Christmas is just around the corner and we are now entering a key phase of the season with the Cheltenham Festival in mind. There are top class Grade 1 races aplenty at the moment with Festival clues flowing over the past seven days with some potential superstars of the sport born to boot. Once again this week we have been casting our beady eye over the biggest races on both sides of the Irish Sea as we bring you the movers and shakers in some of the big ante post Cheltenham markets.
All eyes were on Sandown on Saturday as Queen Mother Champion Chase hopefuls Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire faced off in the Tingle Creek Chase. It is the biggest two mile race of the season in the UK outside of the Festival and we saw a simply stunning performance from Sprinter Sacre. The Arkle winner from last season has long been touted as a potential superstar and he confirmed his class by slamming his rivals without coming off the bridle.
Sanctuaire set off at a blistering pace under Ruby Walsh but in the end he was no match for Sprinter Sacre who dotted up for Nicky Henderson to confirm himself as a potential star. Many are already comparing him to previous Tingle Creek winners like Moscow Flyer and Kauto Star and while it is still early to rate him as highly as that he certainly has the potential. The bookmakers were suitably impressed with the run at Sandown and Sprinter Sacre was immediately shortened to 1/2 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase having been around evens before the off.
There was more success on the Sandown card for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson as Captain Conan won the Henry VIII Novices Chase to enhance his Cheltenham Festival claims. He was a top class hurdler but Captain Conan has now won both of his starts over fences and has to come into contention for the Arkle based on this solid looking form. He beat Hinterland by three lengths with Bet365 shaving two points off his Arkle price as a result of the run, Conan is now as short as 6/1 from 8/1 for the big race at the Festival.
There was a mouth-watering clash over in Ireland on Sunday as two of the most exciting young chasers in training clashed in the John Durkan Memorial. Sir Des Champs made his return to the track to face off against the highly progressive Flemenstar who won his first start so well at Navan last month. In the end there was a massive performance from Flemenstar as he swept aside Sir Des Champs in convincing fashion to enhance his Gold Cup claims. Andrew Lynch was motionless on board the winner and he will now go to the Lexus Chase over Christmas to test his stamina over three miles for the first time.
The Gold Cup market was shaken up following the impressive performance from Flemenstar with the Peter Casey in-mate is now as short as 4/1 joint favourite for the race having been 7/1 on Sunday morning. Sir Des Champs was well beaten but he shouldn't be forgotten just yet by ante post punters. He was having his first run of the season and should improve next time while his form at Cheltenham is first class having won at the Festival for the past couple of years.
One other line to mention from the weekend was the successful return to the track of Oscars Well. The Jessica Harrington horse won the EBF Novice Chase at Navan over the weekend having fallen last time out and he remains a live Arkle contender for the Festival. He has great form as a hurdler and looks just as good over the fences with the Arkle is likely target in March. Ladbokes were quick to react to his win at Navan as they slashed him from 16/1 into 10/1 for the Arkle.