Faugheen was brilliant on Sunday in the Irish Champion Hurdle. I wanted it to be a strongly-run race and to ensure that we went a solid pace. He jumped great and galloped the others into the ground.
In hindsight, Nichols Canyon was probably feeling his exertions over Christmas but Arctic Fire ran a sound race in second even though he was well beaten.
Is Faugheen the new Istabraq? He’ll have to last another few years at this level to prove it but he’s going the right way.
The main thing I took from the race though is that he just has to maintain the standard he set.
I know that if I don’t make any mistakes and we get normal luck in running, Faugheen is the one to beat. It’s up to the others to deny him a second Champion Hurdle Crown.
Is there more pressure on us as defending champions on the back of that display? I don’t think so. His victory was so emphatic that he goes there as the best horse in the race.
It actually makes a nice change to be in such a strong position this far out from the Festival.
With Faugheen, Douvan and Un De Sceaux all winning impressively last weekend, they’re natural choices for their respective targets. But the picture is still sketchy on a lot of others – especially in the novice division.
They’re always tricky because it’s more difficult to get a handle on what is the strongest form line.
Take Willie’s Thomas Hobson beating Open Eagle in the Grade 2 at Warwick by two and a half lengths. Nicky Henderson’s Altior beat Open Eagle by 13 lengths at Kempton. That gives you a fair idea of how good Altior is but it doesn’t reveal the full picture especially if he’s still improving on the gallops. You could also argue that Yorkhill’s bare ‘form’ is better than Min’s.
You’re hoping firstly to pick the best of Willie’s novices, hope that they’re the best of the Irish challengers and that the Irish novices are better than their UK counterparts.
There’s still plenty of novice hurdles and chases to run and I’m hoping these will clear what is still a fuzzy picture for me and make my decisions that bit easier. To even be considering what you’re riding seven weeks out from the Festival is pointless.
Which brings me to the Cheltenham trials day….
Djakadam is entered at Cheltenham on Saturday in what looks a competitive race.
But if he’s going to be a live Gold Cup contender he’ll need to put in a solid performance.
The question you have to ask yourself is whether you could see the likes of Many Clouds, Smad Place or some of the others winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup? Personally, I can’t.
He had two runs last season before running a blinder when second to Coneygree in the Blue Riband so Saturday’s Grade 2 contest falls at a good time in the schedule.
He was impressive over 2m 4f at Punchestown in the John Durkan Memorial Chase and the step up to 3m 1f should suit him even better.
I’m at Thurles on Thursday and start off with Uranna. She was disappointing on her debut over fences at Naas when favourite and even though she did jump well she could only finish fourth.
I’m hoping she will improve considerably for her second run over fences like she did over hurdles last year and she’s won on heavy ground before too.
The novice Avant Tout is probably a few pounds wrong with Henry De Bromhead’s Smashing and is taking on more experienced horses.
He’s only had two runs over fences and this is a different ball game. Smashing was placed in the Grade One Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse last year and likes to trail-blaze so we’ll all have to be quick enough to keep up with him.
Nearly Nama’d has improved a lot this season and was a very good winner at Fairyhouse. I was back in fourth on Tennis Cap that day and while he should get closer to Nearly Nama’d, we’ll all have to go to keep tabs on Smashing.
Arbre De Vie hasn’t run since second in a handicap hurdle last May at Punchestown. I don’t know why he’s been off the track so long but he seems in good form, has schooled really well and is a horse we like.
I’d be hopeful he can get his chase career off to a winning start.