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Weekend Pointers – Cheltenham Champs from the Aintree also-rans

Decent meetings take place at Warwick, Punchestown, Kempton and Wetherby at the weekend. And there’ll likely be plenty of spring festival pointers, with numerous talented individuals being put through their paces.

One For Arthur was successful at Warwick a year ago, prior to his glorious trip to Aintree and victory in the Grand National. Willoughby Court was also a winner on the card, and went on to take the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

For today’s piece, I thought I’d seek out the potential ‘Cheltenham Champ’ from the ‘Aintree also-rans’.

Warwick’s most prestigious meeting is a good starting point. The Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle looks a tasty renewal, and often produces a top-class winner. Inglis Drever, The New One and Willoughby Court, are all notable names on the roll of honour. Nicky Henderson’s Mr Whipped heads the market having defeated a fair yardstick in Gowiththeflow at Newbury last time. The son of Beneficial looked to be idling in front that day, and was probably good for a wider winning margin. Clearly talented, it’s impossible to say just how good he is, but he looks a leading contender for this.

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Chooseyourweapon may head here, though his trainer Evan Williams has stated a quiet campaign was likely for this son of Flemensfirth. He also has a victory over Gowiththeflow to his name, though he only just got the nod at Chepstow. He’s a raw looking chaser in the making, but is without doubt talented, and I’d fancy him capable of going well on Saturday if taking his chance.

Tikkanbar is the other in the field that looks to have a huge amount of talent. Though lightly raced, this fella is already a seven-year-old, and as such may have a limited amount of improvement in the locker. Nevertheless, his jumping is certainly open to further development, as he won well at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day despite a patchy performance at his obstacles. Testing ground holds no fears, though the proximity of his last run is a slight concern. He looked useful at Prestbury Park.

Kempton’s opener looks a decent juvenile hurdle, assuming the main protagonists arrive. Gumball looked an exciting French recruit for Philip Hobbs, but was thrashed by Apple’s Shakira last time at Cheltenham. The yard was just entering a huge dip in form, and it’s possible that this youngster is a fair bit better than his last run suggests. Nevertheless, he’ll be giving plenty of weight all-round, and this may not be his day. I’d still see him as a horse to follow in the spring.

Alan King’s Redicean would likely go off a short-priced favourite, but his trainer may well send him to Huntingdon on Friday. He was impressive on hurdling debut at Kempton over Christmas, and is as short as 14s for the Triumph Hurdle in March. King has had numerous classy juveniles over the years, and this could be another.

Also of interest in the field is the Warren Greatrex-trained Aardwolf. A decent performer on the flat for Mark Johnston, he was last seen in a handicap at Pontefract in October. It was soft ground that day, and though he wouldn’t want it too testing, he should cope with conditions at Kempton. He could be a useful recruit to the jumping game. We’ll know more on Saturday.

Chef Des Obeaux is the eye-catching entrant in the three-mile novice hurdle. Henderson’s youngster, by Saddler Maker, will look to build on his Uttoxeter success, and is a horse full of potential. Team Seven Barrows have so much talent at their disposal, but this fella looks a nice one. A strong performance here, would set him up for a crack at the Cheltenham Festival.

Waiting Patiently is set to return to action at Kempton, but will have his work cut-out to protect that unblemished record over fences. Soft ground is essential for this Flemensfirth offspring, and he’ll need a personal best to defeat the likes of Josses Hill, Smad Place and God’s Own.

I’d also expect a huge run in the Lanzarote Hurdle from Nicky Henderson’s Diese Des Bieffes. This young hurdler was beaten by If The Cap Fits last time at Kempton, but this step-up in trip looks sure to suit. Inexperience in such handicaps is always a slight concern, but his mark of 135 could prove a gift.

At Punchestown the showpiece event is the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle. The Willie Mullins-trained Getabird is the youngster with star-appeal, and though Mengli Khan had looked useful prior to his Leopardstown mishap, I fancy the Mullins/Ricci contender will enhance his reputation as a top-class novice. He’s currently available at 16s for the Supreme in March. That certainly looks a tempting price.

