The rain has finally arrived across the UK which has been welcomed by trainers and jockeys the length of the country with the National Hunt season now in full flight after a slow start. The action has continued over the past seven days and as always on a Monday morning, we are reviewing all of the key performances with at least one eye on March and the Cheltenham Festival.
There has been excellent sport on both sides of the Irish Sea this past week and all of the eye catching winners feature in our weekly Road to Cheltenham blog as we continue our long build up to the four day Prestbury Park spectacular in the spring.
Weekend Eye Catchers
As always, the focus of our Road to Cheltenham column falls on the weekend racing and that was once again the case this past few days. The feature card in the UK on Saturday was Wincanton with the Somerset venue playing host to one of its big meetings of the season and it turned out to be an eventful day.
The feature race was the Elite Hurdle over two miles and there was a slightly surprise winner in the form of Purple Bay who scored a big race success for John Ferguson and Mikey Ennis, who was talking 7lbs off. It was a good performance from the improving 5-year-old who could now go to the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham next weekend but in truth the story of the race un-folded behind him.
Hot favourite and Champion Hurdle hopeful Irving came to the last to win the race but came down in a bad fall to the delight of the bookies. The Paul Nicholls trained 6-year-old was a hot novice and looked as though he was going best of all before coming down but he remains best watched for now and he is a 25/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle. Rock On Ruby was also in the field but could only manage a plugging on third under top weight and his future remains up in the air for Harry Fry with longer trips likely to suit.
Paul Nicholls may have been disappointed with Irving but the Champion Trainer did taste success on Saturday at Wincanton with both Southfield Theatre and Urubu D'Irelande claiming excellent victories. Southfield Theatre won his second novice chase of the season in brilliant fashion and looks a very nice horse who was cut from 20/1 into 14/1 for the RSA Chase in the aftermath of this win. Urub D'Irlande won the two mile novice hurdle ahead of the highly touted Gaitway for Nicky Henderson with both pulling clear of the field and he was cut from 25/1 into 20/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a result which looks a fair punt at this stage.
The other performance of note from Wincanton, with Cheltenham in mind, came in the mares race with Polly Peachum claiming a nice win for Nicky Henderson. She came three lengths clear of the decent Blue Buttons despite giving weight away and Bet 365 were impressed enough with this success to cut her into 6/1 from 12/1 for the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Festival.
There was also some decent action over at Sandown on Saturday and once again the main headlines were made by Paul Nicholls who continued his fine day. The Ditcheat handler saw Irish Saint win the Novices Chase at the Esher track and he immediately marked himself out as an Arkle contender to follow. He was a decent hurdler but he looks even more at home over fences and although this was a small field and he will need to prove himself again, he was installed as a general 16/1 shot for the Arkle in March which looks sensible enough.
There was also a decent winner on the Sandown card for Gary and Jamie Moore who look to have a nice juvenile hurdler on their hands this winter. Baron Alco won the Juvenile contest on Saturday in pleasing fashion and he could have more to come which is reflected in his current price of 33/1 for the Triumph hurdle which was the assessment of Skybet after this latest success.
The action moved to Ireland on Sunday with Navan hosting a good day of sport and we saw a number of nice performances for the notebook. The feature race of the day was the Grade 2 Fortria Chase over two miles and few were surprised when Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh claimed the big prize. Twinlight was giving weight away to most of the field but he pulled well clear of Days Hotel and he remains a solid horse who is sure to pick up some decent prizes this winter.
Gilgamboa was a decent hurdler for Enda Bolger last season and he looked even more at home over fences as he won the Beginners Chase at Navan on Sunday. The JP McManus trained horse pulled clear of Blood Cotil in impressive fashion and although tougher tests will come, Bet365 installed him in their Arkle market at 12/1 which highlights the potential class of this horse.
Mid-Week Racing Eye Catchers
There was a cracking card at Exeter last Tuesday with the Devon track hosting their brilliant Haldon Gold Cup fixture. The Haldon always produces and excellent winner and we saw an excellent run from the improving God's Own who pulled clear of the field to produce a career best performances. The Tom George horse travelled best of all and despite a bad mistake on the home straight, he recovered to win a touch cosily in the end.
God's Own is likely to remain a novice this season and with that in mind he was introduced into the Arkle Chase market after his Exeter success with his price ranging from 12/1 with Ladbrokes to as short as 6/1 with Bet365 for that race. Behind God's Own was Balder Succes who ran an ok race and lost little in defeat on his first start, while Cue Card faded into 4th off of top weight over a sharp enough trip and he now goes to the Betfair Chase at Haydock in a couple of weeks for Colin Tizzard.
Elsewhere on the Exeter card last Tuesday we saw two very nice winners indeed for trainer Harry Fry who continues to make waves in the sport. Fry saddled Thomas Brown to success in the 2m5f Novices Hurdle and he looks like three miles will suit which is confirmed by his price of 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett at the moment.
Jollyallan is another novice hurdler to follow for Fry and he won the 2m1f contest at Exeter with the JP McManus owned horse certainly taking the eye with the future in mind. The font three in this one all looked classy and pulled well clear of the field but it was Jollyallan who had the turn of foot despite looking green on just his third career start and his first over hurdles. Jollyallan will only improve as he gets more experience and he was installed in the Supreme Novices Hurdle market at 25/1 with most on-line firms after this seasonal debut success.
Southfield Theatre cut into 14/1 with Bet365 for the RSA Chase after latest Novice Chase win
God's Own installed in Arkle Chase market at 12/1 with Ladbrokes following Haldon Gold Cup triumph