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Road To Cheltenham: Elimay on course, Diamond looks undervalued

By Lydia Hislop@LydiaHislop
Thu 2 Feb 2023

In this bulletin, Racing TV presenter Lydia Hislop looks at the latest picture with the hurdlers and the mares - to read her views on victories for Editeur Du Gite and her beloved Ahoy Senor, click here.

Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase

Jeremys Flame wins impressively at Huntingdon

“She’s beaten the best of what we’ve got over here,” Racing TV’s Stewart Machin remarked to Keith Donoghue after he’d steered Jeremys Flame to ready victory in the Pertemps Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Huntingdon last Friday. “Yeah, she might have to improve a bit to beat a few of ours at home,” came the jockey’s smiling rejoinder.

True dat. Yet Jeremys Flame sauntered through her Listed assignment, watching on comfortably from the rear as best-of-British Zambella jumped less fluently than usual, prior to stalking her into the straight and easing past approaching the last to triumph at a canter.

The winner is an improved model this season – likely to have won the Grade Three Poplar Square Chase in mid-November even if Coeur Sublime and Gentleman De Mee hadn’t departed at the final fence, prior to finding open Grade One company too rich behind Blue Lord at Leopardstown over Christmas. She’s versatile of trip and ground and now trades at 10/1 best for the Festival’s Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase.

Zambella – fourth in last year’s edition of that Festival contest and who tipped up three out when staying on 12 months earlier – is also a consistently better horse this season. Yet this encounter suggests she’ll do well to hit the frame next month in what is shaping up to be much the strongest renewal to date.

The novice Tweed Skirt acquitted herself with credit against more experienced, more decorated mares. She responded to pressure when outpaced on the home turn and would have put up more of a fight for second against Zambella had she not clouted the second last, after which she was a spent force. However, last year’s narrow Festival runner-up Pink Legend – winner of this Huntingdon event in 2022 – continues to run in lifeless fashion this term, jumping poorly.

And what of Elimay, titleholder of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase? Your interest in her wellbeing might well have been piqued when owner JP McManus purchased the novice mare Impervious prior to her latest victory against the boys in a Punchestown Grade Three last month. Elimay had also had a conspicuous lack of mid-season engagements.

“She had a minor setback and needed a couple of weeks’ rest,” reported McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry when I put that question to him this week. “But she’s now back in training and in good form and it’s all systems go. Cheltenham is the plan.”

That’s good news for the diminutive but lion-hearted mare, who went one better than the previous year when triumphing at the Festival last March. Berry also indicated the timing of her setback shouldn’t mean it’s touch-and-go to get her there, albeit she obviously wouldn’t want to encounter another blip.

Close Brothers David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle

Epatante must have been relieved the Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle was staged at Doncaster rather than north of the border to ensure stablemate Constitution Hill couldn’t self-identify as a contender. (Too soon? Don’t @ me. I know it’s incomparably more complicated than that.)

After two thumpings in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth and Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, she took on lesser opposition – let’s face it, who isn’t? – and won by six-and-a-half lengths in second gear. Her trademark slick jumping was back in evidence and, with a confidence-boosting win under her belt, she now heads to the Festival primed for whichever target owner JP McManus and racing manager Frank Berry decide upon.

It was also a useful reminder of the calibre of mare that Constitution Hill has been kicking out of the way.

Following an oversight at the entry stage by trainer Nicky Henderson, Epatante would need to be supplemented for the Close Brothers David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle if she is to contest that lesser – but nonetheless competitive – contest instead of the Unibet Champion Hurdle, which she won in 2020 and in which she has twice finished placed since. On a measure of pure quality, fans would surely want her to Go Big.

Runner-up Salsada was under pressure from the second flight, which she’d fluffed, but stuck to her task to grind into second and achieve a career best. Third-placed Martello Sky, fitted with first-time cheekpieces, found the emphasis on speed far from her liking and jumped scruffily.

