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The first two days of Cheltenham brought about some top class action, potentially the best performance of all time by a hurdler and an emotional goodbye to one of the best mares of recent years.
While it’s fairly obvious where Honeysuckle will be heading following her victory in the Mares Hurdle on Tuesday the future for a few others may not be as clear.
I’ve tried to avoid the glaringly obvious, most notably the winners for the purposes of this with most future targets writing themselves for the likes of Constitution Hill, Gallopin des Champs and Energumene plus bumper horses going hurdling and the likelihood of the front two from the cross-country heading to the Grand National.
Facile Vega proved a monster flop at Leopardstown and while he performed much better in finishing runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle one gets the impression that like so many Champion Bumper winners he is probably going to be better over further in time.
While the six-year-old travelled well enough into the race he lacked the turn of foot of the winner Marine Nationale after the last and perhaps when you look at his breeding, being out of a mare who’s Grade 1 victories in open company all came over three miles that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
A switch to fences must surely be on the cards for next year and while I doubt connections would rule out the Arkle, a run in the Turners’ on the Thursday of the meeting must be favourite.
Take nothing away from the winner, a six-year-old who travelled strongly racing off the pace under Michael O’Sullivan.
Owner/Trainer Barry Connell can possibly count himself unlucky to have his star novice around at the same time as Constitution Hill and while there’s obviously going to be temptation to stick around and have a go at Nicky Henderson’s superstar the Arkle would be the most likely destination for him in 2024.
Of the beaten horses steps up in trip for Jonbon and Saint Roi may see them winning in open Graded company next year for JP McManus, particularly when considering that Jonbon is a graduate of the point-to-point field while Saint Roi kept on nicely albeit he was no real threat to the front pair.
State Man headed into the big race unbeaten having delivered a four-and-three-quarter-length beating to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.
While he’s likely to bump into Constitution Hill in this race next year he looks well placed to dominate over hurdles in Ireland next season and is another who may head to Punchestown.
While Gaelic Warrior was tackling the 2m5f trip of this contest for the first time if anything he shaped as if he’d appreciate further when chasing home stablemate Impaire Et Passe.
The gelding now has two second place finishes at the Festival to his name and a switch to fences surely beckons.
Hermes Allen proved something of a disappointment but he’s a horse I’ve never been fully convinced by. Perhaps in part due to the nature of the competition he’s faced, ie. UK-trained horses in an era when the Irish dominate.
Paul Nicholls is adept at producing good novice chasers and with very few UK novice hurdlers making a real impact this week it would be no shock to see him dominate up until the Festival with the Graded races at Newbury early season and Kempton’s Kauto Star over Christmas possible targets.
While on the face of it a field of seven was a disappointing turnout it was no shock to see last year’s winner Energumene run out the impressive winner of this year’s race.
Captain Guinness was the subject of plenty of market support and performed well in taking second, well clear of the third.
That is probably as good as he is while Edwardstone, who had looked the pick of the UK runners going into the race, disappointed badly.
Alan King knows what it takes to get one to the Festival and having impressed in the Tingle Creek at Sandown something will surely come to light. The nine-year-old stays well and it will be interesting to see whether he heads to Aintree or back to Sandown next month.
Stage Star’s victory for the Nicholls team bucked the trend of Irish-trained horses winning the novice races. The seven-year-old had won three of his four chases prior to this and put his experience to good use with a fairly impressive victory.
Out of the useful mare Sparky May the gelding didn’t look short on speed and while likely to stick to this sort of distance it would be interesting to see him in something like the Tingle Creek early next season.
Mighty Potter lost a shoe and hung right on the run in and while connections will no doubt be disappointed with defeat he ran a fair race to finish best of the Irish runners despite being hampered.
A step up in distance would look likely for him though whether he will prove up to competing at the top level in open company is another matter.
Laura Morgan has had a very productive time of it in her first few seasons training and it was good to see her Notlongtillmay perform well in finishing runner-up. While rated just 142 he shaped as if he’d be up to competing back in a handicap with something like the 2m5f contest here in November likely to come under consideration.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old Mr Incredible was the main eye-catcher in this, staying on for third having been ridden from off the pace by Patrick Mullins.
While still only a youngster he has plenty of experience over fences with seven starts to his name including a Grade 3 second over 3m5f at Warwick in January.
An entry in the Grand National looks fair and while seven-year-old’s have a poor enough record (though Noble Yeats provided youngsters with a winner 12 months ago) in the feature not many try and the course and race itself have changed a lot in recent years.
Hold up horses generally aren’t favoured around Aintree so it will be interesting to see how he performs if connections head to the big race. He’d also be of interest if tackling the Irish or Scottish equivalents or the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.
Friday started with Lossiemouth delivering an impressive victory over a number of stablemates. Four-year-old’s have a poor record in the Triumph Hurdle but her handler Willie Mullins looks likely to hold the key as to targets next season with Honeysuckle retiring and the possibility of State Man heading over fences she could be placed to good effect to run up a sequence over hurdles during the 2023/24 season.
Stay Away Fay kept on gamely to register a victory in this and looks like he will make up into a nice staying novice next season.
Paul Nicholls is adept at training these types and I suspect he will be out early next season with the staying novice chase on the Wednesday of this meeting his ultimate target.
Corbetts Cross ran out at the last when making a strong challenge and he shaped like a potential Gold Cup or Grand National candidate down the line.
Trainer Emmett Mullins is making a good name for himself and having won a handicap over three miles and a Grade 2 over shorter of two miles this season Mullins is sure to have plenty of options going forward with his charge.
It will be interesting to see if connections stay over hurdles with him with the Irish staying hurdle division looking weak enough or whether they head straight over fences.
As ever there will be plenty of talk about the beaten horses in this contest, whether they stayed, need further, didn’t like the track etc.
The most obvious one to start with is Noble Yeats who as many expected caught the eye in staying on in the closing stages to finish a well beaten fourth having struggled to go the gallop at times.
This was a perfectly respectable Grand National trial and it would be no shock to see him complete an Aintree double.
Bravemansgame and Conflated both weakened in the closing stages, I’d be reluctant to put it down purely to stamina with either of them but for Conflated in particular it’s a worry given he’s a nine-year-old now.
Nevertheless they both placed in the race and neither strikes me as the type who would be better off running in the Ryanair.
I’d expect the Paul Nicholls performer to head to Aintree for the race that was once known as the Martell Cup while Conflated looks a live contender for Leopardstown.
Of those who failed to finish Ahoy Senor still held claims when falling and bring down Sounds Russian.
It would be dangerous to read too much into these efforts and both look worth another try at the top level.
A Plus Tard was on something of a retrieval mission having pulled up at Haydock in November and he was badly hampered by both Ahoy Senor and Sounds Russian.
Henry De Bromhead’s gelding is another who deserves another chance though seemingly best fresh it will be interesting to see how he goes if he heads to Aintree or Punchestown.
There’s been a lot of talk about the new whip rules in the last month or so and Stattler is the type of horse who arguably won’t be seen to best effect. Under pressure early on the writing was on the wall a long way from home while previous winner Minella Indo was beaten from an early stage.
The two form horses fought out the finish here with Impervious proving much too good for Allegorie de Vassy in the end.
It would be no surprise to see the former make up into a Ryanair Chase horse next season although it must be tempting for connections to keep her to mares contests and try for back-to-back victories in this race.
Willie Mullins’ Allegorie de Vassy had won both starts over fences prior to this and given she is only a six-year-old is open to improvement.
It will be interesting to see if the pair meet at some point down the line, most likely in mares contests next season.