Betting portfolios for the Cheltenham Festival next month are starting to take shape and there were a few notable performances at the weekend to reflect on.
While the victory of Buveur D’Air at Sandown came as no surprise – he was after all a 1-4 chance – he did at least confirm himself a contender for the Champion Hurdle after having his novice chase campaign curtailed.
His comfortable success means he is now as low as 4-1 to bag the feature race on day one of the festival on March 14, a race that could be one of the most open in years.
Top Notch retains an entry in the Arkle Trophy but his impressive performance to land the Scilly Isles Novices Chase over 2m4f confirmed him as a leading player in the JLT Trophy at Cheltenham.
“Top Notch…has taken to fences extremely well for a horse of quite a diminutive stature and I just have slight reservations about him jumping round at Cheltenham, where he has yet to get his head in front.”
He has taken to fences extremely well for a horse of quite a diminutive stature and I just have slight reservations about him jumping round at Cheltenham, where he has yet to get his head in front.
Up at Wetherby there was a major shock in the Towton Novices Chase when 33-1 shot Baywing defeated several strongly fancied rivals to give young jockey Ryan Day the biggest win of his career.
As impressive as the performance was, the Nicky Richards-trained eight-year-old would only be going to Cheltenham if it came up very soft underfoot.
One horse who looks certain to be festival-bound is Oldgrangewood, who sauntered to victory in the handicap chase earlier on the card.
Dan Skelton’s good looking six-year-old would probably be unbeaten in four outings this season had he not been brought down at Aintree, and the trainer’s low profile approach with this horse could mean he goes under the radar for one of the handicaps next month.
Queen at Cheltenham
Her Majesty The Queen looks likely to have a representative at Cheltenham after Forth Bridge won the big juvenile hurdle at Musselburgh’s two-day meeting over the weekend, although he’ll probably need to step up on this effort to be competitive in the Triumph Hurdle.
Trainer Paul Nicholls made a successful raid on the Edinburgh track with five winners overall, with Frodon jumping well to record his fifth success of the campaign – he too looks to be on target for the JLT Chase.
Over in Ireland, Douvan predictably made it 13 out of 13 for trainer Willie Mullins with another impeccable display of jumping to land the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown, putting him firmly on course for the Champion Chase, for which he is generally priced at 1-3.
This weekend Newbury hosts one of its biggest meetings of the National Hunt season with three graded races including the Denman Chase.
Gold Cup hopeful Bristol De Mai is expected to put his reputation on the line as he seeks to establish himself amongst the higher echelons of the staying chase division, after demolishing his rivals in a good handicap at Haydock three weeks ago.