At Naas the following day, Echoes In Rain grasped a golden opportunity to find the winner’s enclosure for the first time in almost two years over hurdles. Typically pulling like a mustang, she challenged her stablemate Cash Back on the bridle and led approaching the last, requiring Paul Townend merely to nudge her out for a ten-length success in the Grade Three Limestone Lad.

Willie Mullins acknowledged the race had been set up to suit, enabling “the fastest horse over two miles” to win, ridden to use that speed. Whilst the mares’ Festival event remains her next target, he noted she has been a little found out in the past when upped to Grade One company.

In last year’s edition, she was – of course – keen and settled in rear by Patrick Mullins. Mildly inconvenienced by the melée at the second last, she tried to challenge thereafter but could never quite threaten the principals and finished six-and-a-half lengths behind Epatante’s stablemate, Marie’s Rock. Echoes In Rain produced better form behind Honeysuckle either side of that run.

Back in third at Naas, Bob Olinger had failed to jump with any fluency, was outpaced on the home turn and again hung left entering the straight. Yet he kept on under pressure when it was all over to finish on the heels of the revivified Cash Back, and bettered his position against Meet And Greet compared with when they met in Leopardstown’s Christmas Hurdle. The latter was unsuited by the drop back in trip from three miles and is not yet entered at Cheltenham.

Staying hurdlers

Now that Teahupoo has proved his stamina for three miles with an emphatic victory in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle, carrying a Grade One penalty and winning by 15 lengths, the primary question he must answer is whether he’s a mudlark. Gordon Elliott’s view has conformed to the inevitable arc of any trainer with a leading Festival contender who boasts such a profile by first raising the doubt and then minimising it.

When Teahupoo finished last of ten in the 2022 Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham’s stewards were told the horse was “unsuited by the going, which was officially described as good-to-soft, and would prefer a slower surface”. To be fair, the times suggested it was more like good ground and trainers are under tacit pressure to come up with a reason on the spot for a seemingly poor run.

Yet after his Hatton’s Grace defeat of Klassical Dream and Honeysuckle last December, Elliott commented: “Teahupoo was very good last year on soft ground and we ran him on good ground a couple of times, which was probably a mistake, but we are still learning about the horse.”

Then at Thurles last Thursday, when asked about Teahupoo’s ground requirements by Racing TV’s Gary O’Brien, he argued: “I don’t think he needs it. “He’s not a big, heavy-framed horse. I’d say two miles just took him off his feet last year. Obviously, it’s a worry but we’ll see what happens.”

Gordon Elliott gives Racing TV viewers his thoughts after Teahupoo's success

Teahupoo’s form is open to both interpretations, but he doesn’t move like a classic mud-lover – although that can be deceptive. In a division headed by a dual champion who’s not a certain participant at Cheltenham and otherwise filled with aged or lesser opponents, you can see why he’s bounded straight to the fore of the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle market as 5/2 favourite.

Held up in rear in the Galmoy, he made smooth headway approaching the fourth last, led narrowly at the next – where he got into the bottom of it – and then, ridden into the penultimate flight, drew clear.

Admittedly, he didn’t have much to beat. Runner-up Summerville Boy is well into the veteran stage and is statutorily obliged to make errors, albeit he improved plenty on his second start for Henry de Bromhead. Third-placed mare My Design isn’t up to this grade but ran creditably enough. Fourth Beacon Edge is an unproven stayer who made mistakes, would definitely have hated the ground and may be souring on racing.

However, Teahupoo now has much the strongest current case going into this Cheltenham contest. He was niggled along with increasing vigour from halfway in the Champion Hurdle, unable to go on with the main players approaching the third last, but just looked outpaced on the trip/ground combination (your choice of stress) rather than ill at ease on the track. His jumping is an asset.

