The Usual Suspects

L'Ami Serge

L'Ami Serge Supreme at Sandown

Another weekend passes and yet another Munir and Souede horse makes the headlines. L'Ami Serge made it three from three since arriving from France when winning the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Another emphatic victory has seen him leap to the head of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle market, alongside the Mullins-trained Douvan who is owned by the Ricci’s.

The horse now looks likely to go straight to the Cheltenham Festival, with trainer Nicky Henderson saying: "I don't like getting over enthusiastic but you have to like what you have seen there. That was a good performance to literally run away from them. We will go to the Supreme now. He knows his job, does everything right and he might be better going left-handed."

His jockey Barry Geraghty felt better ground will suit L'Ami Serge, and said: "He stepped up here. He found it a little bit hard work out there but I think that is only a reflection on his age. He is a lovely mover and an easy traveller and you'd imagine decent ground should suit him." The horse's breeding would certainly point to him appreciating a sounder surface being a son of King’s Theatre.

Sandown proved to be a great meeting for Highflyer Bloodstock purchases with further ‘big wins’ going to Aurore D’Estruval and Unioniste, in the 32Red.com Mares’ Hurdle and the concluding 32Red Casino Handicap Chase, respectively.

John Quinn’s mare gave plenty of weight and a beating to her rivals under Tony McCoy, having come into the race off a superb run in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle last month. She rates as one of the main dangers to Annie Power in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. McCoy seemed happy with his mount afterwards, relating: "She jumps and is a good little mare. She didn't mind the ground but has got plenty of class and would be happier on better ground."

Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old chaser Unioniste was heavily backed through the day and always travelled strongly through the race. Pulling away from the last, he won with plenty in hand. Noel Fehily was on board and said: "He did it very nicely. He ran a nice race in the Hennessy but belted too many fences. He probably needed a bit of a drop in grade but he jumped better today. It was hard work out there."

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The grey is expected to be aimed at the Grand National, though his trainer hinted that this year’s race may come a year too soon. His odds for the Aintree feature were nevertheless cut to as low as 20’s with several bookies.

At Wincanton, trainer Harry Fry was continued his current ‘hot streak’ with a double on the card. His gutsy mare Blue Buttons battled to victory in the Bathwick Tyres Poole Handicap Hurdle. But it was promising novice hurdler Fletchers Flyer that again caught the eye. He stayed on powerfully in the opening event, to make it two from three this winter. He certainly has the look of a chaser in time, but his form over hurdles is starting to stack up nicely, and the Albert Bartlett in March is a realistic target.

At Naas yesterday the highly touted Tell Us More met with defeat under rules for the first time. An ‘eye-popping’ £290,000 purchase by Gigginstown, the six-year-old travelled like the winner for much of the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle. But he failed to ‘pick-up’ from the last and was run out of it by fellow Gigginstown-owned McKinley.

Both horses are trained by Willie Mullins who after the race enthused: "I've said all along that McKinley was an improving horse but I didn't know he had improved that much. Paul (Townend) gave him a great ride today and the horse looked as if he will get a bit further. There are no hard and fast plans for him or Tell Us More, whose jumping was fantastic. I'd say McKinley's greater experience made the difference. We might drop Tell Us More back a bit in trip next time."

The result caused a shake-up in the betting for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in March with two more Mullins trained horses vying for top spot in the shape of Shaneshill and Douvan, both of whom have possible alternative Festival engagements.

So another weekend passes with a familiar looking narrative. Messrs Mullins, Nicholls and Henderson remain dominant at the highest level, whilst formidable owners Ricci and Gigginstown, along with the relatively new combination of Munir and Souede, continue to accrue the major prizes.

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