With the weather wiping out the jumps action from both Britain and Ireland on Sunday (and the prospect of any National Hunt action not looking particularly strong in the early part of next week) I thought I would take an early look ahead to next weekend.
Jumps fans up and down the country will be praying the weather relents enough to allow Cheltenham’s Trials Day to go ahead next Saturday and Prestbury Park racegoers will be treated to the added bonus of seeing Sprinter Sacre in the rearranged Victor Chandler Chase.
The Grade 1 contest should have taken place at Ascot on Saturday, but will now form part of an 8 race card (which kicks off at 12:10) that includes no fewer than five graded contests.
It is quite likely that Nicky Henderson will be sending a strong squad from Lambourn on Saturday, with the Argento Chase appealing as the obvious stepping stone to the Gold Cup for Hennessy winner Bobs Worth, who is four from four at his beloved Cheltenham.
Another of the Seven Barrows ‘big guns’ Oscar Whisky is a possible for the Cleeve Hurdle, in which he will need to prove he can stay 3m. The eight-year-old appeared not to get home when only fifth in the World Hurdle last March, but his trainer believes he was not right that day and deserves another crack at the trip.
With Long Walk winner Reve De Sivola reportedly on target for the Cleeve, there will be no hiding place for Oscar Whisky and we should learn plenty about his stamina at the weekend. If he fails to last home, I wouldn’t be surprised if connections then decided to skip the Festival (unless it is a soft ground Champion) and head to Liverpool where he will bid for a third successive Aintree Hurdle.
The afternoon gets underway with the Triumph Hurdle Trial and, having won at the track in both November and December, this will presumably be the next port of call for Paul Nicholls’ Far West who won by 19 lengths here last time.
Sent off at 2/9 it didn’t always appear as though he would win so comfortably as his price would suggest, but the son of Poliglote ought to be better suited by a more strongly run race, which he should get here, and he sets the standard.
It will be interesting to see if Tim Vaughan opts to send Swnymor here, or whether he tries to find an easier confidence booster after his heavy fall in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas. The Newbury winner went through that race like a very smart prospect and he could put it up to Far West, assuming all has gone well since that mishap.
In the same contest Nicky Henderson could saddle Rolling Star who was entered in the juvenile contest at Ascot last week. A winner at Auteuil in October, the son of Smadoun has been popular in the ante-post market for the Triumph in recent weeks so has clearly been going well at home. Having watched that debut success, I was taken with him as he travelled comfortably throughout, before quickening up nicely after the last. I’m sure connections wouldn’t want to go in so deep on his British debut, but they’ll be soon running out of time and the weather may force their hand.
The final graded contest on the card is the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, where Oliver Sherwood is likely to step the unbeaten Puffin Billy up in trip for the first time.
Regular readers of my column will know I’m a huge fan of the five-year-old, who is two from two over hurdles and seems to be progressing all the time. Sherwood had originally pinpointed this contest as his most likely pre-Festival race after he won at Ascot, before seemingly changing his mind and thinking about the Supreme Trial at Haydock.
The son of Heron Island wasn’t entered for that race in the end (maybe the trainer knew the snow was on the way so didn’t bother!) so it has to be presumed that he is going back to Plan A and stepping up Puffin Billy in trip. This will be the ideal test of his ability to last home, with connections leaning towards the Neptune over the Supreme at the Festival, and it will be disappointing if his colours are lowered next Saturday.
The three handicaps on the card are hard to think about at this stage, though I will be interested to see if Evan Williams enters his smart novice Court Minstrel for the concluding Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle, a race won last year by the useful Module.
Fourth in the Tolworth Hurdle last time on ground he hated, the six-year-old had earlier won a maiden hurdle here in October before looking a little unlucky in third behind Dodging Bullets at the Open meeting. The form of that race is strong, with the second and fourth (River Maigue and Duke Of Navan) winning impressively since, while the winner went on to run well in the Christmas Hurdle.
Court Minstrel holds an entry in the Betfair Hurdle, but is unlikely to get in off his current mark and that could also be the case for something like the Country Hurdle here at the Festival. Currently rated 131, he looks ahead of the handicapper and could land a prize of this nature en route to the Festival.
With Grandouet, Peddlers Cross and Countrywide Flame all entered for the original contest at Haydock, this could be another informative contest on what should be a fascinating day.
The Lightning Novices’ Chase, in which Overturn is set to have his Arkle prep, and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, complete the graded action on the Town Moor, while they, of course, also stage the Sky Bet Chase, for which Champion Court currently heads the ante-post market. I personally hope Martin Keighley skips this handicap with his stable-star and considers the Ascot Chase next month, over a more suitable 2m5f.
Anyway, be sure to check out all the weekend entries on Monday and I’ll hopefully be back in the next couple of days when the jumps action returns.
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Last Year’s Book Results – Leading Prospects:
- SPRINTER SACRE – Unbeaten – winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- SIMONSIG – Winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- CINDERS AND ASHES – 10/1 winner of Supreme Novices Hurdle
- BOBS WORTH – 9/2 winner of the RSA Chase
- MENORAH & SILVINIACO CONTI – Both Aintree Winners
- SIR DES CHAMPS – Unbeaten inc 3/1 Jewson Cheltenham Winner
- FINGAL BAY – Won 4 times inc Challow Hurdle
- RAYA STAR – 10/3 winner at Wetherby, 12/1 Ladbroke Hurdle winner, 15/2 Scottish Champion Hurdle winner
- AMBION WOOD – 14/1 EBF Final Sandown winner
- CHAMPION COURT – 6/1 G2 Dipper Novices Chase winner
- PALACE JESTER – 14/1 winner at FFos Las
- SWINCOMBE FLAME – Hat-trick winner inc Lanzarote Hurdle at 9/2
- TEAFOR THREE – 5/1 NH Cheltenham Chase winner (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)