Racing Review and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – At this time of year the National Hunt season is getting into full swing and racing fans are regularly treated to highly competitive and equally informative racing. This weekend was no different, and as part of our Cheltenham ante-post series I will be examining the racing action with a view to the Festival in March.
Starting with the chasers, the 3-day Hennessy Heritage Festival at Newbury culminated with the Hennessy Gold Cup, a Grade 3 race which has previously been won by the likes of Denman, Trabolgan and last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth. Regularly a pointer towards the Gold Cup, all eyes were on this year’s renewal in the hope of finding another strong prospect for the Festival’s biggest race.
Nicky Henderson picked up this prestigious prize for a second year running, this time with the 6 year-old Triolo D’Alene. Strong at the finish this horse managed to repel the challenge of both Rocky Creek and Theatre Guide. Although an impressive winner of the race, Triolo D’Alene is unlikely to go for a tilt at the Gold Cup and the Grand National has been mentioned as a possible target considering his form at Aintree (winner of the Topham last year). His handicap mark will be raised significantly but he could well take his chance regardless.
Of more interest, with Cheltenham in mind, is Rocky Creek (33/1 Coral – Gold Cup). This Paul Nicholls’ trained horse was having his first run of the season and performed admirably as he travelled well and jumped consistently. Sure to have been disadvantaged by the lack of a prior run, Rocky Creek showed plenty of potential and could well improve on what was a very good novice season (high point was winning the Reynoldstown). It is difficult to say at the moment whether or not he has the class to trouble the Gold Cup market principles, however it will be very interesting to see his progress over the coming months.
Onto the hurdlers, Newcastle hosted the most interesting of contests in the form of the Fighting Fifth. This Grade 1 race saw the seasonal reappearance of My Tent Or Yours (9/2 Betfred – Champion Hurdle), a horse looking to lay down a marker for this season’s Champion Hurdle. Up against 7 other runners, the odds-on favourite travelled effortlessly and put the race to bed when hitting the front. This was a very impressive display considering Nicky Henderson’s horses have tended to need their first runs this season. Clearly he has retained all the ability he showed as a novice last year and connections will be hoping he can come on a fair bit for the run and hopefully pick up the Christmas Hurdle before the year is over.
Still with an eye on the Champion Hurdle market, Sunday saw the second outing of Jezki (8/1 Coral – Champion Hurdle) in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Unlike his rival, aforementioned rival, Jezki’s victory lacked an impressive edge to it and it very much mirrored his reappearance. He moved up impressively before making two rather sketchy jumps in the home straight and had to be thoroughly pushed out to win. Surely, if asked to choose which of the two JP McManus horses to ride at Cheltenham, A P McCoy wouldn't hesitate in picking My Tent Or Yours, a point which is reflected by the price differences between the two.
Back to Newbury on Saturday, yet another JP McManus horse took centre stage over hurdles. This time the racing public were treated to the sight of At Fishers Cross (6/1 Ladbrokes – World Hurdle) who was looking to get his season off to a flying start after recovering from a minor injury. Throughout the race his jumping left little to be desired and he looked as if the run was badly needed. Nevertheless he travelled well and was in prime position to go on to win before he made a catastrophic error jumping the second-last. Barry Geraghty was skilful enough to remain seated but any chance of a victory had vanished. He still retains huge amounts of potential and probably still represents the horse with the best chance of beating Big Bucks (3/1 Betfred – World Hurdle) at Cheltenham. However, if the Paul Nicholls’ horse retains all his ability, At Fishers Cross will have to improve significantly and put up a bold show to take his staying crown.
Certainly from what we have seen so far this season, the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup are two races that promise to be highly competitive and intriguing. Both have fields full of top qaulity horses with huge levels of ability and unfortunately if asked, I would find it far too difficult to pick a confident winner for either right now. However one thing that is certain is that, from now up until March a lot can, and will change!
Current Ante-Post Prices –
Rocky Creek (33/1 Coral – Gold Cup)
My Tent Or Yours (9/2 Betfred – Champion Hurdle)
Jezki (8/1 Coral – Champion Hurdle)
At Fishers Cross (6/1 Ladbrokes – World Hurdle)
Big Bucks (3/1 Betfred – World Hurdle)
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