The last weekend before Christmas is not known for being a big one on the National Hunt calendar but there was still been more than enough to keep racing fans interested. The majority of the racing world is waiting for the Christmas racing festivities at Kempton and Leopardstown to kick-off but there was still some nice horses running at Ascot over the weekend. The weather may have not been the most pleasant at the Berkshire track but that didn't stop the sport and as usual on a Monday, we have picked out some of the more eye-catching performances in our weekly 'Road to Cheltenham' feature.
The action at Ascot kicked off on Friday afternoon with the performance of the day belonging to the Paul Nicholls trained Irving. The five-year-old pulled well clear of a good looking field to win the Mittie Kennel Gate Novices Hurdle over two miles, on soft ground, to enhance his growing reputation. He showed a pleasing turn of foot to claim his third win on the bounce and in the process mark himself out as a potential star for the Ditcheat Team.
The bookmakers were impressed enough with the performance with one firm cutting Irving from 20/1 into 14/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle after his latest win. Some firms even have the horse fighting for favouritism for the Festival opener and it is hard to argue with that assessment given the start he has made to his British racing career.
The other performance of note at Ascot on Friday came from the exciting Fox Appeal who won the Betfred Novices Chase for Emma Lavelle. The six-year-old won the 2m3f contest in good style and a run in the Arkle at Cheltenham could be on the cards. He has plenty to prove if he is to be considered a Festival winner but after his latest success at Ascot, he was installed in the Arkle market as a 25/1 shot.
The two-day meeting continued at Ascot on Saturday with the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle taking centre stage. It has proven to be a key World Hurdle trial in the past, and in testing conditions, it was Reve De Sivola who won the race for a second year-in-a-row. The Nick Williams trained eight-year-old is already a Grade One winner this season over in Auteuil and he showed his class to win the race with more than something in hand.
Pre-race favourite, At Fishers Cross, once again produced a poor round of jumping before unseating AP McCoy at the last, when already comfortably beaten. It has been a dramatic fall from grace for the Rebecca Curtis trained horse over the last month. He had been widely considered to be one of the best novice hurdlers in training last season when winning the Albert Bartlett, but his jumping this season has been nothing short of woeful. At Fishers Cross drifted from 6/1 to 10/1 for the World Hurdle after the race while Reve De Sivola was cut from 20/1, into 10/1, for the same race at the Festival.
As always, there was some decent action over in Ireland at the weekend with a decent card at Navan on Saturday the highlight. It will surprise no-one that Willie Mullins scored a nice success in the first on the card with Valseur Lido winning the Christmas Novice Hurdle over two miles. Mullins has a string of nice novices this season and while it is hard to judge the bare form here, Valseur Lido is still as short as 14/1 in the Supreme Novices Hurdle betting.
There was some more success for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh at Thurles on Sunday with Un De Sceaux winning the Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle over two miles. The five-year-old scored his fourth career win to remain unbeaten in a three runner race with very little opposition. It is impossible to judge this form but Un De Sceaux looks highly progressive and was cut from 20/1, into 16/1, for the Champion Hurdle as a result of this latest facile win.
Bangor-On-Dee is always a favourite track for some of the northern trainers and John Quinn sent one of his promising horses there on Sunday afternoon. The JCB Triumph Hurdle ante-post market is one of the most competitive of the entire Cheltenham Festival this season and the waters were muddied further with Rutherglen staking his claim. The three-year-old won the Saturday Naps Challenge Juvenile Hurdle by 21 lengths at Bangor and while it didn't look a great race, Rutherglen is now as short as 20/1 in the Triumph Hurdle betting.