Henderson Holds The Aces

Though tough viewing for Jess Harrington and Willie Mullins, it would have been far more palatable for Nicky Henderson, as Sizing John and Yorkhill failed to land a blow in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

Road To Respect led home a trio of Gigginstown runners, causing something of an upset in the process. Harrington’s Gold Cup winner had been sent off a short-priced favourite, but he never looked comfortable, jumping erratically before fading for a seventh-place finish. Distressed post-race, he’ll have tests to see if an explanation can be found, and hopefully will return to his best later in the season.

Yorkhill refused to settle, pulling his way to the front, and had little chance of lasting home. He’ll be dropped back in trip, though Mullins clearly has some thinking to do before choosing future targets.

As for Road To Respect, he continues on an upward curve that now sees him third best in the betting for Cheltenham’s Blue Riband. A Festival winner in March, he’s a realistic contender, and only a fool would dismiss him out-of-hand.

But it’s Henderson that would have been the most satisfied of all onlookers, and his King George winner, Might Bite, now stands alone as favourite for the Gold Cup in March. The team at Seven Barrows are going through a purple patch, and Henderson has plenty of firepower at his disposal. He now has the favourite for the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase. But along with those established performers he also has a battalion of talented youngsters waiting to make their mark at the highest level.

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Many have already displayed their potential, and look capable of playing a major part in the spring festivals.

On The Blind Side is currently third in the market for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, having impressed at Sandown earlier in the month. He has an attractive pedigree, being by Stowaway out of a Supreme Leader mare, and has already won at Cheltenham. Out with a slight injury at present, he should be back in time for a prep-run, before heading to Prestbury Park. Though Samcro looks likely to oppose come March, this fella looks the real deal and will prove a match for anyone.

Claimantakinforgan is another talented young hurdler who is two from two this term, having been a leading bumper performer during the last campaign. He’s not flashy but he gets the job done. He took the Grade Two Supreme Trial at Ascot last week, staying on well from the last flight. Cheltenham’s stiff finish should suit.

Henderson often sends his most talented newcomers to Newbury, and at the beginning of December he had the first and second home in a 2m4f novices’ hurdle. Santini and Chef Des Obeaux looked hugely promising with the former slightly more accurate over the obstacles. He’s a big scopey sort, that should make into a nice chaser in time. He’s set to run at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, and may well have the ability to become a Ballymore contender.

Chef Des Obeaux followed the Newbury run with a victory at Uttoxeter last week. He’s another from the Saddler Maker production line (Apple’s Jade), and as such could have plenty more to offer.

Pacific De Baune is another that showcased his talent at Newbury. Runner-up in an Irish point, he’d strengthened up over the summer, and romped to a seven-length success from Alan King’s Potterman. It took a while for the grey to get going, but when the penny finally dropped he powered clear of the field. He’s another Henderson youngster with tons of potential.

And talking of youngsters, the yard, as ever, has a talented bunch of juveniles likely to take high order with the Triumph Hurdle as a major target.

Apple’s Shakira (another Saddler Maker) has looked a potential star in her two victories at Cheltenham. She’s currently favourite for the Triumph in March, and few would argue that she deserves her place at the head of the market. But Henderson has other leading hopes, not least We Have A Dream.

Owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, this French import was sensational last time at Doncaster. The gelding has won both his UK starts by 10 lengths, doing his best work at the end of the races. He looks a very exciting prospect.

Henderson also has Style De Garde amongst his ranks. This French recruit finished ahead of We Have A Dream in France, and is owned by the Highclere Thoroughbred team. Yet another Newbury winner, he thrashed a field of 12 under a penalty. He’s a Kapgarde gelding, and yet another with a bright future.

It seems crazy to say it, especially after such a dominant campaign last season, but this could prove to be Henderson’s most powerful team ever assembled. That may sound somewhat fanciful, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such depth of talent at Seven Barrows.