Racing Review and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – With the bad weather unrelenting, the Festival draws ever closer with horses having to continue their preparations on dire ground. Despite the poor conditions affecting nearly every racecourse, there were plenty of talking points from racing across the UK and from Ireland. Here is our weekly round-up of the all important results!
Sandown hosted a competitive card on Saturday which included the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase where Oscar Whisky (10/1 Ladbrokes – JLT Novices' Chase) was looking to re-enforce his position near the head of the JLT Novices’ Chase market. Unfortunately, conditions where very much against the horse and he didn’t perform as many expected. Best suited by goodish ground in a race with a strong even gallop, he faced the opposite and had to battle to claim victory. Despite this, his class shone through and he won moving away under jockey Barry Geraghty, with Manyriverstocross and Benvolio a good distance behind. All roads now lead to the JLT Novice’s Chase at the Festival, and although a repeat of this form will see him struggle, he remains a live contender on the pick of his earlier form.
Conditions were equally as testing at Wetherby on Saturday, and Ely Brown (20/1 Betfred – National Hunt Chase) was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Totepool Towton Novices’ Chase. Fortune favoured this horse as the race favourite, Shutthefrontdoor, was a late withdrawal and the other strongly fancied runner, Green Flag, unseating his rider on the bend. Nevertheless, trainer Charlie Longsdon is flying this season, and he’ll be hoping that things continue this way with Ely Brown. As this horse is clearly a strong stayer, the National Hunt Chase at the Festival could be a potential target.
The feature at Ffos Las on Saturday was the Welsh Champion Hurdle, where the Paul Nicholls' trained Saphir Du Rheu (7/1 Stan James – Coral Cup) continued in his rich vein of form. Under Nicholls’ nephew Harry Derham, the pair held off the smart Whisper in a very close finish. The runner-up didn't hurdle the final flight fluently and could well have claimed the victory with the a huge weight allowance in his favour. Take nothing away from this winner though as the handicapper is yet to get a good stranglehold on this progressive horse. Connections consider Saphir De Rheu a potential top class chaser in time, but for now he is finds himself favourite for both The Coral Cup and The Pertemps Final at the Festival.
Up to Scotland on Sunday and Mussleburgh hosted their Cheltenham Trials Day. Broughton (16/1 Betfred – Juvenile Hurdle) won the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial for trainer John Ferguson, and was the most eye catching winner of the day. The juvenile looked a class above his rivals, and still looks to be an improving type – he will more than likely head to the Triumph. The winner of the Scottish County Hurdle was Clever Cookie for former jockey Peter Niven. This horse seems to have come into himself this season, and looks the reliable type who could offer a nice each-way bet in the County Hurdle.
On to the Irish action now, where the feature race on Sunday’s Punchestown Card was the Tied Cottage Chase over 2m. A race previously won by Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe, was comfortably claimed by Arvika Legionnaire (16/1 Coral – Champion Chase). The horse put his disappointing run in the Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Chase over the Christmas period behind him and claimed the victory with ease. Connections have stated that the main aim in March will be the Champion Chase, and with the uncertainty over Sprinter Sacre, he offers plenty of value at the current prices.
Despite the ground not to his liking, Wicklow Brave (12/1 Ladbrokes – Supreme Novices' Hurdle) was another impressive winner at Punchestown. He ran keenly and didn’t jump great but had enough class to cruise comfortably passed Lieutenant Colonel, a horse rated 130 on official ratings. Wicklow Brave’s odds were cut considerably for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and with the gears he looks to possess, he’s a lively contender.
Despite some solid pieces of form on show, the ground will continue to play a major role in deciding the victors at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The majority of owners, trainers and jockeys will be hoping for some better ground come March; yet with five weeks to go, the unsettled weather looks set to continue.
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