Master Mullins awakens Irish bid
Ian Brindle takes a closer look at some of the big novice chase performances during the last week - you can watch all of the replays here too.
The old saying goes that form is temporary and class permanent and followers of the Willie Mullins stable would have been handsomely rewarded at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
Not since Frankel's demolition job in last year's 2,000 Guineas had we seen such a ferocious display of front running as that provided by Arvika Ligeonniere in the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase.
Despite being widely thought of as one of the major benchmarks in establishing the pecking order amongst the Irish Novices, the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Hurdle has actually had a very modest record in terms of producing Arkle or RSA Chase winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
Mullins went close to breaking the hoodoo with the enigmatic Alexander Banquet but he found only Lord Noelie too good in the RSA Chase of 2000.
While he didn't win at Fairyhouse, Forpadydeplasterer did manage to take the Arkle at Cheltenham later in the season.
Thomas Cooper's stable star ironically got his head infront for the first time since his Prestbury Park heroics earlier in the week.
The comparison between the two horses doesn't stop there as both finished fourth in their respective runs over hurdles at the previous Festival; Mullins' ace behind Bertie's Dream in the Albert Bartlett and 'Pady' following another Mullins' inmate in Fiveforthree at a respectful distance in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
While such coincidences are a staple of many journalists' copy, there's little doubt that Arvika Ligeonniere's performance was visually impressive.
The manner that he attacked his first four fences left the impression that he had far more experience than the formbook suggested, and to that extent, he already had the race pretty much in the bag at that point.
It's hardly surprising that Willie Mullins is looking at dropping him down in trip in order to utilise that high cruising speed, and with the Grade 1 Racing Post Chase at Leopardstown being an obvious option (the trainer won the race last year with Blackstairmountain), we should get more of an idea of likely Festival targets beyond that race.
From a pedigree perspective, the drop shouldn't be an issue as his half-brother, Darastan, had enough pace to win over 2m2f over hurdles in France, but of more concern could be his effectiveness on a faster surface.
A victory at Punchestown on good going suggests that he can cope with it but his free running style will be more vulnerable to closers than it was on Sunday.
Dedigout was predictably sent off as a warm favourite for the race given Bog Warrior's success 12 months earlier and it would be folly to write him off after this reverse.
He'd made mincemeat of some ordinary rivals at Punchestown a month earlier, and to all intents and purposes, he never really got going in this contest.
The six-year-old shaped as something of a finisher during his hurdling campaign, and on Sunday's evidence, one would think that Tony Martin will be looking at stepping him up in trip at the earliest opportunity.
Mount Benbulben's transistion to chasing has been less convincing though Gordon Elliott's charge made full use of Mikael D'Haguenet's absence from Saturday's Nicky Connors - Lifetime In Racing Beginners Chase at the course.
His race could have been ended at the second fence as he took an enormous liberty with it, but its all credit to Davy Condon's coolness in the saddle that he allowed the horse to regain his confidence at the back before gradually allowing him to take closer order.
He won't be allowed the luxury of such a breathing space in top grade company but the manner with which he travelled during the second half of the race suggests that he has quality about him.
The job for Elliott is to reassemble the constituent parts to make him something like the performer he was over hurdles.
Better ground might help him in that regard in the longer term and a step up in trip for the Fort Leney at Leopardstown is the next examination.
Dynaste delivered a deadly round for his rivals at Newbury as David Pipe's inmate took the Grade 2 Fuller's London Pride Novices' Chase in emphatic fashion.
The race, which had been won by Bobs Worth and Denman, certainly didn't disappoint as rank outsider, Valmari, ensured a decent clip before her unfortunate departure.
The fact that the bookmakers have quoted him for the Arkle, RSA and the Jewson suggests that we probably did not learn any more about him as a championship performer from this; and though the trainer has commented that his horse can have the tendency to jump to the left, the Feltham at Kempton looks the next target.
Christmas came early for some backers of Harry Topper on day one of the meeting as Kim Bailey's dour stayer gained an unlikely victory in the GPG Novices Chase.
Though Grand Crus won the race last season, the bookmakers were largely unmoved as far as the big Grade 1 prizes were concerned.
Nevertheless, the fortunes of the Andoversford handler appear to have turned the corner as a 21% strike rate during November suggests.
On this evidence, he looks a likely player in the four miler at the Festival if the ground keeps on the softer side.
Action at Taunton predictably was under the radar for many but the performance of the Tom George-trained Majala was one to note in the Bet totequadpot Text Tote To 89660 Beginners' Chase.
The ex-French racer had caught the eye on his British debut when chasing home Cannington Brook at Haydock Park and the locals didn't miss him in the betting ring beforehand.
The six-year-old is still eligible to campaign in novice company and was able to despatch a fair field in good style.
He may have got in a little closer than ideal at the last but his style of racing suggests that he will be suited by a speed track like Kempton.