Sunday 25th January Leopardstown UN DE SCEAUX made all the running to win the Irish Arkle with plenty in hand. On this occasion, he appeared not to go off at such a breakneck pace. Following Clarcam’s brief challenge after the second last, he found reserves to go fifteen lengths clear. It is never easy to make all in championship race, especially at Cheltenham. In addition, his habit of overjumping on occasions would make the downhill fences less than enjoyable for Mr Walsh. RPR’s display Clarcam and Gilgamboa running to their previous figure, suggesting the winners form is both solid and well above average. His Timeform rating is 7lb below Sprinter Sacre and 4lb below Sire De Grugy. Little more can be written about the remarkable HURRICANE FLY. Despite hitting a flat spot when the pace quickened, he came back in the home straight to register his tenth win from ten outings at Leopardstown. In addition, it was his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle and twenty-first Grade One win. Approaching the last, he looked to have a battle on his hands with Jezki running on strongly. However, a mistake from Jezki sealed that one’s fate. General opinion on track suggested “The Fly” just had the call having jumped fluently through the race. Arctic Fire ran on strongly to take the runner-up spot, looking the type to appreciate an end-to-end gallop. In the process, he upped his RPR by 10lb. The slow early pace did not help Jezki’s cause. One wonders why Mr McCoy did not take the initiative earlier from the less than enthusiastic Plinth. Nevertheless, his RPR was higher than his figure in the same race last season, suggesting he is still very much in the Champion Hurdle mix. It is also worth noting his form has come on better ground while “The Fly’s” has come, in the main, on soft/heavy. OUTLANDER won the two and half-mile Grade Two novices hurdle. Always travelling well, he missed the second last. Recovering quickly, he showed a smart turn of foot to lead at the last and quicken clear on the run-in. RPR’s suggest he needs to improve around 5lb to prove competitive at the business end in his chosen race at the Festival. Nevertheless, his turn of foot will always stand him in good stead and makes the Neptune Hurdle a viable target. In behind, Martello Tower ran to his best. The Albert Bartlett looks an ideal target. Third home Killultagh Vic also ran to his best on the process enhancing L’Ami Serge’s UK form. Windsor Park ran a fair race in fourth. He looked short of pace and experience when it mattered, No More Heroes scoped badly post-race. Nevertheless, it may prove his best form will always come on soft/heavy ground. Saturday 24th January Cheltenham On soft ground, the opening race, a slowly run trial for the Triumph Hurdle, was won with a degree of ease by PEACE AND CO. Whilst he is a fluent jumper, he can stand a way off his hurdles. This can lead to mistakes; horses that do not learn to shorten up at an obstacle can end up on the floor. Always travelling easily, he did not find as much up the hill as appeared likely approaching the final flight. His temperament will be tested to the full (Wore earplugs on this occasion) on Gold Cup day. Karezak provides the form with a sold look recording an RPR on 138 for the third time in a row. Whilst he is short of pace at a vital stage he has the professionalism and guts to reach the first four in March. Zarib ran well enough for an inexperienced horse and looks likely to head for the Fred Winter handicap. Bivouac needs a stronger pace and a stiffer test, while Ibis Du Rheu needed the run and experience. A good-looking horse he has a future. MANY CLOUDS put himself on the Gold Cup short list with a likeable performance. He has a tendency to jump right when getting too close to a fence. However, overall his jumping was solid, an attribute that will always stand him in good stead at Prestbury Park. Despite his preference for easy ground, he looks sure to run his race in the Gold Cup though RPR’s see him 9lb behind Silviniaco Conti. In receipt of 8lb, Smad Place proved popular in the betting market. Despite giving his all, he was unable to pass the winner on the run-in. Dynaste ran another sound race and remains a consistent performer. His RPR was 5lb below his King George figure. The overall impression suggests a defence of his Ryanair title is the sensible route to take. The Giant Bolster ran well again having won the race last year. He is just below his best form but looks sure to be staying on when he returns for the Gold Cup in March. Whether the ground will play to his strengths is another matter. ORDO AB CHAO returned to his best when just outstaying Value At Risk, Vago Collonges, and Robinsfirth. RPR’s suggest the winner will need to improve 7/8lb to make an impression at the Festival. There is stamina on both sides of his pedigree suggesting the Neptune or Albert Bartlett are viable options. Value At Risk is a chaser for next season with his trainer suggesting he may moss the Festival on this occasion. Vago Collonges and Robinsfirth ran well. The former looks the type to run well at Aintree while the latter looks likely to improve with a summer under his saddle. Some Buckle is a chaser in the making; he looks nicely handicapped if dropped slightly in class. Present View was disappointing and may have needed it more than his trainer believed. He will return to fences in the Bet Bright Chase at Kempton Park. SAPHIR DU RHEU made the return to hurdles in a manner suggesting he will be a serious player in March. Whilst receiving 4lb from the runner-up, he battled on well when asked to win his race. He looks sure to improve having had, in the words of his trainer a, “stuttering campaign.” His age, combined with both a preparation geared to the World added and his trainers view he can improve him, point the way to further improvement at Cheltenham. Reve De Sivola is in the form of his life at present. He jumped as well as he ever has, suggesting soft ground at the Festival would see him in the mix. Un Temps Pour Tout was fit and ready. Heavily backed through the week, and on the day, he appeared not to see out the closing stages as well as the first two. In addition, he was receiving weight from the pair. Despite a high handicap mark, he would be interesting if steered towards the Coral Cup under a claiming rider. Last year’s winner Whisper had a similar weight/RPR profile going into the race. Cole Harden’s jumping is halting any progress he is capable of making. The Druid’s Nephew ran well up in grade and returned to hurdles for the first time since May 2012.
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