We have had another stunning week of National Hunt Racing with top horses making their presence felt at various tracks and as always, we have them all here in one place in our latest Eye Catchers Road To Cheltenham Blog. Newbury hosted the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday while the action at Fairyhouse on Sunday was chock full of Grade 1 races for us to pick over. Quality!
Stunning Smad Claims Hennessy Win
For many, the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury is the highlight of the pre-Christmas racing calendar and once again we saw a terrific renewal of the famous Handicap contest. We had a field of 15 go to post on Saturday but in the end the field were blown away by a simply stunning performance form the brilliant Smad Place for Alan King.
The popular grey has been mixing it in top races for some time now but he finally got his day in the sun on Saturday as he jumped and galloped a very good field into the ground before pulling well clear to claim a famous victory. It really was a terrific display from the horse and connections can now start planning a serious tilt at the Gold Cup in March,
The 8-year-old was 8th in the Gold Cup last year but he has looked better than ever this term and with another year of experience behind him, he is now a best price 16/1 with Boylesports for the 2016 Gold Cup which looks more than fair at this stage.
Katie Walsh is a good judge and she was clearly very impressed with Smad Place on Saturday;
Elsewhere on the Newbury card we saw an excellent renewal of the Long Distance Hurdle as a number of horses put their World Hurdle claims on the line. It was Thistlecrack who claimed the win for Colin Tizzard as he kicked on from an excellent novice season and his World Hurdle price was slashed from 20/1 into 8/1, with Ladbrokes as a result of this run.
Current World Hurdle hero Cole Harden ran ok in ground that was perhaps a bit soft for him to finish 3rd with his World Hurdle price out to 12/1 with Paddy Power as a result of this display and we should still expect him to be a major contender at Cheltenham in March.
Grade 1 Fest At Fairyhouse
The big card on Sunday was over at Fairyhouse as they hosted one of their biggest fixtures of the season with three Grade 1 races to take in.
The first of them was the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle as the two Willie Mullins trained horses went toe-to-toe in a terrific battle. In the end it was Long Dog who got the better of Bachasson in a tight finish with the pair of them well clear of the rest of the field. It remains to be seen if either of these two horses end up as a genuine Festival contenders but Long Dog remains unbeaten and was cut from 25/1, into 14/1 with Bet365 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle in the wake of this performance.
There was more success for Willie Mullins in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle as Arctic Fire streaked clear of the field to claim a very easy win. This win over 2m4f was an impressive one against limited opposition and he remains a very genuine each-way contender for the Champion Hurdle on the basis of this form, for which he was cut into 8/1, from 12s, for with Ladbrokes in the aftermath of this win.
The final Grade 1 on the Fairyhouse card was the Drinmore Novices Chase over 2m4 and we saw a very nice display from No More Heroes who beat Monksland with the minimum of fuss. The Gigginstown owned chaser is an excellent jumper and a stronger stayer and he was cut into 5/1F, from 8/1, by Bet365 for the RSA Chase as a result this latest win and in truth, he looks an ideal RSA type at this stage.
We must also mention the Bar One Racing Juvenile Hurdle which is a race that always tends to produce a good winner or two and that looked the case again on Sunday as Rashaan claimed a nice success for trainer Colin Kidd. He pulled miles clear of the very highly touted odds-on favourite Missy Tata and although it is hard to equate this form with the British juveniles, he looks a good prospect and is now a best price 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle in March with Paddy Power.
Other Eye Catchers This Week
It has been a particularly busy week over in Ireland outside of Fairyhouse with some very nice horses staking their claims for bigger prizes later in the season. One of those certainly Shaneshill who came out last week to make his Chasing debut at Thurles.
The Willie Mullins trained horse was beaten only by Douvan in the Supreme Novices Hurdle back in March and he looked at home on his first try over the fences albeit against limited opposition. He is going to need to prove himself in deeper company of course but as it stands, a best price of 20/1 with Paddy Power about him winning the Arkle looks very juicy indeed for each-way punters.
There were two Maiden Hurdle races over 2m2f at Fairyhouse on Saturday and both were won by horses that look to be hugely talented. The Gordon Elliott trained Tombstone won the Div 1 Maiden Hurdle in some style and he looks very nice indeed.
A future chaser, Tombstone comfortably dispatched an excellent Bumper horse in the form of Pylonthepressure and he has been trimmed into 12/1 (from 16s) with Bet365 for the Albert Bartlett as a result of this very nice start to his hurdling career. One to watch.
Tombstone certainly caught the eye of our editor Sean Raymond, as he confirmed on social media;
Div II of the Maiden Hurdle at Fairyhouse was won by Nambour who is an equally exciting prospect who has fences in his future for Willie Mullins. He was impressive on the eye as he pulled clear of some useful horses and he is another potential Albert Bartlett horse this term at a best price of 16/1.
We saw a very nice Irish winner of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle up at Newcastle on Saturday as Identity Thief continued his progress by winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. A late supplementary entry, Identity Thief was able to beat the very good Top Notch, despite a mistake at the last, and the Henry De Bromhead horse is looking very progressive at this stage. Connections are still dreaming of the Champion Hurdle and at the moment he looks more than worth his place in that contest with Identity Thief installed as 33/1 shot for that race by Bet Victor as a result of this career best display.
The Hennessy Gold Cup was of course the feature race at Newbury but the fixture itself was a three day affair and Thursday and Friday also contained some nice performances.
The Paul Nicholls trained Modus won his second race of the season at the Berkshire track on Thursday as he stepped up in class to beat Charmix in the Bet365 Novices Hurdle. It looked a decent display from the JP McManus owned horse and his current price of 20/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle looks fair and he remains unbeaten over hurdles.
Native River was the very impressive winner of the Worcester Novices Chase on the same card and he now looks like a genuine stayer for Colin Tizzard and few can argue with his RSA Chase price of 14/1 (from 33s) based on this defeat of Un Temps Pour Tout.
Finally, we want to go all the way back to last Monday at Kempton to mention two Nicky Henderson horses who made a major impression. Brain Power was super impressive when winning on his hurdling debut and he could be anything, while Vaniteux was perhaps even more impressive on his Chasing debut. Vaniteux jumped brilliantly and it was hard to not like his first start of the season with his Arkle price into 8/1 (from 16s) with Bet Victor as a result of that display.
Road To Cheltenham Summary This Week
Smad Place a best price 16/1 for the Gold Cup afer stunning Hennessy gold Cup win
No More Heores the 5/1 favourite for the RSA Chase after Drinmore Success on Sunday.
The Gordon Elliott trained Tombstone impresses in winning a Maiden Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
Vaniteux cut for the Arkle Chase following Chase debut win at Kempton last Monday
World Hurdle winner Cole Harden only 3rd in Long Distance Hurdle as Thistlecrack claims the win at Newbury.