The countdown is now well and truly on as we build up towards the busy Festive fixture list in the National Hunt world but that didn't stop us garnering some more Cheltenham clues this past week. The majority of racing fans are looking forward to gorging themselves on a feast of sport between Christmas and New Year with all eyes on Kempton and Leopardstown in particular. They will be the focus of most this week and while we cant wait either, we have of course been keeping our eye on all the action from the past seven days as we continue on the Road to Cheltenham.
As always on a Monday morning,we have all of the eye catchers and market movers in one place with the Festival firmly in the front of our mind. It has been a relatively quiet week with many of the top trainers keeping their powder dry ahead of Christmas but even taking that into account, we have one or two horses for your ante-post notebook.
Cheltenham Eye Catchers This Week
Ascot is always packed for their two day pre-Christmas fixture and that was once again the case on Friday and Saturday as fans filled the Berkshire track for some great sport. Friday was of course the quieter day but we still saw some very nice horses stake their claims including the classy and improving L'Ami Serge who is now 2-2 this season after he won the Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle Trial over 2m.
This race has produced some very nice winners down the years and this looks like another won with the 4-year-old clearly a classy animal for Nicky Henderson. He pulled clear of the solid Killultagh Vic on the run in with the winner cut from 20/1 into 12/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a result which looks fair.
That was a boost for Nicky Henderson but things didn't quite go to plan for another Seven Barrows in-mate later on the card as Josses Hill made his chase debut. The 6-year-old was second in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last season but on his first start over the fences, he made a number of jumping mistakes when under pressure as Ptit Zig pulled well clear of him. Ptit Zig is now 3-3 over fences this season and although this success came over 2m, he looks more of a JLT Novices Chase horse with Skybet cutting him from 20/1 into 8/1 for that very race.
Andrew Balding is not a trainer we normally see at jump meetings in the UK but he picked up a very nice winner at Ascot on Friday. Supasundae looked excellent as he won the Bumper on the card at Ascot and this looks like a very nice horse indeed. By Galileo, Supasundae is now 2-2 from this season and he is a best price 16/1 for the Champion Bumper following this win.
The action continued at Ascot on Saturday afternoon with the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle the feature race. This has been a key World Hurdle trial down the years and we saw a thrilling race as Reve De Sivola got up to win the Long Walk for the third year on the bounce. The Nick Williams horse wore down the classy Zarkandar on the run-in with both on target for the stayers hurdle in March at this stage.
Zarkandar came to win the race swinging on the bridle and ran very well but under a great ride from Daryl Jacob, Reve De Sivola never gave up and ended up winning by a head after Zarkandar idled in front. Reve De Sivola is a general 20/1 shot for the World Hurdle now while Zarkandar didn't lose too much in defeat and he was nibbled at in places at around 12/1 for the same Festival race.
Paul Nicholls may have been disappointed that Zarkandar was beaten but the Champion Trainer did enjoy the performance of Irish Saint on Saturday as he won the David Johnson Graduation Chase over 2m5f. The 5-year-old was giving weight away all round but he jumped and travelled well before pulling 13 lengths clear of Thomas Crapper who is a solid yard stick. Irish Saint looked happy over this trip and Betfred cut him from 20/1 into 16/1 for the JLT Novices Chase as a result of this success.
Irish Eye Catchers this Week
It has been a relatively quiet week over in Ireland as they prepare for a hectic festive period of action. Having said that, there were one or two nice performances at Fairyhouse on Saturday with Willie Mullins unsurprisingly at the centre of the action.
The Irish champion trainer saddled the very exciting Un De Sceaux to victory in the EBF Beginners Chase over 2m and he could still be anything over fences. On a recovery mission after unseating Ruby Walsh last time, Un De Sceaux jumped straight to the front before travelling and jumping enthusiastically the whole way. The rest of the field were no match for Un De Sceaux and he was cut from 4/1 into 3/1 for the Arkle Chase after the race with the sky the limit.
Elsewhere on the Fairyhouse card we saw yet another bumper horse to watch for Willie Mullins this season in the form of the exciting Stone Hard. The 4-year-old was having his first start of the campaign but he was ridden from the front with confidence and he pulled clear without coming off the bridle for Patrick Mullins. It remains to be seen if he will go to Cheltenham for the Champion Bumper but Stone Hard looks a good horse to follow as he gets older.