The Christmas and New Year period provided a series of fascinating contests that look to have provided some useful clues to the Cheltenham Festival four days, not to mention the remainder of the NH season. We only have a certain amount of space so let’s take a look at five things that we learnt in the last couple of weeks.
- Hurricane Fly remains the one to beat in the Champion Hurdle. That doesn’t mean that he will win a third crown but it does mean that he sets the standard for his prime challengers to attain. There seems no obvious reason why either Our Conor or Jezki should reverse Ryanair Hurdle form, especially with Mr Mullins telling us all that there’s still more to work on with the holder of the title. The New One and My Tent Or Yours produced a stirring battle at Kempton and both are likely to be better suited to the demands of Prestbury Park in March. Both should have more to offer and, at this stage, appeal as the main challengers to the champion. Moreover, for the ‘Fly’ not to be outright favourite at this stage seems rather strange too.
- Silviniaco Conti boasts outstanding Gold Cup claims. He was the only one to trouble Betfair Chase winner, Cue Card, at Kempton during the majority of the 3m trip in the King George and still produced the requisite stamina and resilience to reel in the Tizzard charge and win decisively. He was, as we know, travelling perfectly well when uncharacteristically capsizing in last year’s Gold Cup and must be a prime candidate under the superb Noel Fehily. He rates an excellent each-way option at present. But…
- Bobs Worth is back. Nicky Henderson has had a number of unpleasant reverses this season so far and still trails Paul Nicholls in the trainer’s championship, something that practically all racing pundits would not have foreseen pre-season. However, his reigning champion delivered a typically tough and powerful effort to win the Lexus Chase going away and reignite his championship credentials.
- With his love of Cheltenham there for all to see, Bobs Worth deserves to start favourite come the special day and it will take an exceptional effort for him to be toppled if he’s on his A game for Barry Geraghty.
- Champagne Fever is not the second coming – well not at the moment. He may well put his Leopardstown disappointment behind him – either before the Arkle or in the ‘big one’ itself – but at present he is far from the Arkle certainly which many believed him to be. As yet he is not a Simonsig either or, of course, a Sprinter Sacre. His defeat behind Defy Logic throws the Arkle wide open and nothing makes definitive appeal at present.
- Annie Power. Oh, how good is she. Well, actually we don’t know but everything she does oozes championship style. Don’t worry about where she will be aimed for the rest of the season, although that particular topic will probably occupy far more media space than it should. Suffice to say that it is not a dilemma that her master trainer faces – it is simply a situation that a) he will resolve in his normal calm, unflustered manner and b) is one that every other trainer on both sides of the Irish Sea wishes they had.
Finally, and sadly. Heartfelt sympathy and every best wish to Henrietta Knight and the family of friends of Terry Biddlecombe who died over the weekend. Cavalier, swashbuckler, dashing – these will be the words associated with a man who rode horses and lived life in his own inimitable fashion. His association with Henrietta was as wonderful as it was initially unlikely and he will be sorely missed.