Well the weekend's action on both sides of the Irish Sea demonstrates that the season is now pretty much in top gear and will be every weekend from now until Cheltenham and beyond. We are going to be putting together a weekly review of the key action with particular regard to the antepost markets, we hope you enjoy it!
Footpad is one of our Ten to Follow (well actually one of Supreme Racing's Five to Follow!) was a preety impressive winner of his maiden and has been cut to as short as 12/1 favourite for the Triumph with Paddy Power (20's with Hills). Admittedly not the strongest of races, but he was slick over his hurdles and powered clear without being asked a serious question. He will now be stepped up into graded company for his next outing and looks likely to progress again. He is near the top of the Mullins juvenile's and as such 12/1 will look very generous if he does make the race.
American Tom another Cheltenham hopeful (14/1 for the Neptune) was another novice the dogs have been barking about down at Closutton and he was odds on to make a winning debut in his maiden hurdle however he was far less impressive. He looked very green to me and was a bit hesitant over several of his hurdles. Paul Townend had just started to shake him up coming into the home straight...but I felt he would have it all to do to get to Gunnery Sergeant. We'll never know as Gunnery Sergeant fell at the second last bringing down Neverushacon who was second at the time. After the race Paul Townend sounded confident that he would have won, and although he is bound to come on a bundle for this I would want to see him run against better horses before putting him on any shortlists.
Irving looked to make slightly heavy weather of beating Top Notch but saying that he won cosily in the end beating a good horse and they were well clear of Melodic Rendezvous in third. Paul Nicholl's stated that he would head to Newcastle's Fighting Fifth this weekend if he came out of the race well where he will line up against Wicklow Brave who was just behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen last weekend. He was cut to 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle and at that price I wouldn't be backing him with your money.
Vautour won the Stella Artois chase at Ascot but must have given his supporters who waded in at 2/5 an anxious moment between the last two when Ptit Zig ranged up to him and there was only half a length between them as they came up at the last. To be honest Ptit Zig was under pressure and had been from the entrance to the straight while Ruby had to no more than shake Vautour up, but Ptit Zig made several sloppy jumps and would have been even closer had he not. Vautour always looked the best horse in the race but continually jumped right and guessed at one in the back straight second time round. Quoted at 9/4 for the King George and 6/1 for the Gold Cup he still needs to prove two things.... 1) he can beat top class horses going right handed, and 2) that he can stay an extended 3 miles. Not tempted.
I watched Cue Card's victory in the Betfair Chase with mixed emotions: he has been my favourite chaser for a couple of years but my wallet was firmly with Silvianaco Conti at a juicy looking 5/2 (Cleeve antepost selection)... and it wasn't a small bet! To be honest Silvianaco Conti had the run of the race and couldn't have jumped any better but Cue Card simply laughed at him, coming home eased down to win by 7 lengths (good for 20) and another 12 lengths in front of Dynaste who had got to within 3 lengths in the Charlie Hall. This was a stunning performance and shows he is right back to his very best.... chopped for the King George and Gold Cup to 5/1 and 14/1 respectively, in a straight match bet with Vautour the value has got to strongly lie with this boy.
Douvan was cut to as short as 5/4 favourite for the Arkle which is verging on the ridiculous... he must be that price to get there sound! Yes he won nicely and jumped pretty well apart from diving at the last, but in what was not a particularly deep race he was given the run of it and at no point was his jumping put under pressure. I am by no means crabbing the horse who put in a nice first attempt over fences and will obviously progress from here. But come on...5/4 for the Arkle? Personally If I had to have a bet now I would take Sizing John each way at 14's. He finished 3rd behind Douvan in the Supreme, has won twice over fences (jumping really impressively) and pays more a place than Douvan pays the win!
Both Moon Dancer and Coneygree have had setbacks and the former is a big drifter for the Supreme Novices from 8/1 favourite out to 14/1 as Willie Mullins Min becomes the new 10/1 favourite. Trainer David Pipe said "Unfortunately we have had to put plans on hold for Moon Racer after he met with a setback. He is currently on the easy list but we are hoping to get him back later in the season for some of the big spring festivals." which doesn't sound good. Coneygree was withdrawn from Saturday's Hennessey after not schooling well but remains unchanged at 6/1 in the Gold Cup market.
The Cleeve team