It may only be a couple of weeks until the 2015 Cheltenham Festival hits top gear, but punters are still gaining some vital form clues before the elite of the National Hunt division flock to Prestbury Park on March and our Road To Cheltenham section this week features some top notch performances from some major festival contenders.
There was some excellent action over the sticks across the UK on Saturday afternoon and whilst Kempton Park was the feature meeting there was a two-mile Championship chaser aiming to recapture the winning thread in a fascinating race at Chepstow.
Festival Eye Catchers from Chepstow and Kempton Park on Saturday
Gary Moore's decision to turn Sire De Grugy out quickly following a fall in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury paid dividends as the reigning Queen Mother Champion Chase hero produced a faultless round of jumping to ease to victory in Chepstow's Bombay Hunt Cup on Saturday afternoon.
The star two-miler was forced to give huge weight away to his three rivals, who were far inferior on ratings, but all eyes on whether the nine-year-old could produce a much slicker jumping performance, and he duly asserted his class, as Jamie Moore was a mere passenger for the 2m 110y contest, as Sire De Grugy jumped with aplomb and then eased seven lengths clear of Grey Gold in the closing stages.
The grin from ear to ear from the aforementioned Moore would've struck an inevitable fear into his Champion Chase rivals, as he looks to retain the coveted 2m Championship crown on March 11, and the bookmakers were suitably impressed with his display and he is now a best-priced 7/2 favourite, behind Sprinter Sacre, for the Wednesday feature.
Paul Nicholls has been the dominant figure on a Saturday afternoon, as the Ditcheat master continues to pick up the prestigious weekend prizes with ease, and this weekend was no different, as he landed yet more notable silveware with some of his stable stars.
Rocky Creek bounded to glory in an incident-packed BetBright Chase at Kempton Park and is now a warm contender for the Crabbie's Grand National, but it was the impressive display from Nicholls's Irish Saint that caught the eye from a Cheltenham perspective and he could be a major player in the novice chase division next month.
With God's Own being scratched in the lead-up to the race, due to the soft going, Irish Saint's task in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices' Chase was made easier, as Melodic Rendezvous now looked his only danger, but whilst the latter made a few mistakes throughout the race, Irish Saint notched up an eye-catching jumping display and won by 10 lengths.
The six-year-old is now available with most firms at around 14/1 or 16/1 for the JLT Novices' Chase, but Sky Bet have taken a flyer on the improving novice and they are a best-priced 25/1 about him landing the Thursday opener on March 12, but whilst he will be a contender if taking his chance, there were slight utterings that he could be saved for a premier novice chase at Aintree's Grand National meeting.
Arguably the most impressive performance of the weekend came in Kempton Park's Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, as the 3/1 shot Beltor romped to victory in the Grade 2 race and was slashed from 40/1 to 10/1 with Ladbrokes for next month's JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Only a few seasons ago Zarkandar landed the Adonis before going on to win the Triumph and the manner in which Beltor dispatched the likes of Bivouac and All Yours in this event suggested there could be a lot more to come from him over timber and he has to be a major player in the Friday curtain-raiser.
He tanked through the race with Tom O'Brien consistently taking a pull as he tried to not light up his exciting four-year-old, but after the last flight he opened up with pizzazz and eased to a five-length win and could now be bound for a heavyweight clash with red-hot Triumph favourite Peace And Co.
Festival Eye Catchers from Ireland over the weekend
There was a surprise winner to Fariyhouse's opening race on Saturday afternoon as the outsider of three Gwencily Berbas beat odds-on favourite Vercintgetorix and Noel Meade's Lettre De Cachet, and the winner could be an interesting 33/1 contender for the Triumph Hurdle should he make the trip to GL50 next month.
Later on in the afternoon, Gordon Elliott's Roi Du Mee bagged his second win in the Bobbyjo Chase, as he fought off Foildubh, and Elliott was left unsure in the aftermath as to where to take his charge next, but he did point out that he is entered for the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and he is now a best-priced 16/1 with Ladbrokes for that idiosyncratic challenge.
Other Eye Catchers this Week
Nicky Henderson's Different Gravey was a fine winner of the Listed Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle at Kelso on Thursday and whilst he may not be Cheltenham bound in favour of Aintree, he could be one for the notebook and has the makings of becoming an exciting chaser in the future.
He may have had another sparkling Saturday, but Paul Nicholls wasn't top dog on Sunday as Silsol was unable to land the spoils when sent off a red-hot favourite for the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Park, as Kilcooley bounded to glory, and duly entered the picture for the Coral Cup next month.
Charlie Longsdon's charge was cut to 20/1 for the Coral Cup from 33/1 and the manner in which stormed to victory suggested there could be improvement in him and he's certainly worth a second look when trying to work out the devilishy diffuclt handicap hurdle on day two of the festival.
Sire De Grugy cut to 7/2 for Champion Chase repeat after Chepstow romp on Saturday.
Irish Saint a best-priced 25/1 with Sky Bet for JLT Novices' Chase after Pendil win.
Impressive Beltor slashed from 50/1 to 10/1 for Triumph Hurdle following Adonis success.
Kilcooley downs Silsol in National Spirit and is 20/1 for Coral Cup.