I’ll be at Punchestown on Saturday and the pressure is back on Douvan (2.20pm) to perform after L’Ami Serge bolted up at Sandown. I was already impressed when Nicky Henderson’s runner won at Ascot but he turned the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle into a procession last weekend. Douvan’s Gowran Park win has worked out well with second-placed Sizing John winning the Paddy Power Future Novices Champion at Leopardstown. Even McKinley – who was pulled up in that contest – came out and won at Naas last Sunday so the form looks solid.
But Douvan will need to win impressively to dislodge L’Ami Serge from the top of the Supreme Novices Hurdle market.
Faugheen the Machine
Christmas was a bit up and down for me but at least I hit the target with Faugheen (above) at Kempton on Boxing Day. He did what he had to do and was very impressive – even if the opposition probably wasn’t Champion Hurdle standard. I’m still not sure what happened to Champagne Fever in the King George VI Chase though.
He ran with the choke out for a long way and didn’t give himself a chance to get home. We’ll go back to the drawing board with him and have a look at where he goes next – but I’d imagine he’ll have another run before the Festival.
What his Cheltenham target will be though is still up in the air.
Vaut wasn’t the plan
We’d a lot of runners over Christmas and Vautour’s defeat by Clarcam at Leopardstown (above) was very disappointing – but I’d be inclined to put a line through it.
He didn’t jump like he can, he didn’t travel like he can – he didn’t run any kind of race. He just wasn’t the Vautour we all know.
If he’d got beaten a length by Clarcam you’d say, ‘fair enough, maybe that’s as good as he is’. But Paul Townend said he was never travelling at any stage through the race. He ran very flat – he never raised a gallop. He’s been cantering away since then and looks well. Personally, I’m going to look forward rather than backward with him. We look to have a strong set of novices in and around the the two-mile division with Un de Sceaux and JP McManus’s Gilgamboa who won well at Limerick. If they all turn up for the Irish Arkle on January 25 it will be some race and sort out the pecking order.
Going for Gold
The two most striking performances in the Cheltenham Gold Cup division came from Silviniaco Conti and Road to Riches who won the big races either side of the Irish Sea. We know plenty about Conti’s King George win and he’s a deserving favourite for the Friday feature in March on the form he’s shown when winning at Haydock and Kempton. But Noel Meade’s Road to Riches battled back to win a decent Lexus Chase with two former Gold Cup winners in the field.
He’s come a long way since winning the Galway Plate last August and is a dual Grade One winner and I wouldn’t be surprised if the main threat to Silviniaco Conti came from the Lexus as it rode like a good race.
On His Own ran a blinder and I was happy enough with Boston Bob who should improve on spring ground. Paul Nicholls’ Sam Winner has improved a lot too and was very fit and ready for that contest. The cheekpieces have worked a dream on both him and Silviniaco Conti as they’re getting cuter as they get older. The sideburns help them focus and concentrate on going forward rather than looking at the other horses around them. Barry Geraghty said he was happy enough with Bobs Worth on his seasonal bow while the reigning champ Lord Windermere never runs well at Leopardstown but seems to come to life at Cheltenham.
World gone mad
Lieutenant Colonel looks the strongest stayer in the Irish division – at least until Annie Power returns from injury – after beating Jetson in the 3m Grade One Christmas Hurdle. Sandra Hughes’ five-year-old has now won two Grade One’s on the bounce and is improving all the time. The World Hurdle is a a very muddy picture as the English horses keep on beating each other and last year’s champ More of That may undergo a wind operation. Briar Hill ran ok at Leopardstown on his return – but made a mistake at the second last when the leaders had flown. He’d have to come right back to his best to be a contender at the Festival. Rebecca Curtis’s At Fishers Cross disappointed again and needs to rediscover the spark he had as a novice to be considered a player again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngLmZv3nLaU&feature=youtu.be
Chasing the dream
Don Poli has now won both his starts over fences and improves with every run on the racetrack. I’d imagine he’ll have one more before the Festival after he outstayed Apache Stronghold in the 3m Novice Chase.
Paul Carberry looked to have timed it to perfection on Apache Stronghold but Don Poli was just tougher and outstayed him. Apache Stronghold could drop down in trip and lost little in defeat here.
I liked Coneygree’s performance at Kempton. The race fell apart a bit but that’s because they went a good gallop and when the cracks appeared in the others – Mark Bradstock’s runner was able to take advantage. It was a decent time too and considering he raced on his own for the last mile that says something.
Something for the weekend
Whatever Venetia Williams runs in the Betfred Classic Chase (3.35pm) on Saturday has to be respected. She’s a master at getting horses ready for these staying chases and 3m 5f around Warwick on soft ground isn’t for the faint-hearted. There’s a few previous winners in the race at entry stage (Shotgun Paddy and West End Rocker) and she’s already won this with Rigadin De Beauchene in 2013 who is entered again. He’s lost his way a bit but if he could bounce back to the sort of form that saw him beat Emperor’s Choice by ten lengths almost 12 months ago – he’d have a big chance again. Nick Williams’ Tea for Two in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton (2.40pm) looks to be improving and won over this course and distance in October on his first start over hurdles. Could be ahead of the handicapper.