We should have been enjoying a key weekend on the road to the Cheltenham Festival over the past few days but the weather put paid to the biggest meetings in the UK on Saturday. We did see some significant action on heavy ground over in Ireland but with the big freeze continuing there has to be some real worry amongst trainers with the Cheltenham Festival now less than two months away.
Plenty of horses are in need of a run over the next couple of weeks or so in order to give them enough time to be at their best come the middle of March. The key meeting comes this weekend with the Cheltenham Festival Trials day set to take place at Prestbury Park with a mouthwatering card in prospect. It would be a disaster if we lost that meeting to the weather while the same can be said of the big card over in Ireland on Sunday with the Irish Champion Hurdle the feature at Leopardstown.
Despite the inclement weather we did see some nice action at Naas on Saturday afternoon with one or two horses staking a claim for the Festival. Chief among those was the high class Solwhit who won his first race for over two years when he won the Limestone Lad Hurdle over 2m3f on heavy ground. We all remember Solwhit chasing home Hurricane Fly on a number of occasions over two miles and if he can repeat that form over three miles he has to be a live contender for the World Hurdle.
At this stage it remains to be seen how Solwhit fares over three miles at Cheltenham but the signs are encouraging for the Charles Byrnes horse. He clearly enjoys heavy ground which should be considered but with one bookmaker cutting the horse to 14/1 from 25/1 for the World Hurdle he now appears to be a major contender.
The other stand out performance on the Naas card came in the two mile novice hurdle with the exciting Un Atout hacking up for trainer Willie Mullins. The Gigginstown House Stud owned horse simply scooted up to win the EBF Irish Racing Writers Novice Hurdle which saw him rocket towards the top of the market for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Its fair to say he beat nothing but he couldn't have done it any better and the bookmakers were impressed enough to cut his Cheltenham price to 7/1 from 16/1 as a result of his latest win.
One other interesting performance at Naas came from Tofino Bay who produced a fine run to win the three mile novice chase for Dessie Hughes. The horse upset odds on shot Aupcharlie on heavy ground and Tofino Bay has been installed at 16/1 for the RSA Chase as a result. His participation at Cheltenham is likely to depend on the ground though with testing conditions his ideal going as he showed on Saturday afternoon.