It has been a bumper weekend of action for fans of National Hunt racing with the Cheltenham Festival now just six weeks away. The weather has played havoc with the sport over the past couple of weeks but the staff at Cheltenham worked wonders on Saturday to get Festival Trials Day on and what a day of action we enjoyed. There were more Festival contenders on view than you could shake a stick at and punters were able to pick over more than a few Festival clues along the way.
The only place to start is the Victor Chandler Chase which was held at Cheltenham having been called off at Ascot the week before. We saw another stunning performance from Sprinter Sacre who justified an odds on price to simply blow away a decent field in the 2m 1f event. The Nicky Henderson horse produced a fine round of jumping and without ever coming under pressure won by a whopping 14 lengths from the un-fancied Mad Moose.
Sanctuaire was held up at the back of the field but he never landed a blow while Somersby who won the race last season could only manage third place. In truth though this race was all about Sprinter Sacre who looked better than ever and his price for the Champion Chase was trimmed even further with one firm cutting him to 1/4 from 1/2.
The Argento Chase was another key race on Trials Day and we saw two each-way contenders for the Gold Cup emerge. The race was won by the excellent Cape Tribulation who seems to save his best for Prestbury Park and he will now go straight to the Festival. Cape Tribulation got up on the line to beat the game Imperial Commander by a neck from Malcolm Jefferson with both horses running well in testing conditions.
Cape Tribulation won the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival last season and following his Argento win was slashed from 100/1 to 25/1 with one firm to win the Gold Cup. Much of the attention though was on Imperial Commander who was back on track for the first time in two years and looked as game as ever to finish second. The Twiston-Davies horse may be 12 now but he showed plenty of enthusiasm and he is now as short as 16/1 for the Gold Cup having started the weekend at 50/1 to win the blue riband race for the second time.
Elsewhere on the Saturday card we saw Rolling Star make a fine British debut for Nicky Henderson in the Triumph Hurdle Trial. Under a fine ride from Barry Geraghty Rolling Star picked off the very good Irish Saint up the hill with the pair of them pulling well clear of the rest of the field. Rolling Star was immediately installed as the 5/1 favourite for the Triumph hurdle at the Festival with connections no doubt expecting the horse to be better for the run next time.
There was a similarly impressive performance in the Neptune Novices Trial on Saturday when At Fishers Cross stayed on the best to beat The New One in a thrilling finish. The Rebecca Curtis trained At Fishers Cross is now a 5/1 shot for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle while The New One lost little in defeat on testing ground and still has the Neptune as his main target.
The Cleeve Hurdle has often proved the key trial race of the season for the World Hurdle at the Festival and it gave us a another thrilling finish this year. Reve De Sivola produced a fine staying performance to hold off the classy Oscar Whisky up the hill with both now likely to head straight to the Festival. Reve De Sivola confirmed his stamina and was halved in price to 4/1 from 8/1 for the World Hurdle while Oscar Whisky was also trimmed a point or two despite coming off second best on the day.
We must also mention the action in Ireland on Sunday with Hurricane Fly the star attraction. The Willie Mullins horse scooted up to win the Irish Champion Hurdle ahead of Thousand Stars and Binocular to see his position as Champion Hurdle favourite harden. He was trimmed for the Champion Hurdle to 11/4 from 3/1 while Willie Mullins also had another big success to enjoy on the Leopardstown card.
The Champion Irish trainer also saddled Pont Alexandre to an impressive novice hurdle success in the snow to see his Festival claims enhanced. Under a good ride from Ruby Walsh Pont Alexandre was never off the bridle and he was cut to 3/1 favourite from 6/1 for the Neptune Novices Hurdle at the Festival as a result of his latest success.
One other line from Ireland came last week at Gowran Park when Bog Warrior won the Galmoy Hurdle in some style ahead of Zaidpour. That performance on Thyestes day really put Bog Warrior in the World Hurdle frame with his price trimmed to 10/1 from 16/1 for the stayers hurdle which looks wide open at this stage.