It was an excellent day for the Top 40 Prospects in One Jump Ahead with Sporting John (6/4) and Emitom (7/4) winning impressively at Ascot and Haydock respectively.
Sporting John produced a tremendous performance in the opening novice hurdle at the Berkshire track to extend his unbeaten record to four wins, three of which have been under Rules for Philip Hobbs. Rated 146, the Getaway gelding easily jumped well and had the measure of the Grade 2 winner Master Debonaire soon after the second last flight. Barry Geraghty's mount powered clear for a six and a half lengths win to book his place for next month's Cheltenham Festival. On this performance, the Ballymore is probably the most likely route but J.P.McManus also has Chantry House waiting in the wings and the pair will presumably be kept apart. There is also the other opposition to consider, most notably another unbeaten novice Envoi Allen who is the current market leader for the two and a half miles event. It would therefore be no surprise if Sporting John reverted back to the minimum trip in the Skybet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The Festival opener is invariably won by a strong stayer. Horses such as Vautour and Al Ferof stayed two and a half miles plus and Sporting John could be of a similar mould. Regardless of which race he contests, Philip Hobbs' gelding will be a huge player at the Festival. The Minehead trainer appears to have another Grade 1 performer on his hands.
It was great to see Emitom back to something approaching his best in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock. Warren Greatrex's six year old had trailed in a distant last in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day but was a different propositon here. His jumping was much more accurate and he always looked in control in the home straight. Pushed out for an eight lengths win under Gavin Sheehan, the Stayers' Hurdle could be his next target but I would be inclined to keep him for Aintree and the Liverpool Hurdle. Runner-up at the Grand National meeting last year in Grade 1 company, his best performances have come at the likes of Ffos Las, Haydock and Newbury. I suspect he wants a flat track to bring out the best in him.
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