Another weekend of top-class National Hunt action passed, with lots of Ante-post clues dotted around, as the Cheltenham Festival is rapidly approaching, and the Grand National meeting is now just over six weeks away.
After the driest January this century, the rain has arrived and we saw some attritional contests at Ascot and Haydock on Saturday.
The Berkshire venue hosted the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase which was won by Irish raider Fakir D’Oudairies.
The Joseph O’Brien trained seven-year-old showed proper reserves of stamina to get the better of a stubborn Two For Gold in the closing stages.
O’Brien said plans remain fluid moving forward, where another clash with Allaho in the Ryanair Chase could be on the cards. He also said that skipping Prestbury Park and heading straight to Aintree for the Melling Chase is another option. He was an empathic winner in the same contest 12 months ago and that would look a logical target.
Good Risk At All laughed at the opposition to land the Handicap Hurdle over an extended 2m3f in the hands of Charlie Deutsch.
He made a mockery of an opening handicap mark of 127, where the combination of testing ground and the step up in trip seemed to really suit him. The Coral Cup has been mentioned as a possibility depending on what his new mark will be. He is 8/1 with the race sponsors now.
Does He Know won the Reynoldstown with an authoritative display, and where he goes from there hasn’t been decided.
Corach Rambler, who was travelling well at the time of his departure five fences from home. I have mentioned in a previous column that he is my main fancy for the Ultima, and although this wasn’t an ideal preparation before going into the heat of battle at Cheltenham last month, it could well be a blessing in disguise as it will protect his handicap mark of 140. He is still 20/1 to win on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and he looks overpriced.
Fortescue toughed it out to land the Swinley Chase, in receipt of 17lb from Fiddlerontheroof. The runner-up from the Colin Tizzard yard will now head straight to the Grand National for which he is a general 33/1 poke.
Porticello Underlines Triumph Claims
At Haydock, Porticello laid down his marker for the Triumph Hurdle with a bloodless display to land the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle.
He is now a best-priced 12/1 to win at the Festival, but I would be a little concerned by the manner in which he jumped right and some of his obstacles, and perhaps he will need deep ground to be seen at his best.
The Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle produced an absolute boil over, but also a remarkable training performance by Nigel Twiston-Davies, as the 11-year-old Wholestone returned from over a year off the track to land the spoils in extremely testing ground.
The market protagonists failed to deliver, with Molly Ollys Wishes and Thomas Darby both pulling-up, and the 2021 victor, Third Wind, was beaten over a distance back in third.
As far Antepost implications it is hard to see these runs enhancing anything in regards to the Cheltenham Festival, and will probably persuade connections of Thomas Darby to wait until Aintree for his next outing, although on spring ground in the Stayers’ Hurdle, I wouldn’t be shocked if he put in a bold show.
Hillcrest won the Prestige Novices’ Hurdle in authoritative fashion, to get back on track after his mishap at Cheltenham last time out.
Henry Daly was glowing with enthusiasm in the aftermath, describing as the ‘best horse he had trained at this stage of his career.’ Clearly, he should make up into a wonderful staying-chaser in the future, so it has left connections with a little quandary as to where to go next. Daly went on to add that it is “either the Albert Bartlett or Aintree, but not both” as his next port of call. If they choose the Cheltenham Festival option, he is best-priced 6/1 to win the Albert Bartlett.
Aintree All That’s Left For Goshen
Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle meeting survived a battering from Storm Eunice to see a riveting renewal of the feature race, as a rejuvenated Goshen saw off Adagio.
The Gary Moore representative battled hard to see off the David Pipe runner who travelled ominously well as they turned into the home straight.
Adagio should improve for that outing, and although the five-year-old is starting to show a bit of seconditis, it would be far from a surprise if he got involved in the places behind Honeysuckle. He is a 20/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle and that looks fair.
Teahupoo enters Champion Hurdle Picture
Teahupoo advertised his Cheltenham Festival credentials with a smart performance in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park, and The Tide Turns had a nice spin round to qualify for the Boodles Handicap Hurdle. Both look to have solid each-way claims in three weeks time, with the latter, now best-priced at 8/1 with Coral. I like his chances.