Racing Review and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – With only three weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, many trainers will be looking for smooth final preparations in the run up to March. For others, last week represented one of the final few opportunities to run their horses before the four day event. Racing fans were treated to plenty of good performances and plenty of Festival pointers. Here is a round-up of the all important action.
David Pipe's expensive French import, Un Temps Pour Tout (16/1 William Hill – Neptune Novices' Hurdle), put a disappointing first race on UK soil behind him, winning by a healthy margin at Ascot on Saturday. Despite drifting right at a couple of hurdles (most likely due to a lack of experience) the horse put in an impressive display. Although he won well, one slight concern of mine is that he is yet to encounter the hustle and bustle of a large field. How he copes with that situation and whether or not his jumping suffers will be very interesting. Of the possible Festival targets, David Pipe has a plethora of options in all three top novice hurdles but it looks like his main target could be the Neptune.
The RSA trial at Ascot was won by the Rebecca Curtis trained O'Faolains Boy (16/1 BetVictor – RSA Chase), who saw off a couple of progressive novices to win by a nice margin. He bounced right back to form after running a poor race at Haydock when the yard were having a quiet spell. His jumping was close to impeccable and he showed a touch of class in between the second last and the last to put the race to bed. Connections say that the RSA at the Festival will be his definite target. Runner up Many Clouds (20/1 bet365 – RSA Chase) is also likely to head to that race – a race which is beginning to look like one of the most competitive. Many Clouds looks to be a real staying type, and will surely head over longer distances once he's matured.
The feature race of the Saturday card at Ascot saw Captain Chris (25/1 Stan James – Gold Cup) win the Ascot Chase. After the race his trainer Phillip Hobbs revealed that his runaway winner could well take his chance in the Gold Cup next month despite his preference for right-handed tracks. However, he is not a confirmed contender and could be saved for Punchestown the following month. His form on left-handed tracks is certainly a negative and if he were to contest the Gold Cup, I'd be very surprised if he were able to finish any better than the sixth place he achieved last year.
Melodic Rendezvous (25/1 William Hill – Champion Hurdle) has proven, time and again, that in heavy ground he is a high-class performer, and he did that once again at Wincanton on Saturday when beating Zarkandar. With the Champion Hurdle his main aim, with the ground likely to play a huge factor in terms of his chances. He lacks the instant acceleration possessed by the majority of the market principals and unless the race became a slog he may well be vulnerable to speedier types who can increase the pace quickly. His lack of experience is another disadvantage and he looks best watched.
Over in Ireland, the high class Willie Mullins’ trained Un De Sceaux (18/1 Coral – Champion Hurdle) walked over his rivals to win a Grade 2 contest at Gowran Park. Even with a couple of impressive wins under his belt, connections are still undecided as to where to send the horse. His trainer has suggested that the demands of a highly-competitive Champion Hurdle may come to early in his career and he may well be best kept for the future. Willie Mullins has never been one to say that kind of thing, and personally I think the intention is clearly to keep him away from Hurricane Fly. I think Un De Sceaux would have a massive chance if he was entered in the Champion Hurdle but after those comments I really can't see that happening.
At Navan on Sunday, almost three years to the day since his last win, Dunguib put his injury problems firmly behind him as he swaggered to a six-length victory to tee up his first run at the Cheltenham Festival. At the moment he doesn't have an entry for March so we will have to wait and see where he heads. If he is does receive an entry, and returns back to his best, he will have a lively chance.
Finally, with Kempton hosting a Jumpers Bumper card on Sunday, Champion Hurdle contender My Tent Or Yours (5/1 Stan James – Champion Hurdle) was given the opportunity to have a pipe opener before the Festival. He blew away the cobwebs and trounced his rivals in a display that emphasised his wellbeing. All roads now lead to Cheltenham and he certainly looks primed and ready.
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