Our columnist fancies a mare to land the Unibet Champion Hurdle - but it's not runaway Leopardstown winner Apple's Jade.
I have to start with a huge thank you to all the different parties who made this afternoon’s ITV Racing show possible.
On Thursday I was despondent as I thought we were set to lose all the jumping action but from nowhere we ended up with one of the most enjoyable days during my two years with the channel.
It got off to a barnstorming start with Apple’s Jade blitzing her rivals in the Iris Champion Hurdle. I’ve been saying all season an in-form mare receiving the seven pounds allowance can be deadly in the Champion at Cheltenham – and have been backing Laurina for it ever since she struck at last years Festival.
Despite that I implore the O’Learys to have a tilt at the big one with their star rather than take what looks like a penalty kick in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. It’s the same argument I made last week about Frodon – for me Cheltenham is all about the big championship races and Apple’s Jade deserves a crack at one. She’s been brilliant this term.
I’m going to try and persuade Michael O’Leary of my argument when I’m racing at Leopardstown on Sunday but the one thing I do know is no-one will ever change his mind when it is made up.
No sooner had Apple’s Jade laid down the gauntlet then Buveur D’Air responded by winning his third Contenders Hurdle at Sandown without breaking sweat. What a clash it could be in March but despite this afternoon's action I’m still firmly in the Laurina camp. I honestly think she’s something a little out of the ordinary.
On a terrific day for JP McManus in Ireland and England good old Defi Du Seuil won a fourth Grade One by giving Barry Geraghty a fourth success in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase.
I find it amazing that a horse with his jumping technique, his hind legs seem to land first, can live with the top novices but he can – and his fencing is improving.
I still think they should go down the Racing Post Arkle route with him having seen what happened up the hill against Sandown runner-up Lostintranslation in the Dipper on New Year’s Day. He may have had to settle for second on Saturday but that horse looks a big JLT player while Vinndication in third could be just the sort for the RSA.
If we did see an Arkle winner on the show then it is likely to be Le Richebourg, who was so impressive at Leopardstown. At a time when the Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott juggernauts are so powerful isn’t it great to see Joseph O’Brien mixing it at the top table.
By far the saddest story on Saturday was the fatal injury sustained by Special Tiara in the Dublin Chase. The 12-year-old has been a superstar over a number of years and who will ever forget his heroics in the 2017 Queen Mother Champion Chase? My thoughts go out to those closest to the horse.
The race was won by Min who in general deserves more credit than he gets and it seems as though he’s heading to Cheltenham to again lock horns with the mighty Altior.
You had to feel sorry for Gary and Joshua Moore when Knocknanuss took an early fall in the race won by Le Richebourg but full marks to them for having a go. How I – and you suspect the Leopardstown authorities – would love to see La Bague Au Roi win on Sunday and hopefully entice more Brits to make the journey across next year.
Perhaps the best horse on our show wasn’t even a jumper. Lingfield looked like a real shock to the system for Frankie Dettori as he left the heat of Miami behind for the icy-chill of Surrey but he was rewarded with a brilliant display from Wissahickon.
He might not quite be another Halling, a fellow Cambridgeshire winner for John Gosden, but there are big races to be won with him starting with the Winter Derby itself back here next month.
England can’t find a centurion for love nor money in the West Indies but congratulations to Ciaran Gethings who brought his own up as Classic Ben landed a gamble in the 888Sport Masters Handicap Chase at Sandown.
As a write this I’m facing a race against time to make it to Heathrow for my flight to Dublin ahead of day two of the Racing Festival.
I’m hoping Vision D’Honneur can prove his star status in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle and by this time on Sunday be clear favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme at Cheltenham. It promises to be another fascinating day.