It’s been rather a busy few days with highs and low along the way but the final fence (Cheltenham) is now that little bit nearer in sight. The antepost backers may have thrown away some slips this weekend but the big money favourite backers are sleeping with theirs tightly under their pillow.
First up, we had confirmation last week that we will not see Faugheen, Min or Annie Power this festival. This is a real blow for fans of the sport as they are just adding to the already long list of greats that we won’t be seeing this year: Many Clouds, Don Cossack, Josie’s Orders and Sprinter Sacre have all wowed us in recent years.
We did see some potential future greats when POLITOLOGUE beat Pain au Chocolat and MIGHT BITE beat a weak field before the weekend but otherwise not a great Monday to Friday for horse racing fans.
Come Saturday and it’s hard to know where to start. NATIVE RIVER versus Bristol De Mai looked to be a hot race with both hovering around evens all day. Native River won easy in the end with jockey Daryl Jacob stating afterwards that Bristol De Mai didn’t feel right – hopefully not another pre-festival victim. Native River is now a shorter price than both Cue Card and Djakadam for the Gold Cup at 4/1, only favoured by Thistlecrack. A fascinating Tizzard battle awaits, no doubt.
TOBEFAIR ran yet another blinder at Warwick, up 53lbs from his first win and trainer Debra Hamer has confirmed that we will see him at Cheltenham and he is currently a healthy 8/1 to take the Pertemps Final.
Unsurprisingly, ALTIOR took performance of the day. He never really looked troubled as he saw of Fox Norton and is rightly odds on for the Arkle. As much as everybody wants to see him take on Douvan, it’d be great to see the nicest man in racing, Nico de Boinville, winning a big race after a nasty injury.
BALLYANDY notched up another win and approaches the festival in good form. It would be great to see him head to head with Melon and Finian’s Oscar in the Supreme Novices this year in what looks a race simply too tough to call.
Disappointments of the day go to Overtown Express and Vibrato Valtat. I had these two to romp home and was proven extremely wrong. Neither looked capable of keeping up with the field and any money that had gone on them pre-festival now looks a tad shaky.
It was much the same at Naas where Ruby Walsh looked assured on Listen Dear but once again we saw a Ruby-ridden odds on favourite run out of steam at the latter end of the race.
Sunday presented Ruby a chance to redeem himself with punters in a tasty looking contest between Bellshill, Disko and Our Duke. DISKO rode an absolute belter to beat the favoured two and now looks good value at 7/1 for the JLT. Questions were asked of Ruby Walsh once again however as Bellshill was never in contention and the conspirators got a free jab at Ruby as he and Bellshill fell at the last despite the race seemingly over.
Finishing up the weekend, the small matter of the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown went to Sizing John. He stayed on superbly to take the win from Empire of Dirt and the two early front-runners Don Poli and Road to Riches. The major talking point however was another poor ride from Barry Geraghty in a big race. Carlingford Lough was a banker with tipsters and bookies all day but the race was over by the time he started.
A weekend of ups and downs, raised eyebrows and bewilderment but some solid performances in tough conditions. As the festival gets closer and the tension builds, some races look won already but the majority are absolutely anybody’s guess. Bring it on.