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.
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.