The clocks going back over the weekend is a sign for many that winter has arrived and that means we can really start to sink our teeth into the National Hunt season. It has been relatively quiet this week in terms of really big races but punters looking beneath the surface will have taken down a number of Cheltenham clues in their trusty notebooks. We have picked out some of the more impressive performances from the last seven days with more than half an eye on the Festival in March.
Fakenham is not known for his major Cheltenham Festival trial races but we did see a nice card there on Friday afternoon. The most interesting performance of the day came from the lightly raced Wonderful Charm, who was making his chasing debut for Paul Nicholls. Connections thought highly enough of him last season to run him in the World Hurdle and although he struggled that day, he is clearly a talented individual who could still be anything.
His best run to date came when winning the Persian War Novices Hurdle 12 months ago and all the signs suggest that he is well suited to the bigger obstacles. Daryl Jacob gave the horse a very good ride and given the fact he is still only five, there is likely to be plenty of improvement to come. He didn't beat much when winning the Fakenham Novices Chase on Friday but one bookmaker was still impressed enough to cut Wonderful Charm to 14/1 from 20/1 for the RSA Chase.
There was more novice chase success for Paul Nicholls at Exeter last Tuesday when the talented Sonofvic scored for Ditcheat. This was his first run since falling at the Cheltenham Festival in 2012 and he looked impressive when beating the decent Kentford Grey Lady over three miles on good to soft ground. The eight-year-old remains very lightly raced but he jumped well on his first start over the fences ensuring that he is one to keep an eye on through the winter. Paddy Power installed him into their RSA Chase market as a result of the Exeter success with 20/1 the best price available.
There was an excellent card at Aintree on Saturday afternoon with a number of horses emerging as ones to watch on the road to the Festival. Chief among those was the exciting Karinga Dancer who scored in the handicap hurdle foe trainer Harry Fry. Connections of the horse have been singing his praises recently and it appears as though that faith was justified as he scooted clear of a good field to claim an eye catching success.
Harry Fry was quick to state that Karinga Dancer is likely to go novice chasing now and given his hurdles form, he is clearly a talented individual. Stan James installed the horse into their Jewson Novices Chase betting at 25/1 while the same firm rate him as a 33/1 shot to win the RSA Chase at in March.
Elsewhere on the Aintree card we saw Shutthefrontdoor claim the win in the Betfred Bingo Novices Chase for Jonjo O'Neill and AP McCoy. The six-year-old impressed on his first start over fences and is as short as 16/1 in the RSA Chase betting with Paddy Power as a result.
Emma Lavelle is a trainer in form at the moment and the Andover handler continued her fine start to the season with Timesremembered scoring in the Persian War Novices Hurdle. The Chepstow race has been won by the likes of Fingal Bay and Silviniaco Conti in recent years which is a big boost for the winner here. The five-year-old cruised to his second win of the season on Saturday to please connections and he is now as short as 16/1 to win the World Hurdle at the Festival in March.
There is no doubt that we have seen a number of nice horses stake their early season claims over the past week. Wonderful Charm was certainly one of those while the same can be said of Karinga Dancer who as we have already mentioned, looked very impressive indeed for Harry Fry on Saturday. The action will ramp up even further next weekend with the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and the JNWine Champion Chase at Down Royal taking centre stage.