The big races are now starting to dwindle as the Cheltenham Festival countdown continues to get ever shorter but there has still been more than enough to keep us interested this past seven days. We always review the week on a Monday and although the racing is now starting to calm down as the best horses are prepared for their big Festival run next month, there was till some classy action to pick over from both sides of the Irish Sea.
This week we saw a Bullet miss it's target, a former Festival winner return to winning ways and another final fence fall for a certain Irish Jockey....
Dodging Bullets Falls Short At Newbury
The feature card in he UK at the weekend was at Newbury on Saturday and we saw some classy animals strut their stuff despite the fact it failed to live up to its 'Super' title.
The highlight of the card for many was the Game Spirit Chase as the Champion Chaser returned for the first time this season for Paul Nicholls. Despite a fairly lengthy absence, Dodging Bullets did start a warm favourite for the race but he was unable to live with Top Gamble who gave Kerry Lee another big race winner.
Top Gamble clearly enjoyed the testing ground and powered clear of Dodging Bullets after the second last and he could attract a little bit of money for the Ryanair Chase at a price of 33/1 (from 66s) with Betfred, whilst Dodging Bullets should improve for better ground and the run but he was pushed out to 12/1 (from 8s) for the defence of his Queen Mother crown.
The Betfair Hurdle was the big handicap race on the card and we saw a terrific win for Agrapart and Lizzie Kelly as the pair of them stormed up the run in to win a big pot. It was a very taking win from a horse to follow when the ground is testing although he will not be going to Cheltenham this season.
The Betfair Novices Chase over 3m was a real slog at Newbury on Saturday but we saw a very nice display from Out Sam who proved himself a very good horse indeed for Warren Greatrex. He loved the trip and with connections sure he will be even better on better ground, Out Sam might appeal to some at a price of 25/1 (from 40s) for the RSA Chase with Ladbrokes.
Taquin Takes The Eye At Warwick
There was also some terrific action up at Warwick on Saturday with one or two very interesting performances to take note of. One of those came from another Willie Mullins raider to Britain in the form of Open Eagle who won the 2m5f Novices Hurdle in fairly decent fashion.
Open Eagle has not been out of the top two in three starts this season and he looks a strong stayer having claimed this Warwick race in soft ground which means there are worse 33/1 (from 50s) shouts for the Albert Bartlett than him at the prices.
There was something of a shock in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices Chase at Warwick as Violet Dancer impressed for Gary Moore at a price of 8/1. The 2015 Betfair Hurdle winner gave another tough front running performance to beat the highly fancied L'Ami Serge on Saturday and both are now interesting horses to follow.
Violet Dancer may struggle to mix it with the likes of Douvan and Vaniteux in an Arkle but he is a tough sort who needs to be respected at 33/1 (from 66s) for that race, whilst L'Ami Serge needs to be given a second chance and may be better over further these days with 16/1 the best price about winning the JLT as a result of this reversal.
The most popular winner of the weekend also came up at Warwick as Taquin Du Seuil returned with a bang to win the 2m4f Castle Handicap Chase. The 2014 JLT Novices Chase winner was having his first start since finishing down the field in the Ryanair last season but that was no problem for him as he won with more than something in hand to remind us of his class.
Taquin Du Seuil does have an entry in the Ascot Chase next weekend which would be a big test for him if he turns up but he at least showed his class at Warwick and if he goes to Cheltenham, he will add a great angle to whatever race he runs in at Prestbury Park.
There is no doubt that Taquin Du seuil is a popualr horse and his win was received well on social media;
As always there has been plenty of top sport over in Ireland this past week with an excellent card at Gowran Park on Saturday very much taking the eye.
The Red Mills Chase and the Red Mills Trial Hurdle were the big two Grade 2 races and we saw a couple of very nice winners in those races. Henry de Bromhead is always a trainer to follow and he showed that again as Smashing won the Red Mils Chase over 2m4f and he remains very much a solid horse for the notebook.
There is no doubt that Smashing loves a little bit of cut in the ground as he showed at Gowran Park which would be a worry for his Cheltenham claims but any rain at Prestbury Park would put him right in the mix for an open Ryanair Chase at a price of 12/1 (from 20s) with Sky Bet.
The Red Mills Hurdle has been a minor trial race for the Champion Hurdle over the years and that looked the case again as Sempre Medici mopped up the race in easy fashion for Willie Mullins. Another Rich Ricci hurdler, Sempre Medici has shown himself to be a Grade 2 horse over the past couple of years and although it is hard to see him mixing it with Faugheen in March, he remains of interest to many at an each-way price of 50/1 for the Champion Hurdle next month.
The Irish action moved to Navan on Sunday and yep you guessed it, the ground was very testing indeed. The big news of the day came as Black Hercules fell at the last when seemingly having the Ten Up Novices Chase at his mercy for Ruby Walsh.
It was another final fence fall for Walsh which will have angered him but the horse was running a big race and he remains a live contender for the four miler or the RSA Chase next month if fit and well. The fall left Measureofmydreams as the winner of the race and he looks a dour stayer for the National Hunt Chase next month and as a result he was cut from 33/1, into 20/1, for that contest in the minutes after this win.
Snow Falcon won the Boyne Hurdle against two rivals for Noel Meade and looks an each-way World Hurdle contender if the ground comes up soft at Cheltenham, whilst Sambremount plugged on very well to claim the Flyingbolt Novice Chase over 2m1f and although he wouldn't be one of the better Willie Mullins horses, he is no mug and can run a big race at 16/1 in the four miler next month.
Other Eye Catchers This Week
We want to also mention the run of Josses Hill who jumped as well as he has ever done over fences at Kempton on Friday to win the 2m4f Graduation Chase. The Nicky Henderson horse a top notch hurdler but has made a number of mistakes so far in his chasing career so far but he looked very good at Kempton over his fences and provided he can put in a clear round at Cheltenham, he is a more than fair price at 16/1 (from 33s) with Ladbrokes for the Ryanair Chase next month.
Josses Hill impressed with his jumping at Kempton and he could now go to the Ryanair Chase;
Harry Fry is still searching for his first Cheltenham Festival winner and one that could have a chance for the Dorset handler next month is Uknowhatimeanharry who won his 4th race on the spin at Exeter on Sunday. It was a terrific performance form the horse in very testing ground to win the Pertemps Qualifier and he will now go to the Pertemps Final with every chance at a price of 10/1 (from 16s) for with Bet 365.
Road To Cheltenham Summary - 15th Feb
Dodging Bullets beaten by Top Gamble in the Game Spirit Chase on his first start this season
2014 JLT winner Taquin Du Seuil wins a handicap at Warwick on his first start since last March
Out Sam cut into 25/1 for the RSA Chase after impressive win at Newbury on Saturday
Josses Hill cut for the Ryanair Chase after impressive Kempton Graduation Chase success