What a weekend of wacing, dear weader, as Jonathon Woss might say. Yesterday and Saturday witnessed many of the top hopefuls for Cheltenham honours have their final prep runs, after a heavily interrupted programme in recent weeks.
Although there were numerous trials, there were only a handful of horses to catch my eye, and my notes are below:
KASBAH BLISS traveled brilliantly in a staying hurdle race at Haydock, and sauntered past them from the last. He was second to the retired / injured Inglis Drever last year in the World Hurdle, and there are no concerns about the ground. At a best priced 6/4, he's not exactly a steal, but he does look by far the most likely winner.
VOY POR USTEDES was equally imperious at Ascot, slamming his three rivals with aplomb. He was accurate at his fences, and also traveled over so comfortably. He's now likely to take in the Ryanair Chase, and again 9/4 (Coral) looks fair rather than a bargain.
ASHKAZAR won the Kingwell Hurdle down at Wincanton in workmanlike fashion. It's a good trial - having been won last year by the Champion Hurdler, Katchit - but this performance didn't suggest any of these have the beating of the key protagonists for the hurdling blue riband.
WHITEOAK was the one to take from the race. On her seasonal bow, she was entitled to need the run, but traveled exquisitely through the race. When asked to quicken, she responded well but found the winner a couple of lengths too good at the line. She'll definitely be fitter next time and, given that she won the Mares Hurdle last year, she looks well equipped to double up. 7/2 with Totesport looks generous to me. Worth an interest.
Over at Leopardstown, COOLDINE appeared to outstay FORPADYDEPLASTERER in the novices' chase. But for me, Pady should have won, and looks like he needs producing right on the line. He came to take it up at the last, but just seemed to doss in front. Two strides past the line and his ears were pricked again. I reckon he might run a big race in the RSA Chase, and Ladbrokes quote of 25/1 is too big in my opinion.
Finally, NEPTUNE COLLONGES may have won the Hennessey yesterday, but he again did what I suspect he'll do at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup. He oozed class until about two furlongs out, and then went from comfy to desperate in a matter of strides. He was all out to hold the improving Notre Pere off level weights, but that horse is 25/1 for the Gold Cup, so 6/1 about Neptune is a joke price in my opinion. For me, and the usual risk of egg on face applies, this horse CANNOT win the Gold Cup. I will be seriously tempted to lay him if he's around 6's on the day.
Talking of Cheltenham, if you haven't been over to www.FestivalTrends.co.uk to download the sample race yet, you seriously should. It's free - just tell Gavin where to send it, and he'll pop it in the e-post for you. The race is the Triumph Hurdle, and the content is top notch. Go check it out!
There's still time for you to cast your votes in the Geegeez February survey. Seven questions to help me shape the site more to your tastes, and it will take no more than 4 minutes and 32 seconds. Roughly...
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Finally, I had a foxy Valentine's Day surprise this weekend... in the shape of a curled up ball of vulpine loveliness... yes, a brazen fox decided to have a quick spot of shuteye in my back garden. I wanted to check he was ok, as this is strange behaviour for what are normally very timid animals, so I tapped my kitchen window. He looked up, clocked me, and scarpered. He was a beaut though!