Two days later, 11-year-old Paisley Park was for the first time this season expected by the betting to deliver in the Dahlbury Stallions at Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle. Although he did nothing wrong – unlike his truculent performance when winning this race 12 months earlier – his dependency on a strong pace was again partly exposed. A quicker-than-usual reappearance, due to the Long Walk being rescheduled nine days later than usual, plus going that was better than the official description, might also have taken the edge off.

Gold Tweet surprises everyone in the Cleeve Hurdle

That’s not to detract from Gold Tweet – the first French-trained winner in the 41-year history of that Grade Two and the first on Cheltenham’s Trials Day since Ambobo took what is now the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2005. Francois Doumen, Guillaume Macaire and others of their fellow countrymen used to be regular raiders on these shores. Obviously, our prize money is comparatively far less tempting these days, but it was great to see Gabriel Leenders triumph.

It was even better to read earlier this week that Leenders plans to supplement Gold Tweet for the Stayers’ Hurdle, having earned more than double the £14,787 late-addition fee even with Britain’s low returns. He’d be aiming to become the first French-trained winner of that Grade One since the mighty Baracouda achieved the second of his back-to-back successes in 2003 – and the first at the Festival since Jonathan Plouganou triumphed with Easysland in the 2020 Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase.

The emphasis on speed played to Gold Tweet’s strengths last Saturday. He’d hitherto looked a shade better over fences than hurdles and was unproven as far as three miles, but jockey Johnny Charron nonetheless steered him to victory with a copybook New Course ride on his first venture to the UK.

Never quite fully settled in last, his mount jumped neatly and travelled strongly, bagging the stands’ rail in the straight, taking over smoothly after the last and drawing three lengths clear. Gold Tweet is now 9/1 best NRNB with Sky Bet and is clearly no forlorn hope, having upgraded his form when presented with a new challenge. An end-to-end gallop would ask a new question – but, as mentioned earlier, the likeliest pace angle Flooring Porter is facing a race against time to make the date.

Dashel Drasher was second again, setting a steady pace as he had done previously in the shorter Relkeel Hurdle when beaten by Marie’s Rock. Perhaps his connections believed they had Paisley Park to beat and set up the race accordingly? Trainer Jeremy Scott indicated he’ll likely be back for the Stayers’ Hurdle, however, with his Ascot Chase option looking too hot now that Fakir D’Oudairies and Pic D’Orhy are both heading there.

From the Racing TV studio prior to the Cleeve last Saturday, Steve Mellish observed that interpretations of Paisley Park’s revived form rely heavily on how good you reckon Champ currently is – and you can see his point. However, he does seem a happier horse demeanour-wise and he’ll have more time to recover from these exertions prior to the Festival.

However, Project Switch backfired with Gelino Bello, who jumped the first like a horse who’d been chasing and made a bad blunder three out when already beaten. Molly Olly’s Wishes, who’s entered in the Mares’ Hurdle, appeared to be travelling well until a mistake two out caused her to empty. Botox Has needs headgear reapplied to help him hold his position.

Novice chasers

Despite Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson having all but written him off ahead of Cheltenham, Sir Gerhard made a belated reappearance over fences at Gowran Park last Thursday. In a one-sided three-runner affair, he won by 38 lengths despite ploughing through the third fence as the low point in a novicey round of jumping.

Afterwards, trainer Willie Mullins seemed to be leaning towards the Brown Advisory rather than the shorter Turners Novice Chase but that could all change as a result of what the Closutton battalions do during their monopoly of the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend.

Willie Mullins gives his thoughts on Sir Gerhard's success at Gowran Park

Whilst you can understand why Mullins instinctively might wish to target a contest that permits Sir Gerhard more time at his fences, there are good reasons to dislike the idea. As Tony Keenan said in this week’s Off The Fence show, he has “the anti-Christ of a profile” for the Brown Advisory.

First, he adjusted right at most obstacles, so despite him being the 2022 Ballymore winner, the tightly turning Old Course might be a problem over fences. Second, he would head to that race with just one prep – which, as Keenan pointed out, would make him the least experienced novice chaser Mullins has ever run at the Festival. As a general rule, the Brown Advisory tends to reward those who have been more grizzled by battle and I’d be happy to take Sir Gerhard on there – and possibly even anywhere over fences, at least in the short term.

