Soaring Glory features in Mark Howard's latest update while he has a potential Pertemps Final candidate to monitor and an unraced, well-regarded bumper horse for Willie Mullins.
It isn’t a fluke that Paul Nicholls has been crowned champion trainer eleven times and once again team Ditcheat grabbed the headlines at Ascot on Saturday as Cyrname emerged victorious in the Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase.
Billed as the clash between the two highest rated chasers in training, the seven year old inflicted the first defeat over obstacles for Altior, which stretched back to the spring of 2015 and nineteen races. Two and a quarter lengths separated the pair over the weekend with Harry Cobden’s mount making all before registering his third course and distance win.
It is worth dwelling on Cyrname’s achievements and what a magnificent job Nicholls has done with the ex-French gelding. Ironically, the son of Nickname only finished fifth in a two miles handicap hurdle at the same fixture three years ago on his British debut off a mark of 135.
Too keen during his early days, he was a dual Grade 2 winner during his novice chase campaign a couple of seasons ago but was well held on his first two outings last term. Indeed, he was fifteen lengths seventh in the valuable two miles one handicap chase at the Berkshire track which stablemate Capeland won on Saturday.
Cyrname hasn’t looked back since, though, winning three out of three with his official rating rising from 150 to 176 plus. With Saturday’s prize now in the locker, the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day is next and, while three miles is an unknown, his trainer is confident the extra three furlongs won’t be an issue.
Unbeaten at the Sunbury venue, Paul Nicholls is seeking to win the Christmas showpiece for an eleventh time and has a formidable hand with his latest star, plus last year’s winner Clan Des Obeaux.
As regards Altior, Nicky Henderson expects his dual Champion Chase winner to improve fitness wise but there appeared to be no excuses.
Tackling two and a half miles for the first time, the longer trip wasn’t the reason why he lost his unbeaten record over fences and it remains to be seen whether he will be ready in time for a rematch at Kempton next month.
The former champion trainer stressed on Sunday morning that the four times Cheltenham Festival winner had endured a hard race and only time will tell whether it leaves its mark.
Possibly the biggest danger to Cyrname on December 26 will be Lostintranslation who confirmed the impression he created at Carlisle last month by providing Colin Tizzard with his fourth win in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Ridden by the man of the moment Robbie Power, the Flemensfirth gelding appears to have all the attributes of a future King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner being a strong stayer with speed, in addition the fact he possesses a high cruising speed and is a fabulous jumper.
Held up for the first circuit and a half, Lostintranslation crept into contention turning for home before looming upsides Bristol De Mai at the second last. While the runner-up, who was unbeaten in four previous visits to Haydock and bidding to win the prize for a third successive year, ensured the winner didn’t have everything his own way, Robbie Power’s partner found plenty for pressure to score by a length and a half.
The pair pulled twenty five lengths clear of the 169 rated Frodon.
Willie Mullins has indicated that former Arkle winner Footpad, who got his career firmly back on track at Thurles on Thursday, may travel over but it is debatable whether three miles brings out the best in him having failed to stay that distance over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival two and a half years ago.
The King George promises to be a fantastic spectacle over the Festive period with Cyrname and Lostintranslation rightly heading the market.
By his own high standards, Harry Fry has made a slow start to the season with only seven winners since June. However, three of those have arrived within the last fortnight, including If The Cap Fits’s second victory in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle on Saturday.
Viewed and trained as a Champion Hurdle contender for much of last season, the Milan gelding has improved since stepping up in distance with his form figures over two miles three plus reading 1211.
A half length winner over the weekend, he will return to the same track next month for the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle and is expected to clash with last year’s winner and the reigning champion over staying trips, Paisley Park, for the first time. Unbeaten over three miles, If The Cap Fits looks set to provide stern opposition to Emma Lavelle’s stable star.
Jonjo O’Neill spent heavily last spring/summer in a bid to return to the glory days. It is five and a half years since Holywell provided Jackdaws Castle with its last Grade 1 winner.
The twice raced Soaring Glory still has some way to go before he can be talked of as a future top notcher but the four year old is unbeaten in two bumper starts and looked a highly promising youngster at Ascot on Saturday.
Having claimed the scalp of the highly regarded Truckers Pass at Warwick on his debut early last month, the gelded son of Fame And Glory defied his penalty before running out a four and a half lengths winner from some equally well thought of types at the weekend.
It will be interesting to see if Soaring Glory returns to the same venue in less than a month’s time for the Listed contest his stable won in 2011 with Shutthefrontdoor.
Two other O’Neill-trained inmates who finished third last week, namely Cloth Cap and Tedham, are worth keeping in mind for next March’s Cheltenham Festival.
The former is reportedly being trained for the Grand National but needs a rise in the weights between now and February. However, he looks tailormade for something like the Kim Muir, although he doesn’t want testing ground, while the latter looks shortlist material for the Pertemps Final, a race Jonjo O’Neill has already won four times.
On the novice front, it was pleasing to see Laurina make the perfect start to her chasing career at Gowran Park on Saturday. Not seen since finishing a distant fourth in the Champion Hurdle in March, the former Cheltenham Festival has the make and shape of a chaser and she wasn’t hard pressed to beat dual Grade 1 winner Minella Indo by eight lengths.
While the two and a half miles trip didn’t offer a sufficient stamina test for Henry De Bromhead’s runner-up and Laurina was in receipt of seven pounds, the mare looked back to her best. Owned by Jared Sullivan, her connections have plenty of options this winter with the choice of reverting back to mares’ only events or continuing to take on the geldings and making the most of the healthy sex allowance.
Either way, she looks a tremendous recruit to the fencing ranks.
Angels Breath proved a major disappointment at the spring Festivals having looked a potential superstar when winning a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Ascot last December.
Returning to the scene of his biggest success to date on Friday and making his chasing debut, the former Irish pointer also got his career back on track with a smooth eight lengths win. Although his win was easy on the eye, one isn’t inclined to go overboard about the performance for two reasons.
Firstly, he failed to build on his initial win over hurdles last season and, secondly, the race last week may not have taken as much winning as first thought. The front running First Flow set a frantic early pace in testing conditions, while Angels Breath’s stablemate, Birchdale, was toiling some way from home having been taken off his feet.
Something like the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day may tell us more as to whether the grey is going to be a leading player in the JLT Novices’ Chase in March.
Finally, at the time of writing, the entries for Fairyhouse on Sunday have yet to be published. It promises to be a fantastic fixture with three Grade 1 events.
The concluding event is a bumper, which was won last year by subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Envoi Allen. The five year old is, of course, owned by Cheveley Park Stud and I am hoping the same owners will use the same event for Ferny Hollow’s Rules debut.
Trained by Willie Mullins, he is reportedly quite tasty.