We are fast approaching the turn of the year and with the Cheltenham Festival now just three months away, the anticipation is beginning to crank up another notch. The racing has been coming thick and fast over the past seven days with some top horses staking their claims and a number of the feature in the latest of our blogs on the Road to Cheltenham.
This week we talk about the Stayers Hurdle favourite and two exciting novice chasers among others who made their seasonal debuts...
Unowhatimeanharry Continues To Improve
The feature card in the UK on Saturday was at Ascot and although the fog descended on the Berkshire track, we still managed to see some top class action.
Despite the difficult weather conditions, it was Unowhatimeanharry who stole the show with a straightforward win in the Long Walk Hurdle. The Albert Bartlett winner returned last month to win the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and he was equally impressive here as he beat the best of the British staying hurdlers with the minimum of fuss.
Ballyoptic fell at the last when running a solid race but the winner had him beaten at that point and all roads lead to Cheltenham for this horse. Harry Fry was clearly delighted with him, as were the bookmakers, with Ladbrokes cutting him into 5/2f (from 5/1) for the Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle crown in March.
Elsewhere on the Ascot card we saw Brain Power scoot away to win the Wessex Youth Handicap Hurdle in fantastic style for Nicky Henderson. He won so well that a run in another handicap will be a massive ask which means that a Champion Hurdle price of 25/1, from 50s, with Bet365 might appeal to some from an each-way perspective.
Yorkhill and Buveur D'Air Impress On Chase Debut
We saw two very classy hurdlers make their chase debuts on Saturday on different sides of the Irish Sea and both are likely to be major players at the spring festivals.
Buveur D'Air was 3rd in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last term and he looked very good on his first start over the bigger obstacles at Haydock on Saturday. He swept Cloudy Dream aside in very taking fashion which is an excellent piece of form in itself and the future looks bright for the Seven Barrows in-mate.
He looks to have two routes open to him at this stage with quotes of 12/1, from 14s, for the Arkle and 8/1 for the JLT Novices Chase and where he runs in March may depend on the ground.
There was a similar performance over at Fairyhouse on Saturday as Yorkhill claimed a facile success on chase debut for Willie Mullins. The Neptune winner is a class act and he looked at home over the fences and like Buveur D'Air, he has both the Arkle and the JLT as a target in the spring.
Either way, the novice chase division is starting to hot up very nicely and these two horses are welcome additions to that sphere going forward.
Death Duty Wins The Navan Novice Hurdle
The big race in Ireland on Sunday was the Navan Novice Hurdle and Death Duty was far too good for what looked like a cracking field.
The Gordon Elliott trained hurdler was a top class bumper horse and he has taken to hurdles in fine fashion with some very good horses unable to land a blow on the winner.
Clearly a 3m chaser in the making, Death Duty lobbed along and won with plenty in hand in the end over a trip that might be a touch on the sharp side for him. The Neptune remains a possible for the horse based on this run but the Albert Bartlett remains the most likely destination for him, and he is now as short as 3/1f, from 7s, for that contest in March.
That is surely a touch on the short side at this stage but he is clearly a monster in the making and Gordon Elliott will be hoping that he has the next Don Cossack on his hands.