The ground at Haydock Park on Saturday was atrocious with an emphasis very much on stamina. Despite winning the Welsh National last season on soft ground, Secret Reprieve never looked happy from an early stage in the Grand National Trial. Evan Williams' gelding didn't jump with any fluency and was in trouble with over a circuit to run. It wasn't a surprise to see him pulled up leaving the stands for a final time. With only three finishers, it was a gruelling test and unedifying watch.
The performance of the day came from Hillcrest in the Grade 2 staying novice hurdle. Henry Daly's seven year old had won his first three races over timber before unseating his rider at Cheltenham's Trials meeting. Back to his best here, he went head to head with the in form Green Book from the outset but had seen off Venetia Willliams' runner by the time he turned for home. The fact he pulled away again after the second last to win by eight lengths speaks volumes about the ability the Stowaway gelding possesses. High-class English trained novice hurdlers are fairly thin on the ground this season but Hillcrest certainly fits that bracket. He will take some stopping in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham next month, if in the same form.
Porticello completed his preparation for the Festival with another strong staying performance in the Victor Ludorum Hurdle. Gary Moore's four year old was fully entitled to win having taken the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas and Joshua Moore kept it simple aboard the ex-French gelding. The son of Sholokhov has really got his jumping together and he galloped on strongly from the second last to cross the line eight lengths in front. Ease in the ground is seemingly important to him and, granted such conditions at Cheltenham, he don't disgrace himself in the Triumph Hurdle. He won't have the pace of Pied Piper or Vauban but the New course at Prestbury Park places an emphasis on stamina.
Finally, Albertas Run (2008) and O'Faolains Boy (2014) were the last two horses to complete the Grade 2 Reyoldstown Novices' Chase and Brown Advisory Novices' Chase double and, if the trend continues, it is going to be a long time until the next one. With the greatest respect to the six horses who lined up in the former event at Ascot on Saturday, the 2022 version was ordinary to say the least. Rated between 136 and 147, is there any wonder why the British based horses can't compete with their Irish counterparts at the moment. The race is too close to the Cheltenham Festival and, unless it is switched in the calendar, the race will lose its credibility. When someone like Paul Nicholls swerves it because of its timing in relation to the Festival, what chance have we got?
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