There have been some superb performances during the first three days of the Cheltenham Festival. Shishkin kicked off the meeting with a terrific win in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Nicky Henderson's former Irish pointer overcame a mistake down the backstraight to get the better of Abacadabras in a titanic duel after the last. Advised at 40/1 in the Christmas Special for the Festival opener, the Sholokhov gelding reportedly didn't enjoy the testing ground but his class saw him through and he is a tremendous prospect for fences next season. The former champion trainer was also responsible for the third, Chantry House, and he, too, will come into his own over the larger obstacles. With hindsight, he would have been more at home in the Ballymore NH having lacked the pace to trouble the first two home.
Envoi Allen maintained his unbeaten record in the Ballymore NH on Wednesday producing arguably the performance of the week so far. The manner in which Gordon Elliott's charge picked longtime leader The Big Getaway between the final two flights was hugely impressive. The six year old is the most exciting horse in National Hunt racing at present and I sincerely hope his connections decide to send him chasing next term rather than pursue the Champion Hurdle route.
Talking of the Champion Hurdle, Epatante allayed any fears regarding her effectiveness on the track by winning hurdling's Blue Riband emphatically on Tuesday. Barry Geraghty's mount was bitterly disappointing at the meeting twelve months ago but she is a different model this year and confirmed the view she created at Kempton on Boxing Day. The daughter of No Risk At All was always travelling smoothly and only had to be pushed out to beat Sharjah. She is a very good filly.
It has been a very good few days for followers of the One Jump Ahead Cheltenham Festival Update with 5 winners so far. Shishkin (6/1), Envoi Allen (advised @ 5/4), Dame De Compagnie (advised @ 10/1), Ferny Hollow (12/1) and Samcro (advised @ 7/1). Thank you to all those clients who have sent emails, it is much appreciated.
I don't think there is much doubt the most popular result was Ferny Hollow's win in the bumper on Wednesday. The Westerner gelding had raced too keenly on his first two starts at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown but showed what he can do next time at the former track. Paul Townend took over in the saddle at Cheltenham and gave Willie Mullins' gelding a fantastic ride. Anchored towards the rear early on, he quickened up well turning for home and readily swept past his stablemate Appreciate It. Judging by the emails I received, plenty of clients had backed him ante-post at fancy prices.
I was also delighted to see Samcro win the Marsh Novices' Chase on Thursday. Gordon Elliott's gelded son of Germany has been heavily criticised this season by the media but there was no doubting his attitude on this occasion as he edged out Melon in a thrilling finish. Partnered by Davy Russell for the first time, his jumping was very good, bar the second last. It was great to see him back to his best.
I hope subscribers to the Cheltenham Festival Update took notice of the various contributors. For example, Samcro was Paul Carberry's nap of the meeting, having ridden him in a schooling race during the Autumn. Kim Bailey was positive re Imperial Aura in the novices' handicap chase on Tuesday, Anthony Bromley and Daryl Jacob were optimistic about Concertista in the mares' novices' hurdle, while Paul Nicholls told us he had backed Politologue at 33/1 in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
As regards the ones which got away, I still can't believe Minella Indo didn't win the RSA Chase. Henry De Bromhead's former Festival winner made a mistake at the last and that proved crucial as he was reeled in late on by Champ. I also believe Fakir D'Oudairies won have won the Arkle Trophy had he jumped the second last more fluently. Joseph O'Brien's five year old was coming to challenge when getting in tight and losing his momentum. He would have also benefited from a more positive ride from the outset, especially as the leaders didn't go as fast early on as anticipated.
It has also been a good few days for the Top 40 Prospects with three winners, namely Shishkin, Envoi Allen and Ferny Hollow. Dolcita ran well in second in the mares' novice hurdle and Aramax (15/2) provided the French Revolution section in One Jump Ahead with a winner in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
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