Cheltenham Trials Day provided some cracking action, but in many ways the results of the key trials have thrown up more question marks than providing answers, with the Festival just over six weeks away.
The Cleeve Hurdle is undoubtedly the place to begin, with a proper stirring result in the form of Paisley Park rolling back the years to land the contest in an epic encounter.
He whipped round at the start, and had seemingly blown all chances when conceding 15 lengths to his rivals. To his credit he managed to get himself tagged along to the others, but three from home looked to be going up and down on the spot, as his customary ‘flat spot’ seemed to be just a case of him looking as though he was a spent force. However, he really picked up entering the home straight, and won going away in impressive fashion by three and a half lengths from Champ.
The reception he received was fantastic, and the 10-year-old will now head to the Stayers’ Hurdle to try and add to his 2019 success. He is becoming less consistent as he is getting older, but if he rocked up in the same form he would have to be in contention despite his advancing years, and can be backed at a best priced 8/1 with Betfred to get the job done.
Champ ran perfectly well in defeat, and possibly softer ground would aid his cause, and he has now drifted out to a 6/1 poke on the back of that run. When you throw in the fact that Klassical Dream (now 7/1) was stuffed in the Galmoy Hurdle, the Stayers’ Hurdle is starting to resemble the early stages of a Rubik’s Cube. By courtesy of not running, last year’s winner Flooring Porter now finds himself the 7/2 market leader, but he himself hasn’t registered a win since his big day last season. Thyme Hill is a 5/1 shot, but he too has questions to answer after a laboured effort in France and then chasing home Champ at Ascot. I maintain my viewpoint, that in a season where everyone keeps beating everyone in this division, Thomas Darby – who had Paisley Park well and truly cooked at Newbury in November, is not out of this, and is still available at 33/1 with Betfair.
It was a case of ‘job done’ for Chantry House in the Cotswold Chase. He didn’t always convince in the jumping department, but to his credit he came up the Cheltenham Hill over a trip he was untested at, and will head to the Cheltenham Gold Cup with his reputation restored (to some extent).
Bookmakers took a dim view of him despite his performance and William Hill have pushed him out to a stand out 20/1. Nicky Henderson seemed happy enough, insinuating that he will strip a lot fitter for that outing, and that cheekpieces appear to have sharpened him up. He will need to take his form to another level though in six weeks time – he will need to improve around 10lb to be in the mix on March 18. It is possible, but at present he isn’t leaping off the page as a Gold Cup winner.
The most startling performance of the day came in the Triumph Hurdle trial, in which Pied Piper laughed at the opposition to canter home by nine lengths. He has shot right to the top of the Triumph market and is a 5/2 chance with bet365, with stable mate, representing the same owners, Fil Dor a 7/2 poke.
A lot more of the pack will get shuffled with this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, and after that I imagine connections will take stock as to whether they both go the juvenile route, or split them up by running one in the Supreme. All options appear open at this stage, and it makes it fascinating, but also very tricky for punters to do anything with conviction in that respect. There appears to be an embarrassment of riches for those concerned, and in many ways, a nice problem to have.
Grade 3 Novice Chase action at Naas on Sunday provided an interesting pointer towards the NH Chase, with Stattler getting the better of Farouk D’Alene in a terrific encounter. Stattler, is now 3/1 market leader to win the NH Chase on the back of that effort, knocking Run Wild Fred off top spot (he was due to run, but was a non-runner on the morning because of a temperature). He can still be backed at 7/2 to land the amateur race in six weeks time.
Third at Naas, admittedly well beaten, was Vanillier and I wouldn’t give up on him getting much closer to the victor in March – I think 3m6f will really suit him, as well as returning to Prestbury Park where he produced a stunning effort to win by 11 lengths in the Albert Bartlett last season.