Whichever way Mullins goes, there’s a chance Sir Gerhard could bump into Stage Star – which in the present circumstances, might be more of a match than it was at the Cheltenham Festival last year when the latter was pulled up in the Ballymore. He was later deemed to have been suffering from ulcers, breathing issues and a general malaise at Paul Nicholls’ yard.

Returned to Cheltenham last Saturday, Stage Star delivered a polished performance when registering his third chasing success to date in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap. Carrying top-weight of 12 stone and racing from a mark of 142, he led or narrowly disputed the lead from the outset, jumping cleanly bar for dragging his hind legs through the eighth and when reaching for the tenth, and won for hands and heels by almost four lengths.

Stage Star eases to success at Cheltenham

Afterwards, rider Harry Cobden again emphasised Stage Star is a more difficult ride than he might appear on account of his tendency to lug left. This was more apparent when downed by the more experienced (now ex-novice) Sebastopol on his second chase start at Newbury than here, however, when he was clearly a happier horse.

Trainer Paul Nicholls felt that the match against Mortlach at Plumpton last time out had helped the horse’s confidence and technique, adding that his left-hand bias was unlikely to be an issue this season given his likely programme at Cheltenham and Aintree. He nominated the Turners as Stage Star’s likeliest Festival target, although the Brown Advisory remains an option, and that looks the best fit for a horse who can look very smart when the cards fall right. Can he deal with adversity, though?

(Incidentally, it was noticeable that neither Mullins nor Nicholls could identify which Cheltenham Festival race they meant without prompting. Racecourses in general: that’s a problem, no? As is needing a page of disambiguation on Wikipedia to identify which Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is which. The problem with dropping historic race handles for commercial reasons is their identity can disappear with their sponsor – and that’s deeply unhelpful for participants and fans alike.)

Not unusually for a novice handicap (or a nursery), this race was dominated by those at the top of the weights. Under 11-10, runner-up Datsalrightgino improved for being upped in trip and might briefly have got Stage Star out of third gear had he not made mistakes at the last two. Third-placed Unexpected Party, under 11-12 and in a first-time tongue-tie, came from much further back and can be marked up. The former is a live candidate for the Festival’s Paddy Power Plate; the latter might prefer a drop in trip.

The mare Panic Attack again shaped in need of a step back up to three miles, rallying strongly almost to snatch third having lost her position completely from the tenth. She also looked as though she found these demanding fences too much of a stretch for her.

At Doncaster that same day, Tommy’s Oscar dispensed with Boothill with unexpected ease in the Grade Two MND Association Race For Research Lightning Novices’ Chase. Having found Cheltenham’s fences something of an effort and the undulating track again not to his liking when beaten by Banbridge in November, he’d since been trounced in the Fighting Fifth and, returned to Newcastle over fences, downed by Since Day One in a falsely conducted three-runner race.

Here, Tommy’s Oscar typically over-raced and adjusted right but he also jumped soundly and travelled all over his field throughout. On the other hand, Boothill saw a lot of daylight and, in stark contrast to how long Johnny Burke held onto him against Aucunrisque in the Wayward Lad last time out, briefly disputed the lead four out. He was immediately and easily passed by Tommy’s Oscar, who also comprehensively reversed his Newcastle form by beating Since Day One by 14 lengths into third.

Wisely, winning trainers Ann and Ian Hamilton are not going to be tempted by Cheltenham – Tommy’s Oscar not being a fan of undulating tracks and his trainers, says Ian, “are getting on a bit and we cannot travel too far”.

Instead, they’ll head to Aintree, presumably for the Maghull Novices’ Chase or even the Red Rum Handicap Chase. All power to their elbow. Hopefully, this will have put paid to Boothill’s Arkle ambitions, even though he conceded 5lb to the winner here, and we’ll see him in the Grand Annual instead.

