Cheltenham Festival clues a plenty

In scenes reminiscent of John Carpenters’ The Fog; Newburys’ star studded card went ahead with Cheltenham clues a plenty. Over in Ireland; Leopardstown also hosted a fabulous days racing for the belated second day of their Christmas Festival.

Leading Supreme Novices fancy Zaidpour was sent off at 1-4 for The Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown only to lose his unbeaten record to the highly regarded Mouse Morris inmate First Lieutenant. Many were quick to critisise jockey Paul Townend for leaving Zaidpour with too much work to do but it was clear that Zaidpour was not travelling with his usual zest which led trainer Willie Mullins to comment post race that his win two weeks ago at Fairyhouse may have taken more out of the horse than previously thought. Zaidpour was certainly not disgraced in second place and looked to be closing on the winner as they approached the line. First Lieutenant will now head straight to the Neptune Investment Hurdle at the Festival whereas Zaidpour will return to Leopardstown for a crack at the Deloitte Novices Hurdle on 6 February before heading to the Supreme at Cheltenham.

Reigning Champion Chaser Big Zeb took the Grade One Paddy Power Dial a Bet Chase in exemplary fashion. Big Zeb really looks as though his occasional jumping errors are well in the past as he put in a foot perfect display to win by one and three quarter lengths from Golden Silver. Winning trainer Colm Murphy explained that due to the recent adverse weather the horse had missed a vital piece of work thus being the reason for his idling towards the line and having to be kept up to his work by Barry Geraghty. This was however a classy performance and there seems to be no reason whatsoever why Big Zeb shouldn’t retain his Crown come March even with former Champ Master Minded back to his very best. Big Zeb is currently 7/2 generally for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Hurricane Fly again showed us all he has the “wow” factor when taking the Festival Hurdle from his arch rival and fellow countryman Solwhit. It is the apparent ease in which Hurricane Fly goes about his business which impresses the most. Paul Townend went effortlessly through his gears to join and go on from Luska Lad at the last. Hurricane Fly is now 3-1 clear favourite for The Champion Hurdle with some bookies but if your quick you can grab 9/2 with Coral. What a mouthwatering thought of him upsides Peddlers Cross and Menorah at the last! We only have to wait 76 days to see it! Hurricane Fly & Solwhit next lock horns in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on 23 January.

Over in foggy Berkshire the Jonjo O’Neill trained Backspin retained his unbeaten record to land the Grade One Challow Hurdle in fine style under A.P McCoy. He powered away from Court in Motion on the run to the line to score by five lengths. Last seasons Champion Bumper runner up Al Ferof came home in 3rd. Backspin was immediately quoted at 7/1 for the Neptune at the Festival by Paddy Power. It’s quite hard to evaluate the whole race as thick fog prevented viewers at the track and at home for seeing most of it but the way Backspin pulled clear of his closet pursuers suggests there is much more to come.

Reigning World Hurdler Big Bucks is now certain to go in the record books as the best staying hurdler of all time after his tenth straight win in the rescheduled Long Walk hurdle. There are many superlatives you can use to describe this mighty horse and RUK hit the nail on the head with “imperious” His six length victory over Lough Derg was effortless and it seems that he just keeps improving; he has even shed his customary flat spot during races. There is surely no horse on either side of the Irish Sea that can stop him from gaining his third World Hurdle in March. As well as marveling at Big Bucks brilliance it was great to see Lough Derg run such a fine race in second and heartwarming to see Tom Scudamores’ appreciation of that fact post race with him giving his dear old friend a fair few well deserved pats.

Ghizao also franked his Arkle claims when taking the Hallowe’en Trophy from the Nicky Henderson trained Surfing, sparking a Paul Nicholls four timer. Ghizao also took the Two Mile Novices Chase at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting in November and will now head straight for the Arkle Chase on the opening day of the Festival and is best priced 7/1 (Boylesports) for that contest.

So today we may have seen the winners of The Arkle, The Champion Chase, The Neptune, The Supreme and most definitely the winner of the World Hurdle.