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The Cheltenham Festival is now only 3-weeks away, and the weekend action from Wincanton, Gowran Park, Ascot and Haydock produced some pointers for the Champion Hurdle, Stayers Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup Markets.
The fact Barry Geraghty, retained jockey to JP McManus, was in England to ride Yanworth was a big Champion Hurdle tip in itself; as he could have remained in Ireland to ride his 2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki.
Geraghty’s decision proved to be the right one though, as Yanworth won the Grade-2 Kingwell Hurdle, whilst Jezki had to settle for second behind Tombstone in the Grade-3 Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Yanworth’s performance in giving 4lb and a 1-length beating to Ch’tibello didn’t impress everyone though, as he’d beaten that rival 5½ lengths in the Christmas Hurdle off level-weights. What was obvious to the eye though was Yanworth was in no way suited to the speedy nature of the Wincanton track – and he should be much more at home at Cheltenham come the big day, especially if there’s plenty of pace in the race.
However, Bet365 chose to push his price out to 7/2 (Non-Runner-No-Bet) from 3/1. Meanwhile, they were also unimpressed with the chances of runner-up Ch’tibello as they pushed him out to 25/1 (NRNB), though third-placed Sceau Royal was trimmed into 25/1 (NRNB) from 33/1 on the back of an eye-catching strong-travelling performance that suggested he could have an each-way squeak if the ground comes up good at the Cheltenham Festival.
Meanwhile, Jezki’s price for the Champion Hurdle doubled on the back of that disappointing defeat, a performance that suggested he had lost the natural speed to be a contender in the Champion Hurdle – and you can now have 12/1 (NRNB).
The dream of a second win for Jezki at Cheltenham Festival is still very much alive though, and his target now looks sure to be the Stayers Hurdle for which he has been cut to 5/1 from 6/1 (NRNB). He’s already proved his stamina for the 3-mile event when winning the Punchestown Stayers Hurdle, but Geraghty may again not be aboard, as he also has the option of riding current favourite Unowhatimeanharry.
Haydock also staged a trial for the Stayers Hurdle on Saturday, and the market for the Grade-2 Rendlesham Hurdle was dominated by 3 horses – Zarkandar (now 12/1 NRNB), Aux Ptit Soins and Agrapart (now 25/1 NRNB). The latter lost little defeat in my book having tried to concede 8lb to the other two on ground that was a little quicker than he likes, but the ground is unlikely to be any slower come the Festival. Meanwhile, it’s asking a lot of the 10-year-old Zarkandar to improve on his previous third and fourth placed finished in the Stayers Hurdle. Aux Ptit Soins is worth keeping an eye on though, and it will be interesting to see what mark he gets for one of the handicaps at the Festival.
Navan also staged a Stayers Hurdle Trial on Sunday, though the runs of the only two runners to hold Stayers Hurdle entries, Dedigout and Milsean, suggested they may as well stay at home. However, one horse to put in the notebook for the Festival could be the third Rennetti, who started slowly but ran on for third.
The final mention from the weekend goes to Cue Card, who silenced his doubters with a scintillating performance in the Ascot Chase that saw his odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup cut to 9/2 (NRNB). He looked back to the sort of form that saw him win last season’s Betfair Chase and King George, and it’s worth remembering he was absolutely tanking in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup when falling late-on.