Sunday’s Finlay Ford at Naas Novice Chase was decided in the stewards’ room when Thedevilscoachman was promoted ahead of first-past-the-post Ramillies. In short, as per the rules, the stewards deemed that with an uninterrupted run the second might have finished in front of the short-lived winner bar for the interference he suffered.

It doesn’t matter whether anyone was at fault – an essential misunderstanding of the Rules, even by those who should know better. A horse can be demoted even if the interference it causes is deemed accidental.

That’s why an interference enquiry that could lead to demotion is dealt with in three parts. First, was there interference and, if so, was it caused by “dangerous riding”? If so, disqualification is automatic. There are strict definitions of “dangerous riding” from a stewarding perspective and although this has come to be a much-debated point among observers, this was not.

Second, is there cause to consider demotion? Namely, might on the balance of probabilities (51% vs 49% being enough) the sufferer have beaten the interferer but for the interference? Given the extent of the interference sustained by Thedevilscoachman and the fact he was merely beaten a neck by Ramillies, the stewards – rightly, in my opinion – ruled that he might. Hence the demotion.

Third, was there a riding offence? In this case, the stewards ruled Thedevilscoachman had legitimately started to take a gap which then closed. This is where I have the greatest point of difference with the application of the existing rules, however, in that it appeared to me that Paul Townend closed the door aboard Ramillies.

Yet the stewards deemed it “careless” rather than “improper”, the former category caused by “misjudgement or inattention” and the latter by “a manoeuvre… where it ought to have been obvious to the rider that interference would result”. Due to Townend’s “excellent record… over a prolonged period of time”, the stewards therefore opted merely to caution him.

This process is carried out in this strict order by most stewards across the globe, using the same rules that apply in Britain and Ireland. In this case, there was also a second instance of interference, in which Rachael Blackmore’s mount Amirite was found to have “slipped approaching the last fence”, also hampering Thedevilscoachman. This was therefore deemed to have been accidental and, as it did not affect the placings, was dealt with entirely separately.

So, in my opinion, this was a straightforward demotion that the stewards got right under the prevailing rules, albeit I have quibbles with the applicatory detail. (That said, there have been many more glaring examples of the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between “careless” and “improper”.)

However, I also think Bryan Cooper was daft to position Thedevilscoachman where he did. Sure, the horse needs covering up for a late run but the fact he was steering into a cul-de-sac was written in flashing lights from the home turn. These concepts can peacefully co-exist.

Wrangling aside, what was this race worth? My feeling is not much in Grade One terms. The winner is in the Brown Advisory but I doubt Cheltenham’s final hill will suit him even were his form good enough. I didn’t think Ramillies was idling in front as much as has been widely promoted and he has undoubtedly improved for fences. He moves as though cut in the ground is important, however. As he lacks the experience for the NH Chase, he’d be better off in the Brown Advisory.

Amirite, whose rider was knocked out of the saddle at Leopardstown over Christmas, jumped uncertainly but repeatedly right. You might want to forgive Chemical Energy this below-par run because his form suggests the ground was unsuitably soft and that might have affected both his fallible jumping and tame finishing effort.

Novice hurdlers

Had Danny Mullins been able to draw up precise plans for how the Grade Three Solerina Hurdle at Fairyhouse could pan out for Ashroe Diamond, I doubt they would have deviated much from what occurred.

Davy Russell set an obligingly false pace on Halka Du Tabert, a stayer palpably unsuited by these tactics, and Mullins delighted in the ample cover the bunched field afforded him. Settled in last, he willingly embraced the pocket he was in and relied on his strong-travelling mount to have enough toe to beat her rivals in a sprint to the line. After two out, he fashioned this opportunity by switching around the prominently positioned Jetara and producing Ashroe Diamond at the last.

