Henry Daly trained 14 winners last season and following a double on New Year's Day, the Herefordshire based handler moved on to 15 winners for the 2021/22 campaign. Hillcrest must be one of the nicest young prospects he has had anything to do with in recent years with the giant seven year old making it three wins from as many starts over hurdles in a Listed event at Cheltenham. The Stowaway gelding had previously scored at Aintree and Wetherby but this was his stiffest test to date. Making all the running, he wasn't all out to hold the challenge of the highly regarded I Am Maximus by a couple of lengths. Effective over two and a half miles, he is likely to return to the same track later this month for the Grade 2 novice hurdle on Trials day (29th January). I suspect he will be even better when stepping up to three miles - it is hoped he is steered towards the Albert Bartlett NH in March.
Having nominated First Impression as one to watch out for in the Christmas Special, I was disappointed to see John Quinn's five year old only finish third in the Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh behind the easy winner Tommy's Oscar. Henry Brooke's mount travelled well and looked a major threat after the third last. However, he couldn't match Ian Hamilton's runner for speed thereafter and faded on the run-in. There were no excuses, while the winner continues to improve scoring here off a mark of 150. It is possible he will return to Kelso for the Morebattle Hurdle (5th March), a race he finished sixth in last term. In the meantime, I wonder if his connections may consider a crack at the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock (22nd January). The seven year old is a credit to the Hamilton's.
Willie Mullins started the New Year in a similar manner to how he ended 2021 with another five winners (from 13 runners). They include a couple of smart looking French recruits - both featured in the French Revolution section of One Jump Ahead. El Fabiolo overcame an absence of 472 days and was backed as though defeat was out of the question in the opening maiden hurdle at Tramore. Paul Townend sent the Spanish Moon gelding to the front from the outset and never looked like relinquishing the advantage. Slick and quick over his obstacles, the five year old won eased down by thirteen lengths and is set for a rise in grade. Compatriot Allegorie De Vassy was equally emphatic on her Irish debut when taking the mares' maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse by eleven lengths. Partnered by Sean O'Keeffe, she is a fine big strapping daughter of No Risk At All who jumps very well. It will be a surprise if she doesn't play a significant role in the outcome to the Dawn Run Mares' Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival - Paul Townend could have a tricky decision to make when deciding between her and Brandy Love.
Allegorie De Vassy is owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci and they suffered a reversal earlier on the Fairyhouse card when another French import Hubrisko could only finish third in the two and a half miles maiden hurdle. I contacted Rich afterwards and the feeling is that the Doctor Dino gelding didn't stay and will drop back to the minimum trip next time.
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