Well, what a week it has been in the world of jump racing with the season now in full swing and many of the stars of the sport already strutting their stuff on both sides of the Irish Sea. It really has been a thrilling past seven days with a number of top class horses making big impressions and all featuring in the latest edition of our Road To Cheltenham blog.
It maybe a long way to March but we are having a lot of fun in the meantime as we track the best jump horses in training and many of them feature in the Road To Cheltenham column this Monday morning.
Mid-Week Stars Come Out To Play
The vast majority of the horses who feature in our column do run over the weekend but that was not the case last Tuesday as Punchestown hosted an excellent mid-week card with three horses in particular making major impressions on seasonal debut.
It has been a terrific start to the season for Gordon Elliott so far over in Ireland and he continued that with two of his very best horses winning very easily at Punchestown. The first of those was the hugely exciting Tycoon Prince who simply hacked up on his hurdling debut over 2m and he is one that does fall into the cliche category of 'could be anything'.
Tycoon Prince had some brilliant form as a bumper horse last season and he looked just as happy over obstacles at Punchestown. It is fair to say that Tycoon Prince is a chaser in the making and didn't beat much here but he did it well which meant he was installed as a 25/1 shot for the Supreme with Sky Bet, while the same horse can be backed at 16/1 (from 25s) for the Neptune and a best price 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett after this debut win.
Elliott also tasted success at Punchestown with No More Heroes who was making his chase debut on Tuesday and he is another potential star this season. The Gigginstown horse was an excellent hurdler as he showed when 3rd in the Albert Bartlett and he looked even better over fences on debut which meant he was cut from 10/1 into 8/1 favourite for the RSA Chase in March.
We also saw a very pleasing chase debut at Punchestown from the classy Sizing John who skipped over the fences for Henry De Bromhead to mark himself out as a real star in the making. Still just five, Sizing John was 3rd in the Supreme last season but looked even happier over fences and although he didn't beat much, he was cut from 20/1 into 14/1 for the Arkle with Betfred, while he is now a best price of 16/1 for the JLT in March.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead took to social media to show his delight after Sizing John won his chasing debut at Punchestown;
It was an incredibly busy weekend of jump racing on both sides of the Irish Sea and there were some lovely chasers in particular who made some very favourable impressions.
That was certainly the case at Down Royal on Saturday as they hosted one of their biggest meetings of the season. The feature race was the JNwine Champion Chase and once again it was Don Cossack who continued his brilliant form with another easy victory. The highest rated chaser in training last season won his second race of the season with the minimum of fuss as he dispatched Rocky Creek all too easily and at this stage, the sky could be the limit for this horse.
Bigger tests await Don Cossack with the King George a potential target on Boxing Day but there is no doubting he is a genuine Gold Cup contender at an unchanged price of 8/1 with Betfred.
The other major impression at Down Royal on Saturday came from Ptit Zig who won the Powers Irish Whiskey Chase over 2m4 in very taking fashion. The Paul Nicholls trained chaser travelled and jumped well before pulling clear of some decent horses like Clarcam and he is another one who we haven't seen the best of yet. Ptit Zig was cut into 14/1 (from 25s) with Bet365 for the King George, while his best price for the Ryanair Chase after this win is 16/1 with Hills.
Meanwhile, over at Wetherby we saw a stunning renewal of the Charlie Hall Chase with Cue Card back to form with a very nice win indeed. A former Ryanair Chase winner, Cue Card had appeared to lose his way last year but after an operation on his epiglottis, he travelled and jumped with his famous old enthusiasm and he now looks to have some big races ahead of him.
Cue Card could now go to the Betfair Chase or the Hennessy while his King George price was cut into 14/1 from 20/1 with Bet365 which could look decent given his record at Kempton on Boxing Day. Dynaste ran well to finish 2nd at Wetherby and he remains a force at this level, while Ballynagour also showed up well for David Pipe.
Carlisle hosted a very decent jumps card on Sunday afternoon and there was one horse who attracted plenty of attention as the highly exciting Saphir Du Rheu made his seasonal debut. A Grade 1 winning novice, Saphir Du Rheu won this one as he liked as a 1/5f and he now goes onto the Hennessy as the 5/1 favourite (from 6s), while his Gold Cup price was cut from 16/1 into 12/1 by Bet Victor after this comfortable win.
There was a brilliant Beginners Chase at Uttoxeter on Friday afternoon with Garde La Victoire and Bristol De Mai both making their debuts over fences and it could well turn out to be some top form. Garde La Victoire was the comfortable winner in the end and connections are certainly hopeful this is a top class prospect over fences.
It was hard not to be impressed by the Philip Hobbs in-mate and he was cut into 16/1 (from 25s) for the Arkle as a result, while Bristol De Mai is no mug and can feature at this level as well for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Hurdlers For the Notebook
Barters Hill was the brilliant winner of the Aintree Champion Bumper last season and he made his highly anticipated hurdling debut for Ben Pauling at Huntingdon on Sunday afternoon. The 5-year-old didn't disappoint either as he simply bounced around to win the 2m3f race with a fine front running performance and he really is one to watch.
His price for the Neptune was cut from 20/1 into 14/1 by Bet Victor but this looks like a stayer in the making which means his Albert Bartlett price of 14/1 (from 16s) is the more attractive one after this easy win at Huntingdon.
Ben Pauling and his team were clearly delighted with Barters Hill on Sunday and they took to social media to express just that sentiment!
Other hurdlers to take the eye this past week include Altior, who won his second race of the season for Nicky Henderson at Ascot on Saturday. A very impressive winner at Chepstow a few weeks back, he won again despite a bad mistake at the last and this is a brave horse with an engine who remains a 25/1 shot for the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
We also saw a couple of decent juveniles go head-to-head this weekend as Leoncavallo and Sceau Royal met at Wetherby in one of the better 4-Y-O races of the season so far. It was the John Ferguson trained Leoncavallo who made it 5-5 over hurdles so far although Sceau Royal emerged with plenty of credit as he chased the winner home and both remain 33/1 shots for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenhamin March.
Henry De Bromhead is a very well respected trainer when it comes to the big races which means that the improving Identity Thief is one we should take note of this week. The Gigginstown horse won the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal on Friday and although he still has it to prove at the very top level, he could now go to the Hattons Grace Hurdle, while maybe even a Champion Hurdle run is within is compass.
Road to Cheltenham Summary this Week
Saphir Du Rheu cut from 6/1 into 5/1 for the Hennessy Gold Cup after facile Carlisle win on seasonal debut
Don Cossack makes it two from two this season thanks to JNwine Champions Chase win
Classy Bumper horse Barters Hill makes a successful hurdling debut for Ben Pauling at Huntingdon
Garde La Victoire cut into 16/1 (from25s) for the Arkle Chase after Uttoxeter Beginners Chase success.
Gordon Elliott trained Tycoon Prince cut into 16/1, from 25/1 for the Neptune after hurdling debut win at Punchestown