A Hennessy success followed by victory in the BetBright Cup has launched Many Clouds towards the top of the Gold Cup market, and confirmed his position as a serious contender to be crowned top staying chaser in March.
Sure he had conditions to suit on Saturday and it’s likely that the ground will be less testing at the festival, but in giving Smad Place 8lbs and a beating he proved that he is a horse on a steep upward curve. Slick over his fences, Leighton Aspell allowed him to bowl along in front for much of the race gradually increasing the tempo. Dynaste looked a major threat approaching the second last, but his run rather flattened out from then to the line.
Sherwood’s rugged bruiser of a horse simply devoured the infamous hill. It’s possible that he lacks gears, but one thing winners of jump racing’s blue riband must possess is the ability to charge up that hill. The Trainer knows he now has a live contender: “He was dossing a little bit on the run-in. He’s improved again and he had a harder race in the Hennessy than here.”
The first and second home will return for the Gold Cup at the festival. Smad Place could well improve for better ground and he has a terrific festival record. Dynaste however looks set to drop back in trip in an attempt to defend his Ryanair title. That looks a sensible move as his finishing kick is blunted over an extended trip.
Trials Day proved yet another great success with a record crowd in attendance. As always festival pointers were a plenty, and Paul Nicholls provided one of the impressive winners when Saphir Du Rheu outfought the warrior that is Reve De Sivola in the Cleeve Hurdle. Back over timber carrying those famous Stewart silks, he travelled like the best horse and showed his battling qualities when needed. This was his first crack at three miles, bar his tumble over fences at Kempton, and he passed the test with flying colours.
Tough as Reve De Sivola is, Nicholls’ fella will face a far sterner test in March. However, chances are he will improve again and his trainer appeared bullish after the race: “I can get him better than he is today. Better ground will suit and it puts him right in the mix for Cheltenham.” The switch to hurdles still appears temporary if his work at home is anything to go by. Reportedly a phenomenal jumper of fences at Ditcheat, should he win the World Hurdle connections will have a very difficult choice to make.
Back in third Un Temps Pour Tout ran a terrific race on his seasonal debut. Travelling strongly throughout, he jumped beautifully before appearing slightly one-paced late on. It could be that he got tired up the final hill and he’s likely to improve for the run, though conditions were very much in his favour on Saturday. He’s set to head for the World Hurdle and still looks a classy contender.
There were two outstanding performances at Leopardstown yesterday that have to be mentioned. I dared to doubt Un De Sceaux, and boy do I feel silly now. He put up a truly devastating performance when galloping Clarcam and Gilgamboa into the turf. Bryan Cooper must have thought he had half a chance when getting within a length at the second last, but Ruby simply let out an inch of rein and his horse scooted clear with the minimum of fuss. It had the look of Wile E Coyote trying to land a blow on Road Runner in those famous cartoons, ‘Beep Beep’.
The victory has surely served to confirm festival targets. There can be little doubt that Vautour will now be running in the JLT at Cheltenham, whilst those taking on Un De Sceaux in the Arkle could be left wondering which way he went.
It became yet another day to remember for Walsh when he steered Hurricane Fly to victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle for an incredible fifth time. In breaking Istabraq’s record ‘The Fly’ established himself as an all-time great. For a moment in the race it appeared that Jezki was going to get away from the Champion, but when asked for his effort Ruby received the usual response from his incredible ally. Upsides and seemingly on top, he drew a crucial error from McCoy’s mount at the last and the race was over.
With his price now cut to 9/1 for the Champion Hurdle, Walsh will leave one of the toughest decisions of his racing career right to the very last minute. Chances are that sentiment will play no part, but someone looks certain to pick up a sensational spare.
And so like Un De Sceaux at full tilt we gallop on relentlessly towards Jump Racing’s Shangri-La.