The Road to Cheltenham has cranked up another notch or two over the past few days and that has once again be reflected by the number of Cheltenham Festival ante-post market movers to assess. It has been a jam packed last seven days of racing on both sides of the Irish Sea and all of the performances of note are featured right here in one place, as always on a Monday.
The superstars of the sport are now in full swing with their campaign's and as we look forward to the Tingle Creek this weekend, we have taken a look back over the past few days to some cracking meetings at both Newbury and Fairyhouse among others.
Newbury Eye Catchers
It is impossible to start anywhere else but Newbury for our eye catchers blog this week as they hosted the famous Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday afternoon. It is without doubt one of the most popular races on the calendar for punters and it nearly always seems to be something of a spectacle.
Some legendary horses have won this race down the years and we saw another good winner this year in the form of the Oliver Sherwood trained Many Clouds. Sherwood last trained a Hennessy winner back in 1990 and he was a hugely popular winner at the weekend as Many Clouds was applauded back into the winners enclosure. The horse is now 2-2 this season and he fully deserved his success with some excellent jumping and strong stamina clearly the difference for him in testing ground.
The field were well strung out in the end but Many Clouds hung on doggedly after the last and connections have indicated that he will now be aimed at the Gold Cup in March for which he was cut from 33/1 into 14/1 for as a result of this win.
There were one or two slight disappointments further down the Hennessy field including Djakadam who had started the race as a warm favourite. The Willie Mullins horse had travelled well but he got tired quickly in testing ground although a current price of 25/1 for the Ryanair Chase looks more than fair at this stage.
The main support race to the Hennessy on Saturday was the Long Distance Hurdle which has proven to be a very good World Hurdle trial down the years. There was a major shock though as More Of That lost his unbeaten record despite having started as a very warm favourite for the race. He got tired very quickly in ground testing enough and he will clearly improve for the run but he was still pushed out to 4/1 from 5/2 for the World Hurdle in the aftermath of this reverse. Medinas was the horse to take advantage for Alan King who managed to beat Cole Harden and both of those are also likely to be aimed at the stayers hurdle in March.
We must also point out that the Hennessy card was a three day affair and there were some nice performances in Berkshire on Thursday and Friday. One that did catch the eye in particular was the impressive Coneygree who returned from an injury lay-off to win the Berkshire Novices Chase first time out over 2m4f for Mark Bradstock. The seven-year-old was a classy hurdler and he looked even better on his first chase start beating Dell' Arca into second place. Coneygree looks like a strong stayer and Skybet cut him from 40/1 into 25/1 for the RSA Chase at Cheltenhamafter this latest success which looks more than a fair price on this piece of form.
Harry Fry is building a very strong yard down in Dorset these days and he looks to have a nice horse in his care this season in the form of Jollyallan. The JP McManus owned horse made it 2-2 at Newbury in the Bet365 Novices Hurdle on Thursday and he looks like one to follow. He travelled and jumped well despite looking a little bit green and he is now a general 25/1 shot for the Supreme in March which may well attract some support.
Fairyhouse on Sunday
Fairyhouse played host to one of their biggest days of the year on Sunday afternoon with three Grade 1 races for racing fans to sink their teeth into. This day always seems to bring up some top class winners but it proved to be a day of surprises with some well fancied horses having their colours lowered to the delight of the bookies.
The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle over 2m was the first Grade 1 on the card and it was a race with plenty of incident. Hot favourite Allez Colombieres who has built a significant reputation without running was pulled up early on and was sadly fatally injured on his first start in Ireland.
That must of been a blow for Willie Mullins but the Irish Champions Trainer still picked up the spoils with Nichols Canyon claiming the spoils. Under Paul Townend, Nichols Canyon travelled and jumped well having had a good career on the flat and he now looks like a nice prospect to follow over the hurdles. He was cut from 20/1 into 16/1 with Paddy Power for the Supreme Novices Hurdle while the same firm make him a 16/1 shot for the Neptune which may make more appeal given his likely stamina.
The Hatton's Grace Hurdle may have lost Annie Power from its line-up late on but it still proved to be an informative renewal. We saw an emotional win for Lieutenant Colonel who gave Sandra Hughes her first top level winner following the death of her father, Dessie. It was clearly a big win for the family and it was a fine performance from the Gigginstown owned horse who is now a 25/1 shot for the World Hurdle in the spring.
The Drinmore Novice Chase over 2m4f was the final Grade 1 on the Fairyhouse card and we saw a very likeable performance from the improving Valseur Lido who was another Gigginstown winner on the day. The Tullow Tank was the disappointment of the day as he faded away but Valsuer Lido is still a young horse with more improvement to come and with that in mind he was cut from 25/1 into 10/1 for the RSA with Bet365 which has to make some appeal/
That was another big race win for Willie Mullins and we should also mention his other success on the Fairyhouse card as Kalkir won the Juvenile Hurdle in super impressive fashion. He showed a super turn of foot to pull well clear on his first start for Mullins and he is now as short as 6/1 from 14/1 for the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival as a result of this win which was perhaps the best juvenile run of the season so far on first look.
Other Eye Catchers This Week
Outside of the big two cards over the weekend, there has been plenty of action to follow this past week with a number of horses taking the eye with Cheltenham in the front of our minds. One that certainly falls into that category is the Paul Nicholls trained Irving who tasted Grade 1 glory for the first time in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Saturday.
The six-year-old tracked the leaders well before pulling clear of Aurore D'Estuval on the run in and he was cut from 33/1 into 16/1 for the Champion Hurdle as a result of this victory which gave Paul Nicholls is 100th Grade 1 victory.
This past week also saw the chasing debut of a potential superstar over in Ireland as Un De Sceaux tackled the big obstacles for the first time last Thursday. A top class hurdler last season, Un De Sceaux jumped and travelled like a top notch horse for much of the way before unseating Ruby Walsh at the 12th much to gasps from the crowd. It is a setback for the horse and he will need to be watched closely next time but he remains a class animal and can now be backed at 5/1 from 4/1 for the Arkle.
Another winner for Willie Mullins on Thursday came in the form of Clondaw Court who won the Rock of Cashel Hurdle over 2m6f. He is clearly another classy horse and a strong stayer who could be winning more races this season although whether that be over hurdles or fences is up for debate at this stage of the winter.
Many Clouds is cut into 14/1 for the Gold Cup after Hennessy Gold Cup success at Newbury
World Hurdle hero, More of That, loses unbeaten record in Long Distance Hurdle to Medinas
Paul Nicholls wins 100th Grade 1 with Irving in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Un De Sceaux falls on Chasing debut and drifts out to 5/1 for the Arkle Chase in March