Following a frustrating first half of the season Top 40 entry Black Poppy is starting to show what he is capable of winning for a second time at Newbury on Saturday. A neck winner on his handicap debut at Hereford in late January off a mark of 108, he defied a five pounds rise at the Berkshire track. Having travelled well in the two miles handicap hurdle, he looked set for a comfortable success between the final two flights but it got tight late on and he just prevailed by a short head. The good news is that the handicapper can't be too severe and Kerry Lee's progressive young hurdler should continue to be competitive. Despite his latest win being gained on soft ground, his trainer has always thought he would be a better horse on a sounder surface. Likely to be kept to the minimum trip for the time being, he should be even more effective over further. His jumping is getting slicker, too.
Nicky Richards had an excellent day on Saturday with an across the card treble. The highlight was provided by Nells Son (16/1) in the Grade 2 Premier Novices' Hurdle. The Trans Island gelding was Nicky's horse to follow in One Jump Ahead and he was gaining his second win of the campaign. A short head scorer from the previously unbeaten North Lodge, he stayed on strongly to lead close home under the excellent Sean O'Keeffe, who rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner last spring courtesy of Galopin Des Champs. It was the yard's second win the race following Glingerburn's victory in 2015. The Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr (2nd April) is a possible target for the seven year old but he wants some ease in the ground. Next season he will go chasing and the stable will be blessed with a strong team of novices including Famous Bridge, who also won on the same card, and Soft Risk amongst others. It is exciting times for the Greystoke team.
I spent a very enjoyable morning at Paul Nicholls' yard on Sunday. The champion trainer was in fine form and paraded his leading Cheltenham Festival contenders, including Bravemansgame and Stage Star. I got the opportunity to speak to Paul afterwards and he passed on news regarding Monmiral, his likely team for Ayr's Scottish National meeting, plus the sidelined Matterhorn who is featured in the Top 40 Prospects. I will include all the news in the OJA Cheltenham Festival Update.
Talking of the Cheltenham Update, I am delighted to say Irish expert Declan Phelan will be penning his usual piece which has been very successful over the years. I was in touch with Declan, who has been in excellent form with his weekly service, prior to heading to Somerset on Saturday.
If you haven't already ordered your copy, please head to the Publications section of the site. The Update is £10. The Coniston Hotel near Skipton in North Yorkshire are staging their Cheltenham preview on Monday evening and I am on the panel with champion elect Brian Hughes, Skybet's Michael Shinners, Harry Bannister, who is having a fine season with 39 winners, and former trainer Charlie Mann. It should be a good evening in a beautiful setting.
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