A plethora of Cheltenham Festival clues have been on offer over the last seven days as in midweek we were treated to a heavyweight clash between Don Cossack and Champagne Fever, whilst The New One, Sprinter Sacre and Vautour were star attractions over the weekend. We pick out the five biggest National Hunt stories from the last seven days our weekly round up.
The New One Eased For Champion After Tough Haydock Victory
Sent off a red-hot 1/6 favourite for Haydock Park's Champion Hurdle Trial on Saturday afternoon, The New One was expected to emulate his first three wins of the season by bagging victory with the minimum fuss. However, it was not to be for the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained star, as in testing conditions he was made to work by Dan Skelton's Bertimont, who was just reeled in after the final flight by the Naunton inmate. Jumping to his right on several occasions, the seven-year-old was bumped along by Sam Twiston-Davies two hurdles from home, and it was only on the long run-in that he began to bridge the gap on his rival as his stamina kicked in and he went on to win cosily by two-and-a-quarter lengths. Bookmakers were quick to show their stance on the form and they duly eased the former Neptune winner to 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle on March 10, as Faugheen was trimmed to a best-priced Evens money shot for the opening day showpiece.
Sacre Fired Down By Bullets On Comeback Run At Ascot
Sprinter Sacre made his first appearance on a racecourse for over a year and the highest rated chaser in training produced as a gallant effort as he was gunned down late on by progressive two-miler Dodging Bullets in a terrific renewal of the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. Kept off the pace for most of the race, Barry Geraghty pushed Sprinter Sacre upsides the front-running Somersby as they turned for home and jumping two fences from home it looked like he could well return with a win. However, a patient Noel Fehily on the abovementioned Dodging Bullets was in his rival's slipstream and the race-fit Tingle Creek winner showed his class as he jumped to the front and pulled clear of Nicky Henderson's star up the run-in. Connections of Sprinter Sacre were pleased with his run and he still remains a 3/1 favourite with BetVictor to regain his Champion Chase crown in March, whilst Dodging Bullets is now only available at 5/1 for the Grade 1 prize on March 11.
Vautour Bound For JLT After Facile Leopardstown Win
Vautour blotted his copybook when beaten by Clarcam over the Christmas period, but last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle champion returned to winning ways on Sunday afternoon at Leopardstown as he was a facile 92-length winner of the Grade 2 Killiney Novice Chase. That winning distance is accentuated by the fact that his nearest rival Reel Steal fell at the last fence, but Willie Mullins' exciting chasing prospect already had his neareat adversary beaten as a faultless jumping display saw the 1/5 favourite dominate the 2m 3f contest. With stablemate Un De Sceaux destined for the Arkle Trophy, then Mullins announced that Vautour will most likely head to the 2m 4f JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and he was duly cut from 4/1 to 3/1 for that event, as he bids for back-to-back wins at the Prestbury Park extravaganza.
Cossack Trimmed For Ryanair After Champagne Success At Thurles
National Hunt fans were given a real midweek treat on Thursday as the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles saw the dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever lock horns with the ultra-progressive John Durkan winner Don Cossack. The former set the early fractions in this four-runner race and approaching the home straight the duel everyone had craved was on, as they eye-balled one another in the final couple of furlongs. A proven stayer over 2m 4f, Don Cossack was challenging Champagne Fever at the last fence, only for Willie Mullins' grey to crumple on landing to leave the Gordon Elliott-trained gelding in front on his own to land the prize at ease. The winner was cut to 5/1 for the Ryanair Chase and Elliott pinpointed that test as his Festival target, whilst Champagne Fever's own Rich Ricci intimated that his classy grey could return to the minimum trip and line up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on day two of the Prestbury Park extravaganza.
Henderson Wins With Top Notch Juvenile At Ascot On Saturday
Peace And Co may spearhead Nicky Henderson's juvenile hurdlers at the moment, as that four-year-old is a clear favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, but the Seven Barrows production line sent off another exciting youngster as Top Notch landed the opener at Ascot on Saturday and has the potential to go far in the jumping sphere. He was forced to work by Golden Doyen, who is a decent juvenile himself, but Barry Geraghty cajoled his mount to the front and he was going away at the finish to show signs he could be a smart horse to follow over timber. He attracted quotes of 16/1 for the Triumph, which will kick off the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, and whilst he will need to improve he is still very raw and could emerge into a premier contender come the spring.