Apart from some decidedly moderate horse racing action over the next few days the sport is virtually on hold now until Boxing Day with Kempton’s King George V1 Chase the festive highlight, although an element of gloss has been taken off the three mile Grade 1 contest with the news that 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree will miss the race after working unsatisfactory over the weekend.
The last quality action before the holiday period took place at Ascot and Haydock on Saturday afternoon together with Sunday’s card at Navan which featured the mouth-watering clash between two of the most highly rated novice hurdlers in Ireland, namely the unbeaten Invitation Only from the Willie Mullins stable and the Gordon Elliott-trained Death Duty. With the former set to receive 3lb from his main rival the mount of Ruby Walsh was sent off the even money favourite to outpoint the Gigginstown-owned son of St Leger winner Shantou.
Once again Death Duty’s stablemate Labaik showed his mulish streak and refused to set off with the other five runners in the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle. David Mullins’ mount Monalee attempted to make all of the running but was always being tracked by Death Duty who quickly put the race to bed when the race began in earnest. Invitation Only could never get in a blow, finishing a disappointing one-paced third resulting in bookmakers quickly revising their prices for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the festival, with the winner the new 7-2 market leader with Betfred and Ladbrokes. Invitation Only is now a general 12-1 chance although Skybet and Boylesports go 16-1.
The highlight on Saturday’s Ascot card was the Grade 1 JLT Long Walk Hurdle in which hot favourite Unowhatimeanharry justified market confidence with a four and a half length win over Lil Rockerfeller although the gelding’s task was made easier when Ballyoptic ( who had just been headed by the winner ) fell at the final flight leaving Barry Geraghty’s mount to coast home. Not surprisingly Harry Fry’s stable star was cut heavily for next year’s World Hurdle with the 5-2 available with Skybet, Betfred, Ladbrokes and Coral the best on offer.
Others to enhance their Cheltenham claims at the weekend were Buveur D’Air ( top price 9-1 with sportingbet for JLT Novices Chase ), Top Notch ( 20-1 with Coral and William Hill for the same race and a standout 25-1 with the former for the Arkle ) and Brain Power who was introduced into the Champion Hurdle betting as a general 25-1 chance.