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Festival Update
Mon, Feb 22nd, 2016

Mark had a great weekend on the tipping front and now provides his latest Festival update....

This time tomorrow the entries will have closed for the handicaps so we should start to get a clearer picture as to who is heading where.

Champion Hurdle

By far the biggest story in the horseracing world last week was the news that ante-post favourite and defending champion Faugheen would miss the Champion Hurdle. The eight-year-old has suffered a similar injury to the one that caused Hurricane Fly to miss the Festival a few years ago and whilst connections are confident he will make a full recovery, Cheltenham will come too soon for him.

Clearly this has caused massive waves in the market and following her reappearance run at Punchestown the same day, Annie Power was installed as the general 2/1 favourite for the race. She would have to be supplemented in order to take part and did nothing wrong on her return to action but my initial thoughts were that she was short enough at the current prices, for all that she is a high-class mare.

Stablemates Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon are also high up in the market as is Henry De Bromhead's Identity Thief who is reported to be on track for the race in a few weeks' time. He was also mentioned by Paul Nicholls as the most likely winner over the weekend and there is no doubt the race is now wide open.

Of the British challenge, My Tent Or Yours was not declared for the Kingwell Hurdle on Saturday with connections feeling the testing ground would not have been in his favour. They were keen to stress that all was well with him and that they are exploring options to try and get a run into him before the Festival. He is as short as 6/1 in the updated market without Faugheen and if he gets there on the day, he will be a good deal shorter than his advised price back at the end of November.

He could be joined in the race by stablemate Top Notch who made light work of his rivals when landing the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last week. He would probably prefer the ground to be on the slow side but connections believe he has earned his place in the field and will therefore take his chance.

World Hurdle

Ahead of her return to action last week, the talk about Annie Power was that she would head down the World Hurdle route on the back of her prep, leaving Vroum Vroum Mag to contest the Mares' Hurdle. However as we have discussed that is becoming increasingly unlikely and Thistlecrack remains the general 11/10 favourite for the race.

Paul Nicholls looks likely to have several runners in the race but he was keen to stress on Sunday that Saphir Du Rheu and Aux Petits Soins shouldn't be forgotten about. The Ditcheat handler believes that better ground will bring about improvement from his horse who was second in the race last year. He also reported that John Hales' Coral Cup winner did a good piece of work last week at Wincanton and remains on course to line up in the premier staying hurdle at the Festival.

A new name in the betting with some firms for this race was Different Gravey who couldn't have been more impressive when winning on his return to action at the weekend. Despite carrying top weight in a competitive handicap, the six-year-old stretched clear in the closing stages to win by sixteen lengths and his mark of 149 is likely to get a significant rise when he is reassessed. His trainer sounded a word of caution that the six-year-old might wait for the Stayers' Hurdle at Aintree but he looks one to keep an eye on wherever he goes.

Novice Hurdlers

Supreme

Following the news of Faugheen's absence from the Champion Hurdle, there was a drift on Min in the Supreme market the following day, setting tongues wagging that all was not well with the market leader. However Willie Mullins was quick to stress there was no issue with the market leader and that he is very much on track for the opening race of the Festival.

His form was also given a boost at the weekend as Gordon Elliott's Ball D'Arc who he beat by eleven lengths in January won for the second time subsequently when landing a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday. The five-year-old could still head to Cheltenham for another crack at Min according to his trainer although plans are far from certain at this stage.

Neptune

Venetia Williams' Yala Enki won for the third time this season on Saturday at Ascot and his trainer indicated that the six-year-old could head to Cheltenham for either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett although the ground would have to be on the soft side. He has been running well all season in both novice and handicap contests and showed a fine attitude to hold off the challenge of Mr Mix in the closing stages.

Another winner from last week with an entry in the Neptune is Dan Skelton's Work In Progress who ran out a wide margin winner at Fakenham on Friday. The six-year-old made all in the hands of Harry Skelton and his trainer believes the best is still to come from this lightly-raced horse. He also mentioned the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race on the final day of the Festival as an option although that could depend on how is assessed after this victory.

Albert Bartlett

Haydock's Albert Bartlett trial on Saturday was run in testing conditions and it was Rose Dobbin's Jonniesofa who came out on top. The six-year-old was winning for the third time this season and stayed on strongly in the closing stages to draw clear of runner-up Vintage Clouds. He seems to relish heavy ground and looks likely to head for the Albert Bartlett now with connections hoping for rain in the lead up to the race.

Triumph

The highly volatile Triumph Hurdle market took another swing at the weekend as Nicky Henderson's Fixe Le Kap lost his unbeaten record in Britain at Haydock on Saturday. The four-year-old set the pace under David Bass but Paul Nicholls' Frodon was travelling best going to the last and that rival kicked clear before holding off a renewed challenge in the final furlong. Nicky Henderson's horse was pushed out to as big as 16/1 for the Triumph following this effort whilst the winner can still be backed at 25/1 for the race. The latter had looked likely to go down the Fred Winter route before now but he is likely to be raised for this win and so connections' hands might be forced.

