New Year brought about new resolutions, and also lots to ponder. Irish challengers have the potential to dominate the Cheltenham Festival once again, but the ‘home team’ have seen some rays of light over the last week or so…
Can Anyone Blunt The Irish Challenge In 10 Weeks Time?
Have a look at the ante-post markets for the Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival, and it looks all too familiar with all but two races having Irish-trained favourites. The Nicky Henderson duo of JONBON and SHISKIN lead the home defence, and after the latter produced a sparkling display on his comeback win at Kempton, last season’s Arkle winner is now a best priced 11/10 to get the job done in 10 weeks time in the Champion Chase. Hopefully we get to see the eagerly anticipated clash with ENERGUMENE this time around, in what looks like it could be another Festival dominated by the Emerald Isle.
One horse that made me sit up and take note from the action at Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day was the performance of L’HOMME PRESSE who was a rampant 10 length winner of the Dipper Chase who made it three from three over fences. The Venetia Williams trained seven-year-old is progressing rapidly; he was rated 128 at the start of December, and has now scooped a Grade 2 prize which will see his mark somewhere in the 150’s after his most recent exploits.
Ultimately handicaps are off the table so his official rating doesn’t mean a great deal in that sense, but is a great barometer to the improvement he has shown since going chasing. BOB OLINGER (6/4 at bet365*) is the horse everyone is aiming at in regards to the Turners’ Chase, but after the unfortunate news of My Drogo being sidelined for the season, L’Homme Presse looks a viable each-way player in the 2m4f Novice event granted a bit of cut in the ground. Odds of 10/1 (SkyBet) for this excellent jumper look fair, and he will be far from out of place should he line up.
Photo Still Looks Good!
Two-time Gold Cup winner AL BOUM PHOTO recorded another facile success by winning his fourth Savills New Year’s Chase at Tramore at odds of 1/6f
As ever with this type of assignment, we learnt very little in itself by the win, other than the horse is fit, well and has four legs. He was clipped by most firms into a general 12/1 chance to add a third Gold Cup to his collection and the case be made that he is an each-way player in a season where it appears everyone keeps beating everyone. At the age of ten, can he roll back the year to his peak? The pit-stop at Tramore has been an unusual preparation for the Willie Mullins’ representative, but has served him well in the past. However, he was well seen off behind MINELLA INDO and A PLUS TARD when third in last year’s Gold Cup, so whether he can turn the tide for win purposes I am not so sure.
Class Action At Naas
We saw some top horses in action at Naas on Sunday, with the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle taking centre stage. GINTO justified strong market support to land the spoils by just over four lengths. Sent off 5/4f, he dictated matters under Jack Kennedy, before staying on well in closing stages on what looked fairly testing ground. This big brute of a horse is now an 8/1 poke to land the Ballymore, and he is the same price for the longer race over 3m in the Albert Bartlett. If looks are anything to go by, then the cliche of ‘whatever he does over hurdles is a bonus’ holds true; next season and fences will see him in his element. Whether he has the tactical speed to win over two and half miles on potentially quicker ground is open to debate; but undeniably the raw materials are all there.
Earlier on the card, BLUE LORD jogged around in a procession (1/4f) to stay firmly on course for a tilt at the Arkle for which he is now best priced at 8/1. Willie Mullins described him as “an Arkle type” and he did his chances no harm here. Tougher tests clearly await, but he looks to be enjoying himself over fences, and he may be the horse to give stablemate FERNY HOLLOW the most to think about in March.