An action-packed festive schedule provided a multitude of Cheltenham Festival clues, and we look at the best of the Christmas action from Ireland and pick out those that starred and those that flopped in a stunning few weeks of National Hunt racing in the Emerald Isle. Our Jumping Over The Irish Sea section dissects all the top action and looks at the movers in the ante-post markets.
Riches On Gold Cup Road After Fine Lexus Victory
Noel Meade's Road To Riches propelled into the limelight when landing the Galway Plate in July, but the seven-year-old has progressed into a top notch graded chaser and he showed this when landing the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. A fine winner of the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in November, the son of Gamut was handed his toughest test to date, but he duly passed with flying colours. As reigning Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere and former champion Bobs Worth both struggled to land a blow it was Meade's charge that had a ding-dong battle with On His Own in a thrilling finish. Eventually winning by one-and-a-half lengths, Road To Riches was instantly slashed into second favourite for the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup and now a best-priced 10/1 shot for the blue riband event in March he is sure to give impressive King George VI Chase winner Silviniaco Conti a real test in the spring. The aforementioned duo of Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth were both eased in the ante-post market for the Gold Cup and are now both available at 16/1 with some bookmakers.
Faugheen Produces Breathtaking Kempton Display, As Fly Downs Jezki Again
Faugheen produced arguably the finest performance of the Christmas period as the unbeaten Willie Mullins-trained superstar was a facile winner of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, and duly soared to a near Evens favourite for the 2015 Champion Hurdle. He may not have had the strongest field to beat, but the manner in which he quickened between the last two flights suggests he could be a superstar and he romped to an eight-length victory from Purple Bay. A sticky jump at the last slightly halted his momentum, but he picked up again for the urgings of Ruby Walsh and eased to success to send Kempton racegoers away with a real vintage memory.
He may have recorded the most impressive victory of the last couple of weeks, but his stablemate Hurricane Fly ignited the biggest roar as he outbattled Jezki for the second time this season in what was a sensational finish to the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown. A course specialist, the perennial Grade 1 winner was made to work for this success having eased by Jezki in the Morgiana, but the abovementioned Walsh was able to outmuscle his great adversary AP McCoy on the dual Champion Hurdle hero and bookmakers were forced to trim in the Champion Hurdle market. Still available at 14/1, The Fly is still not a certain runner and the aforesaid Walsh will have the unenviable task of choosing between this charge and Faugheen.
Clarcam Trounces Vautour In Racing Post Shock
The aforementioned Mullins-trained heavyweights may have recorded sparkling victories over the Christmas break, but the highly acclaimed Vautour was a real disappointment as he was trounced by the impressive Clarcam, who romped to a 17-length win in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. A shuddering mistake in the middle of the race took the stuffing out of Vautour and he was unable to feature prominently in the Grade 1 as he lost his unbeaten tag. On the contrary, Gordon Elliott's Clarcam was scintillating throughout and launched into the Arkle Challenge Trophy reckoning and is now a best-priced 12/1 for the 2m test at the Cheltenham Festival. In a market that sees Vautour's stablemate Un De Sceaux head the ante-post betting, the former was eased considerably to 8/1 for this event and, but is still a 9/2 jolly for the JLT Novices' Chase.
Poli Dons Prominent Positon In RSA Chase Betting After Topaz Win
Willie Mullins was yet again a dominant figure of all the elite Irish action and the master of County Carlow has another exciting chasing prospect in the shape of Don Poli, who was a fine winner of the Topaz Novice Chase, and is now a second-favourite behind David Pipe's Kings Palace for the RSA Chase on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival. In a race that housed a plethora of staying novice chasers, it was Mullins' 9/4 favourite who showed why is also a clear favourite for the Cheltenham four-miler, as he oozed stamina in the closing moments pulling away from Apache Stronghold to build on his fine chasing record. With Mullins possessing such strength in depth in all areas it's unknown where this charge will feature come the spring, but whatever race is decided he's sure to be a tough nut to crack, as he continues on the upgrade over the larger obstacles.
Kalkir And Tell Us More Fail To Shine In Novice Events
Both Kalkir and Tell Us More were expected to continue their progression through the novice ranks, but they both struggled to produce their best form when handed Graded tests and will now be on the comeback trail if they are to make it into Mullins' Cheltenham squad. The former was beaten at 4/7 favourite in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle, as the Grade 2 event went to the 33/1 rag Fiscal Focus, whilst Tell Us More was downed by stablemate McKinley in a 33/1 shock in the Grade 1 Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas. The vanquished duo can't be written off yet following a solitary mishap, but they will need to bounce back next time up if they are to remain real Cheltenham candidates as we get to within nine weeks of the Greatest Show On Turf.