Bravemansgame allayed any fears of stable well-being within the Paul Nicholls yard, as he put in a polished round of jumping to see off his three rivals at Newbury on Saturday.
The seven-year-old gave a three-and-a-half length beating and upwards of 16lbs to his three rivals, in a sparkling performance which now has him now a best-priced 3/1 shot for the Festival Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in just over four weeks time.
Nicholls was quick to nominate the 3m contest as the next port of call, stating his view that “all he does is gallop” and that the Turners Chase over half a mile shorter would only come under consideration “if the ground became extremely testing.”
Of course it is unknown as to whether Galopin Des Champs and Ahoy Senor will be amongst the protagonists to take him on in March, but he looks to have rock-solid credentials and has taken his form to new form as a chaser. He has to prove he can be just as effective at Cheltenham, but I would much rather be with him than against him. Runner-up, Pats Fancy ran a lovely race in preparation
Other notable runners from the Ditcheat yard over the weekend include Hitman and Clan Des Obeaux, who will now both head straight to Aintree, and a notable non-runner at Exeter on Sunday was Stage Star, who will now head straight to the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for which he can be backed at 9/1.
Eldorado Allen produced a fluent front-running display to land the Denman Chase. Brendan Powell got a cracking tune out of the eight-year-old, who was stepping up in trip to almost three miles for the first time.
The performance has given connections a tricky decision, as to whether to go for the Ryan Air Chase, or supplement him for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Connections seemed very excited about the prospect of going for the big one in the immediate aftermath, but Colin Tizzard tempered enthusiasm a little in a later interview suggesting that he wouldn’t be sure that the horse will get the trip. They have said there will be ‘a lot of thinking to do over the next week or so.’
Personally, I think a stiff two and a half miles might suit him better than the Gold Cup out-and-out stamina test at this stage of his career. He is generally a 16/1 shot for the Grade 1 contest over the immediate trip, and were he to line-up, I think he could be the horse to give Allaho the most to think about on the basis he could repeat the alacrity in which he attacked his obstacles.
Runner-up, Royal Pagaille, trained by Venetia Williams, will now probably head to the Gold Cup on the back of that effort where connections will be hoping the rain arrives in the Cotswolds.
Venetia Williams, also had Funambule Sivola get the job done in the Game Spirit Chase. It was a bold, front-running ride from Charlie Deutsch to land the Grade 2 contest.
He will now head to the Champion Chase, where he can be backed at 20/1 to try and upset the apple-cart when meeting Shishkin and company once more. He clearly seems happy at two miles, and will unsurprisingly have his each-way supporters at Prestbury Park.
Alan King was smiling after Edwardstone put in a very smart display to land the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.
He jumped and travelled with plenty of swagger throughout, ultimately putting the race to bed by just over four lengths, enhancing his claims for the Arkle for which he is a best-priced 2/1.
The eight-year-old has really matured this season, and his form over fences has seen a meteoric rise in his standard of performance. He could prove a tough nut to crack in the Arkle, although my preference at the current prices would be 9-2 poke Riviere D’Etel, as I think that mare still has unfinished business in the 2m novice chase division.
Third Time Lucki, runner-up in the Kingmaker, appeared to have no obvious excuse in defeat, something that trainer Dan Skelton alluded to; “He was just beaten by the better horse on the day…at some point it will start raining, and we may just head to Aintree instead of Cheltenham next.”
Across the Irish Sea, the salient performance of the weekend came from Journey With Me at Naas, who produced a solid but far from spectacular display to land the 2m3f Novice Hurdle.
He got the job done but to my eyes looks as though he would best be served by an out-and-out test of stamina, and Henry De Bromhead has nominated the Ballymore as the ‘most likely’ target at the Cheltenham Festival.
The same ownership have Gerri Colombe who has already been stated as a horse heading to the Albert Bartlett, so it may be a case of connections trying to keep them both apart. There will be lots of important discussions over the next month or so no doubt. Journey With Me is a best-priced 5/1 to land the Ballymore, and 14/1 for the Albert Bartlett.