All Roads Lead To Cheltenham: Racing Review (Part 8)


Racing Review and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – The racing this weekend continued to set the scene and mood for March as trainers began their final preparations for the Cheltenham Festival.  Top class racing action came from Cheltenham, Doncaster and Leopardstown on what proved to be a weekend full of informative racing.


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The winner of the first race at Prestbury Park on Trials Day was the Nick Williams trained Le Rocher (12/1 Ladbrokes – Triumph Hurdle).  Once again this horse showed that heavy ground was no concern, and connections were keen to emphasis after his victory that the horse would deal with the better ground expected at the Festival.  The Triumph Hurdle looks a realistic target and thanks to his big engine he should hold a strong chance providing he handles the ground.  I’m a big fan of this horse as he has looked impressive so far whilst still open to plenty of improvement.  Second in the race was the progressive Kentucky Hyden, with the Paul Nicholls race favourite Vincenzo Mio disappointing when finding little for pressure to finish back in third.

Cheltenham hatrick seeking Double Ross couldn’t make it three out of three, with top weight Wishful Thinking (25/1 Coral – Ryanair Chase) flying up the hill putting in one of his best ever performances to seal victory.  With entries for both the Champion Chase and the Ryanair, trainer Phillip Hobbs stated that he still unsure as to the winner’s ideal trip.

The Giant Bolster (25/1 BetVictor – Gold Cup) came back to winning ways at his beloved Cheltenham picking up the Argento Chase, with the useful pair of Rocky Creek and Harry Topper finishing in behind.  Winning for the third time from the last four Festival Trial Days, The Giant Bolster was rejuvenated with the addition of a hood and visor and bounced back to his best.  His Festival target looks to be the Gold Cup – a race in which he has a good record in and should run well again.  Second placed Rocky Creek is likely to the Grand National with connections of third placed Harry Topper keen to test him in the Gold Cup.

Red Sherlock (7/1 bet365 – Neptune Novice Hurdle) put in a gutsy performance in the Neptune Investment Novice’s Hurdle to hold off the challenge from the Willie Mullins trained Rathvinden.  Red Sherlock showed his battling qualities as he put his head down and kept on well to the line.  This race is usually a reliable clue for the future and I believe the winner is a leading contender for the Neptune in March.  Runner-up Rathvinden also seems to be a classy horse as the pair pulled well clear of the other runners in the race.  Willie Mullins charge lacked the ability to get past Red Sherlock but could well continue to improve. 

The Cleeve Hurdle saw the much awaited return of the mighty Big Buck’s.  Unfortunately the fairy tale ending wasn’t to be, with the 66/1 outsider Knockara Beau (66/1 Stan James – Gold Cup) storming up the hill to put his head in front – just.  At Fishers Cross put in a much improved run to finish second by a short head, with Big Buck’s finishing another three quarters of a length behind in third.  Last year’s winner Reve De Sivola was back in fourth. The winner is likely to head to the Gold Cup next with the next two looking for World Hurdle glory.  At Fishers Cross will have thrilled connections with his run, putting a couple of disappointing efforts behind him.  He definitely showed an improved level of form and providing he continues to get back to his best then he enters calculations as a leading contender for the staying crown.  Big Buck’s put in a mighty performance considering he’d been off a racecourse for 420 days.  It was some training performance from Paul Nicholls and he should improve a great deal after that race.  Undoubtedly, Sam will have learnt a lot about the horse and come March they return to Prestbury Park with a strong chance.  Boston Bob was the disappointment of the race, and connections much be scratching their heads with this horse.  He holds entries for the Ryanair, World Hurdle and Gold Cup, and after this weekend’s performance he surely must be campaigned back over fences.  I’ve always liked this horse, but he seems difficult to place.

Over at Doncaster the star attraction was the unbeaten Willie Mullin’s mare Annie Power (11/4 Ladbrokes – World Hurdle).  Despite facing her first race over 2m for almost a year there was a sense of inevitability about the result and she duly obliged, trouncing her rivals.  Connections were keen to state that this drop back in trip was no indication of her Festival target.  With Mullins and Walsh heading into the Champion Hurdle with the mighty Hurricane Fly, I really can’t see connections putting Annie Power up against him. One things for sure though, whatever race she contests she is sure to have a strong chance.

Valdez (12/1 Stan James – Arkle Chase) was another winner at Doncaster, putting a smile on the faces of everyone connected at Alan Kings yard, after having had to close down for three weeks.  After recording a battling success it seems the Arkle will be the main Festival target for this horse. 

The Sky Bet Chase was the feature race on the Doncaster Card with The Rainbow Hunter (40/1 BetVictor – Grand National) a surprise winner at 25/1.  Connections fancy another pop at the Grand National, having unseated in the race last season.  Third in the race was the Paul Nicholls trained Unioniste, who didn’t look like he’d be in the prize money jumping the last, but stayed on well.  He wasn’t suited by the ground, and is still only a six year old with plenty of improvement to come. 

Over in Ireland, The Irish Champion Hurdle was the highlight of the weekend with Hurricane Fly (3/1 Coral – Champion Hurdle) rallying well to win; with Our Connor, Captain Cee Bee and Jezki behind.  Our Conor served it up to Hurricane Fly over the last but the Champion showed he was one of the all-time greats as he found plenty for pressure.  Connections of the first two home will both be thrilled with their horses’ performances as they look likely to continue to improve for the Champion Hurdle at the Festival. Jezki, on the other hand, was disappointing and his performance should have made AP McCoy’s choice for the Festival race a lot easier.  He was inconvenienced by the relatively sedate pace and pulled hard for his head for much of the race and ran far too free.  There seemed no real excuses this time and he may well just lack the class of his rivals.

Another horse to show his true ability was the Charles Byrnes trained Trifolium (7/1 bet365 – Arkle Chase), who was given a peach of a ride under the new retained Gigginstown jockey Bryan Cooper.  He slammed his rivals in the Arkle Novice Chase, with Felix Younger, Mozoltov and Defy Logic finishing well behind.  Impressive in his jumping, his trainer has stated that all roads will now lead to the Arkle at Cheltenham.  Felix Younger didn’t put in a bad run, attacking his fences well until making a mistake – he definitely looks like he needs better ground and should have ideal conditions at the Festival.  Defy Logic was sent off a well-backed favourite but his jumping was poor and it was later found that he had broken a blood vessel during the race which explained a lot.  Along with Felix Younger, Mozoltov looks to be taking a step up in trip, with trainer Willie Mullins stating that they both may need further – this sparked a cut in price for another Mullins hope for the Arkle, Champagne Fever. 

Undoubtedly a weekend full of exciting racing and Festival clues aplenty.  I was extremely impressed with Red Sherlock and I backed him ante-post for the Neptune after the race.  In terms of the Champion Hurdle it’s difficult for me to see past Hurricane Fly and, of the others, I think The New One will pose the biggest threat.  At Fishers Cross showed that he is almost back to his best, and could well follow up his Albert Bartlett victory with success in the World Hurdle.  One of the best stories of the Festival would be if Big Buck's could take yet again another World Hurdle victory and after his performance on Saturday many will be confident he will.  With only seven weeks to go until the Festival we wont have to wait long to find out.


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