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Open Meeting Provides Key Festival Pointers On Packed Weekend Of Action

Monday 18th November 2013
Balthazar King

The Open Meeting at Cheltenham is always one of the key Festivals of the season with three days of thrilling action taking place at Prestbury Park. That was certainly the case this past weekend with the very best in the sport converging on the Gloucstershire track for a stunning few days of National Hunt racing. We were of course on hand to follow all of the big races and the impact they had on the Festival's markets for our weekly Road to Cheltenham blog.

As well as some top class action in the UK at Cheltenham, there has also been plenty of Festival market movers on the other side of the Irish Sea. There were top cards at Punchestown on Saturday and then again on Sunday where we witnessed a little bit of history being made. As always on a Monday, we have picked out some of the more eye-catching performances from the last seven days with one eye on the Festival in March.

The only place to start this week is at Cheltenham with the dust now settling on the three day Open Meeting. There were impressive performances across the weekend, starting on Friday afternoon with Taquin De Seuil. The Jonjo O'Neill trained chaser held off the classy Oscar Whisky to win the Steel Plate and Sections Novices Chase in good style. The six-year-old jumped well under AP McCoy and was trimmed from 16/1 to 10/1 for the Jewson Novices Chase at the Festival, as a result of his win and Oscar Whisky was eased from the pre-race ante post favourite and can now be backed at odds of 14/1.

The other performance of note on Friday afternoon came in the Cross Country Chase with Balthazar King producing an excellent effort in victory. The Philip Hobbs horse is clearly a course specialist having won at Prestbury Park on six of his 15 starts there and he once again impressed. He held off the game Uncle Junior to win the race and Balthazar King was quickly slashed into 5/1 from 10/1 for the Cross Country Chase at the Festival in the spring.

Johns Spirit was the impressive winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday but our attention was taken earlier on in the afternoon. The JCB Triumph Hurdle ante-post market is always hotly contested and we saw another impressive display from leading fancy, Royal Irish Hussar. The Nicky Henderson horse won the Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle race in good style ahead of Guitar Pete to enhance his growing star. It was his second win of the season and Royal Irish Hussar is now as short as 10/1 from 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle in March.

The action continued at Cheltenham on Sunday with a number of horses making a big impression. They include both Dodging Bullets, who won the Arkle Trial over two miles and The Liquidator, who won the Supreme Novices Hurdle Trial. Dodging Bullets was slashed for the Arkle after his win, with the Paul Nicholls trained runner now 14/1 from 25/1 to win at the Festival. It was a similar story for The Liquidator who is now a general 14/1 short for the Supreme Novices Hurdle having started the weekend at around 20/1.

There was just as much action away from Cheltenham over the weekend with Punchestown of particular interest as they hosted their two day meeting. The star turn on Saturday came from Champagne Fever who was making his chasing debut for Willie Mullins. He won the Supreme Novices Hurdle last season and looks to be one to follow over the bigger obstacles this winter after a good start. He won the Beginners Chase over 2m4f in decent style and was trimmed into 5/1 from 6/1 for the Arkle as a result of this latest success.

Willie Mullins had more success on Saturday with the  exciting Analifet in the 3-Y-O Hurdle. She won the race with the minimum of fuss and was immediately slashed in the Triumph Hurdle market as a result with 16/1 now her best price for the Festival.

There was plenty more success for Willie Mullins on Sunday at Punchestown with Faugheen, Felix Yonger and Hurricane Fly claiming notable successes for the Champion Irish trainer. Faugheen cruised to a win in the maiden hurdle while Felix Yonger was just as impressive in winning the Novice Chase over two miles. Faugheen is a horse with a massive reputation and although he beat very little on Sunday, he was trimmed to 14/1 from 16/1 for the Neptune at the Festival following this success.

Hurricane Fly was the star of the weekend at Punchestown with the dual Champion Hurdle winner claiming his 17th Grade One success. The nine-year-old won the Morgiana Hurdle in workmanlike fashion to enter the record books as the horse to have won more Grade One races than any other. Despite that, it wasn't an overly impressive run given the strength of the field and most online firms drifted his Champion Hurdle price a point from 4/1, to 5/1.

Ruby Walsh was of course onboard Hurricane Fly for his famous win and the jockey had more success on Sunday with the impressive Morning Assembly. The six-year-old won his second race of the season in the Florida Pearl Novices Chase by half a length from the very good Don Cossack. Both are in line for the RSA Chase in the Spring with Morning Assembly now available at 12/1 from 20/1 for that race.

One other horse to have caught our eye over the past seven days was Irving, who secured a very impressive success at Taunton last week. The five-year-old, making his British debut for Paul Nicholls, looked highly impressive as he beat the well fancied Cup Final in the novices hurdle on Thursday. Irving was clearly very green but very talented and was installed as a 16/1 shot for the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a result of this very impressive four length win.

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