As with the two other UK courses, ground conditions at Ascot were heavy. In the opener, UnTemps Pout Tout went some way to justifying his lofty reputation. His task was made easier thanks to Cole Harden repeatedly jumping out to his left. Nevertheless, he won easing down and is clearly a decent horse in the making. Whilst he possesses a Neptune Hurdle entry, it will be interesting to see if the handicapper raises him for this effort. His current rating of 147 looks highly competitive.
Many Clouds returned from a slight setback to finish second O’Faolains Boy in the Reynoldstown Chase. He jumped well but had no answer when the winner quickened between the last two fences. O’Faolains Boy produced a good round of jumping before displaying a fair turn of foot in the home straight to settle the issue. He handles the ground as he did over hurdles, though it is worth noting he won his Irish-Point on good ground. Looking ahead, both the winner and second were returning from setbacks and are likely to improve for the run. In addition, we know O’Faolains Boy handles Cheltenham following a fine fourth in the 2013 Albert Bartlett hurdle. The third home is a solid yardstick and provides a good guide to the level of the form.
Restless Boy is enjoying something of a renaissance in his fortunes. He showed admirable battling qualities to hold Teaforthree who looked the likely winner jumping the last. Restless Boy has taken time to refind his form; his partnership with Charlie Poste proving a great success. It is worth noting he has won seven of his eight races in single figure fields. The runner-up bounced back to form and in likely to go to the Grand National without another run. His RPR was the same as his 2013 National third, suggesting he will be a major contender once again. Houblon Des Obeaux made numerous mistakes, which probably cost him the race. He ran on strongly up the home straight and almost closed down the leaders on the run-in. Chance Du Roy kicked on early enough. Nevertheless, he to, furthered his Grand National claims. Possesses a win and second over the National fences, though stamina is unproven.
Kaylif Aramis returned from a minor breathing operation to give Ryan Hatch his second big handicap win this month. Taking the lead after the second last, he stayed on strongly to win comfortably. Likely to go for the Coral Cup he would be an interesting contender if able to reproduce this form. Art Professor ran another solid race in second place. Sixth and running on when unseating at the last in the 2012 Coral Cup, he is likely to head back for another shot. Leo Luna ran his best race for sometime in third. Another to have had a breathing operation, he looks handicapped to win when the better ground finally returns. Heath Hunter travelled like a dream for most of the race, looking sure to be involved turning for home. However, he emptied after the second last and merely kept on at the one pace. Being a lightly raced individual, he should continue to improve.
Captain Chris put up one of the best performances of his chasing career. Racing behind the leaders he cruised into the lead after the third last and went further and further clear up the home straight. This looks his best trip and he is at his best going right-handed. The Gold Cup is a possibility, although Cheltenham is not thought to suit him nearly as much. Nevertheless, he won the 2011 Arkle before finishing fourth in the 2012 Ryanair. At the top of his game, one has to ask why another attempt at the Ryanair Chase is not being considered, given it is over his best trip. Runner-up Cloudy Too was close to his best RPR, furthering the thought this was a highly impressive run by the winner. Hunt Ball would have disliked the ground but is one to keep an eye on in the spring. Medermit showed enough in fourth place, to suggest he is no back number.
For the second race in a row, Wilde Blue Yonder fell at the final fight looking assured of victory. He appeared to take one or two steps more than his rider would have liked prior to taking off. He has the talent to rate higher if he can learn to stay on his feet; one hopes his coFnfidence is unaffected. Wadswick Court looked the likely benefactor but he too threw away the race by hanging on the run-in. He carries his head high and looks to need some headgear. Mountain King did well to get up given his pilot looked to have accepted the situation approaching the final flight. He galvanised his mount on the run to the line getting up close home. A nice prospect, he is still green and learning. Art Mauresque showed his run at Cheltenham to be all wrong. Found to have stomach ulcers following that race, he should go on from this and looks likely to make up into a fair handicapper.
A Vos Gardes ran out a cosy winner of the Bumper. A highly promising horse, one hopes he is not overfazed this season. Onderun and No Dice ran well to finish second and third, though the eyecatcher was Royal Vacation in fourth. Green throughout the race, he made headway all the way up the home straight finishing strongly in the last furlong. Sure to improve considerably, he runs the same colours as Cue Card.
At Haydock Park, Abracadabra Sivola put a poor run behind him to take the Victor Leudorum Juvenile Hurdle. Back against his own age group, he was far happier and jumped well to dictate the race throughout. There are no grand plans and he looks a staying chaser in the making. Aurore D’Estruval travelled like the best horse in the race. Unfortunately, she was unable to get past the winner on the run-in, having jumped well. She is not as big or strong as the winner is, but will find further success on better ground.
Celestial Halo was sent off a warm favourite despite his trainer airing concerns over his readiness (“I must stress that he isn’t fully wound up and will need the run today”). He ran around 15/16lb below his best with the combination of softer ground and match fitness taking its toll. Seeyouatmidnight is a fast improving horse. RPR’s displays he has improved 40lb since his first win over hurdles. He made all the running and stayed on well for well-deserved success. With no Cheltenham entries at present, one wonders if connections will wait for something suitable at Aintree. He handles soft/heavy ground, having won an Irish-Point on good ground. Consistent mare Mickie ran to her best, giving a good guide to the strength of the form.
The Grand National Trial saw the runners spread out over half of Lancashire. Venetia Williams continued her fine run saddling the winner and second. Rigadin De Beauchene had disappointed on his last two starts having finished second in the race last February. In a war of attrition, he had too much stamina for Emperors Choice who ran a game race in defeat, a fortnight after taking the South Wales National. Loch Ba was a remote third while Nuts N’Bolts showed more interest than last time back in fourth.
In the Pertemps Hurdle Qualifier Top Wood made a winning return to action. Absent for over a year, he made all and battled on courageously to land a 25/1 surprise. One imagines he will need time to get over this. Astigos finished second, miles clear of the remainder. Not the most consistent of fellows, he should find a race if repeating this effort.
At Wincanton, Melodic Rendezvous found a nice turn of foot to catch long time leader Zarkandar in the Kingwell Hurdle. The winner equalled his best RPR, while the runner-up was just below his season’s best. The slow early pace was more of a hindrance to the runner-up. Nevertheless, they are both a good guide to respective collateral form. Grumeti showed he is coming back to his best keeping on well for third. There should be more to come on better ground.
Over in Ireland, Bright New Dawn gave Djakadam’s form a boost when dispatching the useful Mallowney at Navan with an excellent display of jumping. Daneking finally lost his maiden tag over hurdles and could be a useful handicapper if stepped up in distance. Foxrock battled on well to hold off My Murphy and Clar Na Mionn. All three ran to form though whether this is up to Cheltenham standard is questionable. Whilst Foxrock will improve for a longer distance, I wonder at six-years, if he has the strength for the demands of the National Hunt Chase. Only two horses that age have won since 1988.
To access exclusive content sign-up for Community Membership!