles and won well and he is likely to attract some each-way Queen Mother Champion Chase money at a best current price of 20/1 with a number of on-line firms.
Other Cheltenham Festival Market Movers this Week
Cheltenham may have been the main focus this week but there has been plenty of other notable runners to scribble in the notebook this past seven days. Willie Mullins has unsurprisingly been in the winners in Ireland as his team starts to hit first gear with December on the horizon. The Irish Champion Trainer was at Clonmel on Thursday to watch Champagne Fever produce a very impressive performance to win the Oil Chase over 2m4f.
Champagne Fever is a dual Festival winner and he looked as good as ever on Thursday as he dispatched a good field with the minimum of fuss and he looks set to for a career over further trips from now on. The King George is his next target, while Bet365 were impressed enough with this win to cut Champagne Fever from 14/1 into 8/1 for the Gold Cup in March,
There was more success for Mullins over the weekend with Hurricane Fly, Black Hercules and Valseur Lido all making favourable impressions. There was a 20th Grade 1 win for Hurricane Fly as he beat Jezki to win the Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday and he was cut from 25/1 into 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle as a result despite his advancing years.
Black Hercules was a top Bumper horse last season and looked just as at home on his first start over hurdles at Cork on Sunday as he won an average maiden. He jumped and travelled well and looks a potential top novice hurdler to follow and he was cut from 25/1 into 20/1 for the Supreme in March after this success.
There was a good card at Exeter last Wednesday and we saw a very nice performance from Ptit Zig who made a successful start to his chasing career at the Devon track. The 5-year-old was a decent hurdler for Paul Nicholls but he looks better over fences and although this was only an average race, there should be more to come from a young horse. He was trimmed from 16/1 into 14/1 for the Arkle as a result of this success and it will be interesting to follow his progress through the winter.
There was more success for Paul Nicholls at Exeter with a very taking hurdling debut from the highly exciting Tara Point. It was just her second ever racecourse appearance and she travelled like a very good horses indeed before pulling clear to win the mares hurdle over 2m3f by 15 lengths. She looks very useful indeed and already does make some appeal at 25/1 for the Neptune next March although she will need to prove herself against her own sex before hand.
Road to Cheltenham Summary this week
Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson claim six wins at the Cheltenham Open Meeting
Kings Palace wins chasing debut and is cut from 16/1 into 8/1 by Bet365 for the RSA Chase
Caid Du Berlais wins the Paddy Power Gold Cup
Champagne Fever the new Gold Cup favourite after Clonmel Oil win
Hurricane Fly claims 20th Grade 1 vicory in the Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday