There were a number of notable performances in defeat at the Cheltenham Festival last week, I’m sure I’ll fail to mention many a future winner such is the depth and quality at the meeting, but here are 10 horses I’ll be taking away from the four days for the time being...
BALLYANDY (4th in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
From being hampered after the second flight, to not jumping or travelling with any fluency, it is a wonder that Ballyandy was still in there pitching at the business end of this race, finishing ahead of several very smart novices despite everything going wrong for him. Whatever about plans for next season, I just want him on my side at Aintree if he's a tempting price, which I daresay he may be depending on which horses turn up.
GO CONQUER (5th in the Ultima Handicap Chase)
Jonjo O'Neill’s 8yo jumped and travelled around here really well considering it was his first visit to Prestbury Park and connections can take huge encouragement from that fact, made even more impressive when you look at the list as long as your arm of experienced and quality Cheltenham specialists that finished behind and just in front of him. Who knows where he’ll end up next, but he’s a horse I’m keen to keep in view on the back of this solid 5th place effort in such a competitive race.
GOLD PRESENT (2nd in the Close Brothers Novices ‘Handicap Chase)
One of the best looking horses in training, I thought he was a certainty for this race after his 2nd to Frodon last time out and he almost pulled it off. He was squeezed up a bit as the race began to heat up and I’d like to have seen the jockey make a move a little bit sooner given how well he was travelling and jumping. In any case, Gold Present has masses of ability and I’ll be watching where he goes from here with a hawk eye. He’s a good horse.
BURBANK (4th in the Neptune)
This 50/1 shot was doing his best work up the Cheltenham hill and had a lot of very good novices in behind, who travelled well into the race and had things to suit, but couldn’t live with Burbank’s late surge in the closing stages. He lost position a couple of times during the race but jumped for fun and despite being outpaced where it mattered, this 5yo comes out of the race with a lot of credit. He’s crying out for further and will make a smasher chaser.
JURY DUTY (3rd in the Pertemps Final)
A really good jumper, Jury Duty travelled all over this field for the majority of the race, before finding a couple with too much pace in the closing stages. With the ability to jump and travel so comfortably in a competitive, highly charged field like this, Gordon Elliott’s 6yo has the scope to make up into really useful chaser and I’ll be fascinated to see how he progresses from here.
VERDANA BLUE (4th in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle)
Tipped her up in the column and she ran her heart out here, despite not hanging on for the each way returns. Looking back, this was a hell of an effort for such a pacy mare; to handle the undulations of Cheltenham so well on her first visit, she looked the winner coming over the last before being outstayed up the hill. Verdana Blue is a talented girl and whatever road she goes down now, there’s good races to be won with her for sure.
POTTERS LEGEND (4th in the Kim Muir)
How he stuck to the task after making several momentum crushing mistakes, where so many others would’ve wilted, was a sight to see, he found loads for pressure up the hill and Lucy Wadham’s inmate can be considered an unlucky loser here. I don’t know what the plan is for the horse, but he’s enjoying a really promising first season over fences and if he got into something like the Hennessy in November, he’d surely make his presence felt. Keep an eye on him.
EX PATRIOT (4th in the Triumph Hurdle)
A really good looking 4yo who got loose before the start of this race, but consented to travel and jump like a boss for the majority of it, before finding the first 3 a little too hot to handle up the hill. I don’t know a great deal about his trainer Ellmarie Holden, but she has a really fun horse on her hands here and I can see him really taking to Aintree next month if the ground remains decent. You can be sure that connections will be eyeing up that flat mark of 78 he has too. He’s one to keep a close eye on for the remainder of 2017.
SAPHIR DU RHEU (5th in the Gold Cup)
This was a lot more like it from Saphir Du Rheu, who we put up in the den at 66/1 in the hope he’d warm to the task and sneak a place. Ultimately he was lacking for stamina in the final couple of furlongs so that idea didn’t return anything, but he travelled and jumped with all of his old flare for the majority of the race which was very encouraging going forward. He could take this chance in the Grand National, I do have stamina concerns in that regard but on a mark of 156 it would be foolish to not have a go and Paul Nicholls is a master at reigniting horses who lose their way a bit (Tidal Bay one of the better examples). Following the horse isn’t without risks, but this was a lot more like it and on his day, he’s a huge talent.
THEVINAL (3rd in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual)
Could never land a blow on soft ground at Aintree last year, but certainly is one to take from this race with next month in mind, on the back of a superb effort at a track he’s never really been at his best. Good ground is key to Theinval, while the cheekpieces applied here definitely appeared to sharpen up the crispness of his jumping. He’s a really talented little horse, Tips Den followers will know he’s one I like and I will probably be backing him in whatever handicap he runs in at Aintree provided the ground is suitable. He was kept on the go a bit last summer, I’d love to see him have a go in a race at Galway.
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