Ashroe Diamond gets the perfect set-up to strike at Fairyhouse

She should now be outright favourite for the Dawn Run Mares’ Novice Hurdle, rather than sitting in second spot behind the Nicky Henderson-trained Luccia, because her body of work is more substantial. As mentioned previously, she probably would have finished second to Facile Vega at Leopardstown over Christmas had she not been positioned too far off the pace.

Runner-up Jetara ran creditably from an advantageous position and Halka Du Tabert is much better than this – keep her in mind when presented with more of a stamina test because she’s talented.

In fourth, Whatcouldhavebeen showed improved form whereas the winner’s stable companion Saylavee, who carried a penalty for her earlier Listed success at Punchestown, was below her best and perhaps unsuited by the run of the race.

Sticking with the mares, Princess Zoe – a Group One winner on the Flat – was joined on the line by Ladybank and had to share the spoils on her hurdling debut at the age of eight. She’d raced freely and jumped awkwardly. Flattening the last rendered her vulnerable but Ladybank, who was responding for a reminder, might have won outright had Rachael Blackmore not dropped her whip.

Little more than half an hour later on the same Fairyhouse card as Ashroe Diamond, Found A Fifty produced a highly promising performance on his belated hurdling debut to dispense with favourite Parmenion – previously third to High Definition at Leopardstown over Christmas – by more than nine lengths. He’s not yet entered at Cheltenham but could be an interesting contender in graded class at the Punchestown Festival.

The following day at Naas, gawky Seabank Bistro got off the mark at the third attempt to beat Franciscan Rock by almost three lengths. “He’s far from the finished article,” commented winning rider Paul Townend. “He’s still an immature horse to ride. The hurdles are kind of in his way. You’ve got to ride him everywhere – gather him and make him do what you want him to do.”

He holds entries in the Ballymore and Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, but doesn’t look polished or good enough for either task.

The following day at Punchestown, Diverge took the opening contest an hour prior to Princess Zoe’s dead-heat when drawing clear by an eased 23 lengths in a well-run affair. A promising debut sixth behind High Definition at Leopardstown, here he was ridden more positively and produced a calibre of performance that makes the Sky Bet Supreme a viable option.

Later on the same card, Sa Fureur made a quick reappearance over half a mile further than his success at the same track earlier in the month. Ridden by 7lb-claiming amateur Rob James, he drew clear with the persistent La Malmason to repel him by an always-holding half-length. He needs one more run to qualify for one of the Festival’s handicap hurdles.

Back in Britain, Rock My Way built on the evident promise of his Cheltenham debut second to Weveallbeencaught – a rare but highly welcome British raider at the DRF this weekend – and gave Syd Hosie the biggest win to date in his nascent training career in the Grade Two Ballymore [Which One?] Classic Novices’ Hurdle.

Stablemate Way Out set a decent pace and was joined by the winner from the sixth until the latter narrowly asserted two out. Rock My Way was then green in front, especially up the final hill, but fashioned a better jump than Pembroke at the last and ran on strongly, despite palpably dossing. He heads next to the Albert Bartlett and can acquit himself with credit, but looks a chaser in the making.

The runner-up might want to drop back in trip again and definitely needs to brush up his jumping under pressure. Third-placed Mofasa bounced back from his Newcastle disappointment last time but Henri The Second – who shows plenty of knee – carried his head awkwardly and sought to hang left from three out. He also seemed to find the path something of an interruption in the straight.

The proximity of Irish raider Dr Brown Bear in sixth, having hitherto shown little, might make you worry for the comparative form on each side of the Irish Sea but perhaps he just enjoyed the step up in trip in a well-run race.

At Doncaster that same day, there was an exciting finish to the Grade Two River Don and the first three home all emerged with credit. Winner Maximilian had been niggled along quite early on in the first circuit, even losing his position and dropping to rear at halfway, but he was back on the bridle before the home turn where runner-up Stay Away Fay was outpaced and driven.

