Weekend review: 8th & 9th February 2014

Calipto started Betfair day at Newbury with a fluent success. Carrying a 10lb penalty, he travelled like a good horse through the race jumping fast and low. Cruising to the front approaching the last, he scooted away on the run-in. Another to add to an ever growing list of realistic Triumph Hurdle candidates. Upswing took the Pertemps Qualifier thanks to another AP master class. The horse did not jump well and looked held following a mistake two from home. Not to be denied, AP got a good jump at the final flight while the horse had his mind made up on the run to the line. Runner-up Rydon Pynes is an improving sort who looks sure to win more races. Al Ferof looked to hold most of the aces in the Denman Chase. However, he failed to stay and may not have enjoyed the ground. Although effective on soft/heavy ground, seven of his nine wins have come on good to soft or good ground. Distance wise, the Ryanair or a drop down to two-miles in the Champion Chase look his best options. We should perhaps consider he is not the horse we saw at Cheltenham in November 2012. Conversely, Harry Topper loves heavy ground and stays forever. Jason Maguire rides him brilliantly allowing him to organise himself at his fences. It is worth noting five of his six chase wins have come in single figure fields. Module put a game performance to land the Game Spirit by a neck from the gallant Dodging Bullets who was conceding 3lb. The winner led coming into the home straight and showed the right attitude to come back on the run-in having been headed approaching the last. Both enhanced their Cheltenham credentials while the form looks solid following a good effort from the consistent Raya Star in third. A disappointing pace in the Betfair Hurdle led to the time just under a second faster than Calipto’s win. The winner quickened up after the third last, which saw most of the field struggling to go with him. Splash Of Ginge was up with pace the whole way, showing grit and determination to hold off both Dell’ Arca and Irish Saint as the pair challenged on the run-in. Plenty were finishing strongly off the pace and the race looks one to review with the future in mind. The race often proves a guide to the Coral Cup as well as the County Hurdle. Smad Place propelled himself to the top of the RSA Chase betting with a likeable performance in the Novice Chase. Despite Mendip Express running well below his best, the runner-up Sam Winner (conceding 3lb today) showed a similar level of form to his last run at Cheltenham. Both horses jumped well, before Smad Place’s superior hurdling pace settled the issue on the run-in. Both have shown decent form at Cheltenham with the latter holding the National Hunt Chase entry as well as the RSA. Both Glens Melody and Balder Succes enhanced their Cheltenham prospects with good performances at Warwick. However, further improvement will be needed if going for the Mares Hurdle and Arkle respectively. At Naas, Moscow Mannon produced a good performance in the Beginners Chase. A useful hurdler and Bumper horse, he looks set to be even better over fences for his new trainer. Leopardstown on Sunday provided us with a wonderful day of racing. In the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle, the consistent and likeable Guitar Pete battled on gamely to enter the Triumph Hurdle picture. He jumps well and had too much speed for Plinth (jumped poorly) and the disappointing Ivan Grozny. The latter reportedly returned stiff behind. The winner gave a boost to for the form of Royal Irish Hussar, the horse he finished second to at Doncaster. Vautour jumped well and made all the running to take the Grade One Deloitte Hurdle. In doing so, he recorded the highest RPR by a novice hurdler this season. He appears best when allowed to stride on and one wonders if we will see a repeat of the tactics used on Champagne Fever so successfully in the 2013 Supreme Hurdle. The Tullow Tank ran up to his best based on RPR’s. He did not travel as well as he can and may, as his trainer has suggested, be at his very best going right-handed over two and a half-miles. King Of The Picts ran to his best and holds up the form. Mr Walsh used front running tactics again in the Grade One Dr Moriaty Chase. Ballycasey jumped from fence to fence putting himself right when getting close to one or two of the obstacles. Strongly challenged by Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough at the last, he battled on gamely to win by an increasing four-lengths. RPR’s display the runner-up ran to form, while the unfortunate Carlingford Lough unseated Mr McCoy when Don Cossack veered to his left approaching the last fence. I personally felt he was held at the time. As with the previous race, some may question the form with one horse dictating the pace. The recorded RPR’s suggest otherwise. Both Ballycasey and Carlingford Lough will improve over three-miles, though I am unsure that applies to the runner-up. The Hennessy Gold Cup produced an awesome display of jumping and galloping from Last Instalment. Forced to miss nearly two-years of action, prior to his return at Thurles last month, he avoided the dreaded “bounce” to collect a well-deserved prize for all concerned. Soft ground would be a prerequisite for him if he is to run to his best at Cheltenham, On the downside, RPR’s display Tidal Bay 13lb below his season best, with First Lieutenant a similar amount below last season’s best figure. Tidal Bay travelled well for a long way before losing his place when the pace quickened. True to form, he produced a late flourish to snatch second. In truth, First Lieutenant never looked particularly happy at any stage. Texas Jack ran up to his best in fourth place, possibly finding this trip stretching his stamina. One gets an idea to the strength of the form through Harry Topper’s 3lb higher RPR recorded on Saturday. In the concluding Bumper, Vigil ran out an easy winner recording the highest Bumper RPR of the season. Dermot Weld’s record of 0-12 at all Cheltenham meetings over the past five seasons does not, unfortunately, inspire confidence.