Clues galore on Trials Day
Richard Dunwoody reflects on Trials Day at Cheltenham while looking ahead to the championship events at the Festival.
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Firstly, I must just say what a cracking job all those involved at Cheltenham did last weekend to get their last big meeting on before the Festival - well done!
Without that meeting there would be plenty of racing fans still unclear on their festival fancies, but we now know a lot more, like - past Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander does retain plenty of his old ability, while, despite coming second, Oscar Whisky does stay 3 miles and that Sprinter Sacre still looks invincible.
Here's my take on last weekend's action.....
Starting with the GOLD CUP - It was a crying shame that Imperial Commander couldn't hold on in the closing stages to land Saturday's Argento Chase, but all the same he ran a cracker after being off the track for so long and it's great to have one of the 'old school' back in the Gold Cup mix. Yes, he was getting a handy weight pull with the field, and off level weights in March then life will be harder for Nigel's 12 year-old, but don't forget this horse loves it at Cheltenham (won six times from 12 starts there), while the front two on Saturday did also pull a massive 36 lengths clear of the third, Hunt Ball.
I agree, that the likelier quicker ground come March will suit some of those in behind him on Saturday, but Imperial Commander won his Gold Cup on a good surface and seems to be at home in any conditions. We also all know it's no secret this horse goes well fresh, so I guess the only slight doubt, along with the dreaded 'bounce-factor', is will the 6-7 weeks we've got till the Gold Cup be enough of a break? - he's now around 25/1 in the betting.
The winner, Cape Tribulation, is now into around 33/1 for the Gold Cup and with this horse improving all the time then that price does look tempting. He's also entered in the World Hurdle, but you suspect after Saturday's win the Gold Cup is worth a crack at, plus after tasting Festival glory in the Pertemps Final Hurdle last season then he's no stranger to the dealing with the demands of a big occasion.
That was only his 9th run over fences, so there should be more to come, and the way he stayed on up the hill in that heavy ground was impressive. Yes, he's got plenty to find with the likes of Bobs Worth, Tidal Bay, Sir Des Champs and Long Run based on the ratings, but he's going in the right direction and could easily hit the frame.
The other horse to enter the Gold Cup picture after Saturday's meeting was the Venetia Williams-trained Katenko. The yard have made it clear they think a lot of this horse and they were right with an easy-looking 12 length win in the Murphy Group Chase. He'll go up a fair bit for that win, but just like Hunt Ball last season could still be well-in. Of course though the Gold Cup is off level weights, and he'll have so we'll have to wait and see if they opt for that tougher option or they might prefer to take in one of the handicaps and keep this improving 7 year-olds for future years - he's around 33/1 for the Gold Cup.
For me, however, as explained last week - the value still looks to be Long Run at around 7/1.
We didn't learn a great deal about the CHAMPION HURDLE, at Cheltenham, but Hurricane Fly did enhance his wellbeing with another effortless win in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday. Okay, with only really Binocular in opposition there was not a lot for him to beat, but he did it in his usual dominate style and the bookmakers reacted by cutting him into around 3/1, and is now the clear favourite with most firms.
The 2011 champion is now 9 years-old, and those against him will cling to the fact his last defeat came at Cheltenham in the 2012 renewal, but he does seem right back to his best now and looks the one to beat - you also suspect that should there be no hiccups in the next few weeks the Irish will pile into their horse and, like last year, he could end up going off a lot nearer 7/4 than his current 3/1 price.
Thousand Stars ran second to him on Sunday, but he's more likely to take in the WORLD HURDLE, while his main target for the season will surely be the Grade One Aintree Hurdle in April.
The only other tiny clue we got was with Oscar Whisky, as there is still an outside chance he could run in the Champion Hurdle. However, the Henderson team have plenty of other options in the race with the likes of Darlan, Binocular and Grandouet, while now that he's confirmed his ability to stay 3m after a gallant second in Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle then surely with no Big Buck's the day three feature will be his main aim - he's now around 5/1.
His conqueror on Saturday, Reve De Sivola, is generally the same price for the World Hurdle, but with the third favourite, Quevega, more likely to run in the mares' race on the opening day then once we start to get a better picture of the final line-up you can expect the 5/1 of both Oscar Whisky and Reve De Sivola to shorten.
Bog Warrior was the other horse that could be World Hurdle bound to run last week as he won over at Gowran Park. He's certainly a staying hurdler to look out for as that was his first try at 3m and at around 10/1 then he's certainly an interesting alternative to the market leaders. What I would say though is that you might want to wait until the days leading up to the race before wading in as a lot will depend on the ground. Connections have made no secret of the fact he's a much better horse with give underfoot, while although not a huge negative it's worth pointing out it would be the first time he's raced outside of Ireland - on a plus, however, his shrewd trainer, Tony Martin, is no stranger to landing a big festival race.
Finally, onto the CHAMPION CHASE, and is this 2m contest turning into a one-horse race? The simple answer according to the betting is, yes! Sprinter Sacre, who is now being billed as jump racings 'Frankel', added a seventh straight win over fences to his name when taking the Victor Chandler Chase by an effortless 14 lengths and is now as short as 2/7 in places for the QM Champion Chase.
I've said it before, but I've not seen a better jumper for some time, and Barry must be so excited about what this horse can achieve not only at this year's festival, but in years to come too.
What I would say though is that he'll certainly have his toughest test to date on the 13th March as he's yet to tackle the likes of Sizing Europe, the 2011 champion, while if you forgive Finian's Rainbow's latest poor showing because of the heavy ground then he's another that will certainly let him know he's been in a race - after all he is the current champion!
Have a great week!
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