Eventual third Hurricane Bay was sent for home at the top of the straight, having raced close to hard-pulling front-runner The Wounded Knee. He was inclined to lug left just before take-off over the final three flights, repeatedly inconveniencing eventual Stay Away Fay, who as a result was short of room on landing three out, unable to gallop freely and crowded into an error at the last.

On his left at that critical obstacle, winning rider Brian Hughes had kept things disobligingly tight for the runner-up’s rider Lorcan Williams, and conjured the soundest leap of the trio – albeit his mount was also going best by then.

Maximilian was bouncing back after breaking a blood vessel behind Henri The Second at Sandown, an operation to augment his breathing having since perhaps helped to address that issue. The winner of five of his six races under Rules to date, plus his sole start in a Point, he looks a decent staying prospect even if his Albert Bartlett entry might prove a bit rich.

This was merely Stay Away Fay’s third competitive outing, and second under Rules, and he’s learning fast. Hurricane Bay improved again for a step up in trip and can be marked up for pressing for home so early in the straight.

Juvenile hurdlers

Cheltenham witnessed Britain’s two leading juveniles to date – Scriptwriter and Jupiter Du Gite – both being floored at by an Irish raider who’d emerged third best behind Lossiemouth in a Grade Three at Fairyhouse in early December. This doesn’t bode well for March, albeit this is a division in which credible contenders can emerge deep into the season.

Not good news for the home team? Comfort Zone lands the Triumph Trial

At least Scriptwriter still has some claim to running well in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, having been produced far too soon in this Trial. Having been very keen after being hampered at the first, Paddy Brennan elected to take his mount wide on the downhill run to the penultimate flight.

Perhaps he found better ground but he also exposed a horse that needs to be produced late to far too much daylight from far too far out. His rider literally hung his head in self-reproach as they were narrowly outgunned by Comfort Zone near the line, the pair well clear.

By contrast, Jonjo O’Neill Jnr perfectly executed a waiting ride on the winner, having learned plenty from his mount pulling hard and hitting the front too soon when nonetheless winning the Grade Two Final Hurdle at Chepstow just after Christmas. Although Comfort Zone didn’t jump as well this time, he would have learned plenty from the experience of being buried on the inside.

Both horses would have benefitted from the ground not being as soft as advertised and would enjoy something even a bit quicker at the Festival. Both are place players and there might not be much between them if Scriptwriter can be delivered better.

Back in third, considering how she’d harried Comfort Zone home at Chepstow, the mare Dixon Cove appeared to find disappointingly little after being bang there at the last. However, it sadly emerged that she’d suffered a career-ending injury – either striking into herself or sustaining a knock from a rival in-running, to the degree that she almost severed a tendon. She underwent surgery the following day and it is hoped she can be saved as a broodmare. She stayed well and showed great tenacity as a competitor, so she’s got excellent genes to pass on. Fingers crossed.

Back in fourth, the maiden Active Duty only gave best from the last and shaped well for handicaps. But Jupiter Du Gite – described as “mad in the head” by trainer Gary Moore after winning so impressively on hurdling debut at Newbury – proved his words no exaggeration. Raging towards the first and almost tripping over it he was pulling so hard, he soon established a long unsustainable lead and was a spent force from two out. He’s going to have to channel his energy better if he’s going to realise his potential.

Ruby’s portfolio

Advised 01/12/22: Noble Yeats at 66/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup with William Hill

Advised 19/01/23: Corbetts Cross at 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Coral or Ladbrokes

Lydia’s portfolio

Advised 01/12/22: Ahoy Senor at 25/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup with various bookmakers

Advised 14/12/22: Hiddenvalley Lake at 8/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Bet365 or William Hill

Advised 05/01/23: The Real Whacker at 12/1 for the Brown Advisory with Paddy Power or Coral

Advised 19/01/23: Impaire Et Passe at 6/1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with various firms

Advised 26/01/23: Banbridge each-way at 20/1 for the Sporting Life Arkle with various firms

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