This is the time of the year when Jump Racing is gearing itself up for the hectic Christmas and New Year period so that means it was a relatively quiet weekend on the Road To Cheltenham. Having said that, there were still plenty of nuggets to take note of on both sides of the Irish sea as we put together our final column of 2015.
This week we saw a staying hurdler star at Ascot for Colin Tizzard whilst there was more success for Willie Mullins over in Ireland.....
Thistlecrack Stakes World Hurdle Claims
The Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas is always a key step on the road to the World Hurdle at the Festival in March and we saw a really terrific performance on Saturday. The Colin Tizzard trained Thistlecrack followed up his Long Distance Hurdle win with an even more impressive display at Ascot and in the process, he marked himself out as the one to beat for March.
The 7-year-old travelled like a dream before pulling clear of three time winner of this race Reve De Sivola in testing ground. He stays and jumps well and on this evidence, he will go to Prestbury Park with a massive chance in the spring.
Reve De Sivola stayed on well for 2nd while Saphir Du Rheu faded quickly and will undergo a breathing op but neither were a match for Thistlecrack who is now a best prce 3/1 (from 7s) with Bet Victor for the World Hurdle as a result of this latest win. Colin Tizzard indicated after the race that the Cleeve Hurdle would be his next target.
Impressive Novices Stake Their Claims
This past seven days has seen a number of young novics stake their Festival claims for March on both sides of the Irish Sea and plenty of them are well worth taking note of.
Champion Bumper 3rd Wait For Me was beaten on hurdling debut last month but he bounced back last Thursday as he scored over the obstacles for the first time for Philip Hobbs. It was a decent display from a clearly top class horse, especially as he wants better ground than he got at Newbury, although the bookmakers did not agree with Betfred pushing him out to 33/1 (from 25s) for the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
We saw a slightly more impressive performance at Ascot on Friday as the exciting Yanworth won his 3rd race of the season in decent style. The Alan King horse was 4th in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, slightly behind Wait For Me, last season but looks very happy over hurdles and as such he could be anything.
Yanworth was cut from 14/1, into 12/1, by Bet365 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle while the Neptune is not out of the question and he can be backed at a best price of 16/1 for that race at this stage.
Another week and another batch of Willie Mullins winners to run the rule over in our column. One of his fine Novice Hurdlers to win this past week was the Gigginstown owned Gangster who won in nice style at Fairyhouse on Saturday afternoon. Under a good ride from Bryan Coper, Gangster won the stayers Hurdle in very tasting ground and he is certainly one for the longer trips going forward.
Willie Mullins mentioned the Albert Bartlett for Gangster after this race and as a winner on heavy and good ground in the past, he looks a fair old punt in that market at a current price of 14/1 (from 25s) with Sky Bet after this taking success.
Gangster was just one of a four timer for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse on Saturday with Killultagh Vic and Roi Des Frances also taking the eye. Killultagh Vic was making his chase debut over 2m and he duly hacked up in heavy ground and over an inadequate trip to boot.
Killultagh Vic beat Thistlecrack at Punchestown last season and he looked a natural over fences at Fairyhouse with the rest of the season in mind. His price for the RSA Chase was trimmed into 12/1 (from 16s) by Bet365, while the same firm make him a 14/1 shot for the JLT Novices Chase in March.
Just one race later we saw Roi Des Francs win the 3m Beginners Chase for Willie Mullins and he is another strong stayer for the Champion Irish trainer to go to war with over fences. He certainly appreciates a trip and testing ground and at this stage Roi Des Fances looks a four miler sort and can be backed for that race at the Festival at a price of 12/1 (from 16s) in the aftermath of this decent win.
One other winner we have to mention from this past seven days is that of Seabass who won a Novices Hurdle over 2m6f at the age of 12. A former Grand National 3rd, Seabass retained all of his old enthusiasm on the basis of this evidence and another tilt at Aintree could now be on the agenda, despite his advancing years.
Road to Cheltenham Summary - 21st dec
Thistlecrack a best price 3/1 for the World Hurdle after Long Walk Success at Ascot
Yanworth trimmed for the Supreme and the Neptune after latest hurdling success for Alan King
Willie Mullins trained Killultagh Vic wins on Chase debut and is trimeed for the RSA Chase as a result