Willie Mullins' Voix Du Reve had attracted some support in the Triumph market last week ahead of his first start for the stable but could only finish third at Fairyhouse on Saturday. In fairness to him, he was very keen for at least the first half of the race and despite jumping and travelling well, the petrol gauge was probably just empty at the end. He was only beaten half a length at the line and if he learns to settle he could be useful.
Mares' Novice
Harry Fry's Jessber's Dream got back to winning ways on Friday at Sandown when she made all to land the Grade 2 Jane Seymour Novices' Hurdle. Having been beaten the previous weekend, she saw her race out much better here and won with eight lengths to spare at the line. However, she is likely to swerve the new mares' novice hurdle as she prefers softer ground and therefore head to Fairyhouse for the same race that the stable won with Bitofapuzzle last year.

One mare who could head to the Festival is Chocca Wocca whose owners sponsor the new race, and she made a pleasing start to her hurdling career at Market Rasen on Sunday. She was understandably keen and fresh on her first start since April but jumped well on the whole and found plenty for pressure in the closing stages. She should come on for that initial outing and her owner confirmed afterwards that the new race was the plan for her although she could have another run in the interim.

Novice Chasers

Arkle

As quickly as Ar Mad was cut for the Arkle on Monday following an impressive victory at Plumpton, that news came through that all was not well with the six-year-old. He was reported to be lame on Monday evening and on Tuesday morning news broke that he would miss the rest of the season having suffered a condylar fracture, the same injury that his stablemate Violet Dancer suffered following his win in the Kingmaker at Warwick the weekend before.This news has left Vaniteux as the standout second favourite at 5/1 behind the 1/3 market leader Douvan and it now looks more and more likely that we will get a small field for the second race of the Festival.

RSA

The Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices' Chase can often prove a good guide to the RSA and that looks likely to be where this year's winner Vyta Du Roc is likely to head. The seven-year-old seemed to appreciate the step up to 3m and despite hitting his usual flat spot he found plenty for pressure under Daryl Jacob. He does also have the option of going down the 4 mile route at the Festival and he is available at 16/1 for both races.

The runner-up at the weekend was Minella Rocco who is still yet to get his head in front over fences but this was by far his most encouraging effort. There were still signs that his jumping wasn't quite up to scratch but he stayed on well over the last couple of fences to give the winner a good fright. He looks as though he is made for the 4 mile National Hunt Chase although he has jumped poorly on both his visits to Cheltenham so there would have to be a question mark.

Ben Pauling's Drumacoo was the beaten favourite on Saturday and my initial thought was that the front two got racing too far out and paid for their exertions in the last half mile. You would have to say that Drumacoo ran below form and I would give him another chance next time.

National Hunt Chase

Another name to add into the mix for this race is the Ben Pauling-trained Local Show who was last seen getting the better of Onenightinvienna at Kempton a couple of weeks ago. His trainer is confident that the eight-year-old stays all day and so he is edging towards the 4 miler ahead of the classier RSA, where he feels he may be out of his depth. His form has worked out well so far this season and he could make some appeal at around the 16/1 mark.

Handicaps

One I quickly wanted to mention was Willow's Saviour who may have only had one rival to beat on Friday at Fakenham but accounted for them with ease and this should have done his confidence the world of good. His target at the Festival is the 2m4f Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Steeple Chase on the first day of the meeting and depending how the handicapper sees his latest win, he wouldn't be without a chance.

Foxhunters

There has been more than enough talk about Pacha Du Polder and Victoria Pendleton over the weekend as the pair parted company at the seventh fence on Friday. He is likely to reappear in a similar contest at Wincanton in about a weeks' time and a decision on his participation at the Festival is likely to be made after that.

Over in Ireland, dual Foxhunter's winner Salsify landed his first victory under rules for nearly three years when winning at Fairyhouse on Saturday. His trainer Rodger Sweeney pointed out afterwards that he has been injured over the last couple of years but that he believes he has the horse back to somewhere near his best. The eleven-year-old is likely to head back to Cheltenham in March now and is as big as 16/1 for the Foxhunters.

Bets

I have no bets to advise this week.

Ante-Post Portfolio

VANITEUX (Arkle) – 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (General)

MY TENT OR YOURS (Champion Hurdle) – 0.5pt e/w @ 20/1 (bet365, Stan James, Betfred)

THISTLECRACK (World Hurdle) – 2pts win @ 3/1 (Boylesports, Sportingbet)

DON COSSACK (Cheltenham Gold Cup) – 1pt win @ 7/1 (BetVictor, 32Red)

SOUTHFIELD ROYALE (National Hunt Chase) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (Betway, Paddy Power)

GIBRALFARO (Triumph Hurdle) – 1pt e/w @ 20/1 (Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral)

ACTIVIAL (JLT) – 0.5pt e/w @ 25/1 (SkyBet, Racebets)

BUVEUR D'AIR (Supreme) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (SportingBet, Ladbrokes, Betfair)

VAUTOUR (Champion Chase) – 2pts win @ 5/2 NRNB (Bet365, SkyBet, William Hill)

MORE OF THAT (RSA) – 2pts win @ 5/1 (Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill)

BLUE HELL (County Hurdle) – 1pt e/w @ 14/1 (SkyBet)

TRAFFIC FLUIDE (Champion Chase) – 1pt e/w @ 16/1 NRNB (Ladbrokes, SkyBet)

YANWORTH (Neptune) – 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (Boylesports, William Hill)

MYSTICAL KNIGHT (Albert Bartlett) – 0.5pt e/w @ 33/1 (SkyBet, Stan James, Coral)

ON THE FRINGE (Foxhunters Chase) – 2pts win @ 5/2 (General)

BLOODY MARY (Mares Novice Hurdle) – 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1 (General)

BALLYANDY (Champion Bumper) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (General)

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