Honeysuckle’s unbeaten record ended, as she finished third in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday, as Teahupoo denied the super-mare from landing her fourth consecutive win in the race. Honeysuckle is now out to 8/1 to defend her crown at Prestbury Park, as bookmakers have declared it an open goal for Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle, who is now a best-priced 2/5f, and we still have over three months to go until. Remarkable really, and even if Honeysuckle does make it back into the winners enclosure between now and the Festival, it looks hard to see her stopping Constitution Hill, who has the potential to be the best we have seen since Istabraq.
The Tingle Creek provided a fantastic performance from Edwardstone to cause a minor upset at Sandown on Saturday. The Alan King representative bounded up the hill at the Esher venue, 9 lengths clear of Greaneteen, with a lacklustre Shishkin a further six lengths back in third. It was a career-best performance from last season’s Arkle winner, and always, it was a result that has potentially thrown up more questions than it has answers. Can Edwardstone mix it with Energumeme? Well, on that evidence, absolutely - it was a class display from the eight-year-old who is now a best-priced 7/2 to land the Champion Chase in March, with Energumene a 6/4 poke to follow up last season’s success.
Undoubtedly, the big talking point was the underwhelming display of Shishkin, who, after being kicked by another horse in the preliminaries, was declared fit to start but failed to produce his old spark, looking tapped-for-toe from a very early stage, and shuffled left-handed at a few of his obstacles. To his credit, he didn’t fold like a pack of cards and plugged on to be an ultimately well-beaten third. In the aftermath, Nicky Henderson seemed to have a rather glass-half-full mentality; by suggesting that the primary reason for the performance was that the gelding is now in need a much further: “He needs a hike in trip...I’m not talking about the Grand National, but he doesn’t have his two-mile speed anymore. We will go up in distance with him next time out”.
Bookmakers responded by cutting him to an 8/1 poke for the Ryanair Chase and for the Gold cup, for which he is a 33/1 shot. The latter much makes more appeal to me if I were to choose one, for all that, the jury is still out as to whether there are bigger underlying issues still at large. It was reported a bone problem came to light after last season’s demise in the Champion Chase, and maybe he just needed the run. Either way, there are many ‘if’s’ still attached to Shishkin, and the ‘hike in trip’ may not be enough. We shall see.
Jonbon, Noble Yeats, Facile Vega, Marine Nationale, Lossiemouth, and Mighty Potter, all enhanced their credentials with the Cheltenham Festival in mind, and it will be fascinating to see where they head next.
Pats Fancy, the Antepost tip for the Welsh National, had a spin round over hurdles at Chepstow on Saturday. That should have him spot on for his return to fences at the end of the month, where if we get some soft ground at the Welsh venue, he will be in with a banging chance.
We are off to Cheltenham this weekend for the International meeting, and providing the meeting can see of the cold snap, my small play would be the Joe Tizzard-trained WAR LORD, who should be suited by stepping back up in trip, and any rain will help. He looked outpaced in the Haldon Gold Cup and ran a really solid race at the back end of last season when fourth in the Arkle. With the likes of Edwardstone and Blue Lord ahead of him on that occasion, that form is working out well, and off a mark of 148 here, I think he could easily get involved.
- War Lord - (1.50pm Cheltenham, Saturday) 1pt win @ 10/1 (generally)
* Betting odds correct at the time of publication. All odds are subject to changes.