It has been a brilliant few days on the 'Road To Cheltenham' this past week with some new names bursting onto the scene on both sides of the Irish Sea. We have seen some terrific performances from a couple of young exciting horses mixed in with some of the more established names who are continuing to improve. We have once again picked out what we believe to be the best performances from the past week with the Festival in mind as we march towards the turn of the year.
The International Meeting at Cheltenham took place over the weekend and there were a number of exciting performances for punters to take note of. Chief among them was Coneygree, who announced himself onto the scene with a brilliant win in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle on Saturday. The horse is a half brother to Carruthers and he stayed on really well in testing conditions to pull clear of a good field and mark himself out as one to watch. The bookmakers were suitably impressed with the run with Coneygree now as short as 8/1 with Paddy Power for the Albert Bartlett at the Festival having been as big as 14/1 on Saturday morning.
Elsewhere at Cheltenham on Saturday, there was a key Champion Hurdle trial to take in with the International Hurdle the feature race of the day. In the end we saw a good performance from Zarkandar who justified favouritism to stay on well to claim the win for Paul Nicholls. The former Triumph Hurdle winner is a confirmed stayer and that was needed in testing conditions on Saturday as he held off Grandouet who also ran well in what was his first run since winning this race 12 months ago and with more improvement sure to come, he was cut from 12/1 in to 6/1 for the Champion Hurdle, contesting second favouritism with Zarkandar. Reigning Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby, looked like he needed the run back in third but it was Zarkandar who took the eye of the bookmakers and he is now as short as 6/1 from 8/1 for the Champion Hurdle.
It was a terrific weekend overall for Paul Nicholls at Cheltenham with Far West another winner for the Ditcheat team. He has now won all three of his races this season and he hardened up as favourite for the Triumph Hurdle as a result of his comfortable success on Saturday.
It is also worth noting the impressive performance from Oscar Whisky at Cheltenham on Saturday afternoon over his preferred trip of 2m4f. The Nicky Henderson horse won the three runner race on the bridle and he was trimmed into 10/1 from 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle as a result and remains a horse of the highest class.
Once again, there was some cracking action over in Ireland on Sunday and we saw another new novice hurdler announce himself on to the scene in the form of debutante, Pont Alexandre. Ruby Walsh was on board the horse at Navan and he produced a stunning performance, winnign by 13 lengths to propel himself into favouritism for the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle. Don Cossack started the race as a hot favourite but he was well beaten when falling at the last and if you take him as yard stick Pont Alexandre could well be something special. Pont Alexandre is now available at 7/1 for the Neptune Novices Hurdle at the Festival having been as big as 25/1 before winning at Navan!
There was more success for Willie Mullins on the Navan card after Boston Bob made his seasonal debut with a hard fought win in the Beginners Chase. The horse was second in the Albert Bartlett last season and is expected to make up into a live RSA Chase contender this time around. In truth though it was a hard fought win for Boston Bob and he will need to improve plenty to feature at the Festival in March.