Once again we have enjoyed a weekend of bumper racing action on both sides of the Irish Sea with more Cheltenham Festival clues on offer than you can shake a stick at. We have seen a number of big name horses take to the course one final time before heading to the Festival while we also saw one or two slightly lesser known contenders make a name for themselves and enter calculations for the main event which is just four weeks away!
We start our weekly round up of Festival eye catchers and market movers by taking a closer look at the excellent Newbury card on Saturday afternoon. 'Super Saturday' as it has become known is always a cracking day of action and we saw a number of excellent performances at the Berkshire track. Perhaps the best of those came from the exciting My Tent Or Yours who simply stormed away from the field to win the Betfair Hurdle in some style. The Nicky Henderson horse won the handicap race in impressive fashion and his Supreme Novices Hurdle price was slashed from 8/1 into 2/1 favourite as a result of the run.
Elsewhere at Newbury, we saw Silviniaco Conti claim the Denman Chase to enhance his Gold Cup claims for the Festival. The Paul Nicholls horse was far too good for the field as he finished clear of The Giant Bolster who also ran well but it was Silviniaco Conti who impressed most onlookers. He is clearly a highly progressive chaser and one bookmaker reacted to the run but cutting him to 4/1 from 7/1 for the Gold Cup next month which sees him fighting for second favouritism at this stage.
Paul Nicholls had another good winner at Newbury on Saturday with Unioniste getting up on the line to claim the Better Prices On Betfair Novices Chase over three miles. Unioniste is a young inexperienced chaser but he is highly progressive and although this was workmanlike, it was another win, and he remains on course for an RSA Chase as a general 10/1 shot.
There was an equally important card over at Leopardstown on Saturday afternoon with a number of Festival contenders in action. The big race was of course the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup with Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar doing battle for the third time this winter. It was Sir Des Champs who finally got the better of his rival to claim an impressive victory for Willie Mullins with Flemenstar never able to land a blow back in second place.
It was an impressive performance from Sir Des Champs who showed his stamina once again and he was shaved into 4/1 from 5/1 for the Gold Cup on the back of this run. While Sir Des Champs is a certain for the Gold Cup, the future is less clear for Flemenstar who clearly didn't stay and connections will now need to decide between the Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase for the horse with the Queen Mother believed to be the prefered target.
Perhaps the most impressive winner at Leopardstown though was the exciting Our Conor who stormed away from a quality field to win the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. The JCB Triumph Hurdle is the aim for the Dessie Hughes trained four year old following this win and he is as short as 5/1 for Festival glory as a result of his fine win over Diakali on Saturday. Our Conor clearly showed himself as the best juvenile hurdler in Ireland and he will now head to Cheltenham to take on the likes of Far West and Rolling Star in what could be a cracking renewal.
Willie Mullins also enjoyed some success on Saturday as you would expect with Boston Bob winning his second race of the season in the Dr Moriarty Novice Chase over three miles. It was a solid run from a good stayer as he got up on the line to win and he has was cut to 6/1 from 8/1 for the RSA Chase as a result of a performance which confirmed his grit rather than his class.
We must also mention a couple of runners who caught the eye at Exeter on Sunday afternoon with Melodic Rendezvous the star of the show. The Jeremy Scott horse beat Puffin Billy in a clash of the hot novice hurdlers and all roads now lead to Cheltenham for the winner. Connections seem likely to send Melodic Rendezvous to the Supreme Novices Hurdle for which he was halved in price for from 16/1 into 8/1 by one bookmaker as a result of this impressive run.
The other horse who appeared on our Cheltenham radar at Exeter was Harry Topper who looked to be every inch the class act for trainer Kim Bailey. The six-year-old won the Graduation Chase over three miles in some style and he looks to be a major player in the National Hunt Chase betting having been cut to 6/1 from 14/1 for that race by one firm after his Exeter success.