Ballyandy became the sixth novice to win the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in the last eight seasons. Last year's Cheltenham Festival bumper winner appeared to have been let in lightly on his handicap debut off a mark of 135 and so it proved as he got the better of fellow novice Movewiththetimes. Three parts of a length separated the pair as they readily pulled clear of the rest. Indeed, both the first and second travelled strongly throughout before having a good battled after the last. Both are likely to line up at the Festival but it remains to be seen in which races. Interestingly, Sam Twiston-Davies felt Ballyandy would appreciate a return to two and a half miles and nominated the Neptune NH as his possible Festival target. I am not so sure his father will agree. Paul Nicholls' runner-up ran a cracker but had the misfortune to bump into an even better handicapped opponent. Once again, Wait For Me was unable to find a change of gear once the taps were turned on. Hopefully, he will be finally upped in distance during the spring.
Both Altior and Carter McKay produced top-class performances at Newbury and Naas respectively for the Top 40 Prospects. The former was breathtaking in the Game Spirit Chase at the Berkshire venue, emulating former stablemate Sprinter Sacre by winning the two mile event as a novice. Nicky Henderson's Festival winner routed the likes of Fox Norton and Traffic Fluide producing some spectacular leaps in the process. As his price reflects, he will be nearly impossible to beat in the Arkle Trophy. He is an exceptional talent. Well done to Irish point expert Declan Phelan for unearthing the latter. Willie Mullins' grey had won in good style at Leopardstown over Christmas on his Rules debut but was even more impressive on Saturday. Making all and stepping up in distance, Patrick Mullins' mount barely came off the bridle to beat previous winner West Coast Time by a hard held two and a quarter lengths. The six year old is another who will take some stopping at Cheltenham in March. Ironically, stablemate Getabird was ruled out of Cheltenham on the same morning due to injury but Willie Mullins has an outstanding chance to make it nine wins in the Festival bumper next month with this exciting grey.
As discussed, I am heading to Newmarket early next week to interview a handful of trainers for Ahead On The Flat. I will therefore update the Diary on my return. In the meantime, if anyone would like to order the One Jump Ahead Update for the Cheltenham Festival, please go to the Publications section of the site. It is £10.
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