Former Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey Paddy Aspell runs the rule over last week's Cheltenham Festival trials, Clan Des Obeaux cementing his claims for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory.
What a relief that all racing in the UK received the green light to resume as planned on Wednesday last week, thanks mainly to Horse Racing Ireland.
Those Irish racing authorities allowed race meetings to continue, despite the sport been in lockdown UK wide. They then announced last weekend that entries would be accepted from British trainers to race over there, so in theory forced the hand of both the British Horseracing Authority and veterinary committee to let racing resume for horses who have had a flu vaccination in the last six months.
This has unfortunately seen many trainers caught short, as not all trainers vaccinate their string at the same point during the year. It meant many horses could not run as horses must have seven days off racing after having a vaccination.
We were still treated to some high quality racing though, with Ascot doing a great job in hosting rearranged races that were lost from the previous weekend, some very crucial Cheltenham Festival prep races amongst them.
Clan Des Obeaux was most impressive in taking the Denman Chase (Grade 2), rescheduled from Newbury the previous weekend to Ascot's mega, nine-race card.
This race has been a really good stepping stone for previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, trainer Paul Nicholls using it himself with great success down the years. His Gold Cup odds still represents value at 17/2 with new bookmaker Fansbet for the feature event on Cheltenham's final day.
The Betfair Hurdle (a Grade 3 handicap) gave us another chance to see Al Dancer in action and he didn't disappoint. Travelling keenly, but hurdling well, he gave weight and a beating to his rivals.
I really wouldn't like to see him over-raced like this in March, as I'm not sure he would be as strong to the line as he was on Saturday, but he remains unbeaten over hurdles and holds entries in the Supreme Novices' and Ballymore Novices' Hurdles.
We finally got to see Waiting Patiently again in the Ascot Chase (Grade 1), but the 11/8 favourite had to settle for second behind the bold-jumping, pace-setting Cyrname.
One of eight winners on the day for the Nicholls camp, he set some impressive fractions and never saw another rival, having 17 lengths to spare over his apparent 5lbs superior.
Unfortunately for Cheltenham fans his lack of form around left-handed tracks will probably see connections aim him for the Punchestown Gold Cup instead.
Thursday at Kelso, a horse that has been mentioned by many as a contender for this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, Definitly Red, was beaten in a match race at odds of 1/6!
His rival, Captain Redbeard is a high quality handicap chaser, but is rated well inferior to Brian Ellison's charge, so this was a disappointing effort, and one I’m sure his trainer will be asking questions of his Festival hope.
Friday's meeting at Sandown saw an exciting pair of novice chasers clash in the Kingmaker Novices' Chase (Grade 2). Although there was a 14lbs difference between Kalashnikov (152) and Glen Forsa (138) on official ratings, it was the latter who came out on top by a 19 lengths margin, after a very sure-footed round of jumping.
His Arkle Novices' Chase odds were shortened right in to 5/1 by William Hill. Although he does still hold a JLT Novices' Chase entry, connections are quoted as saying that the Arkle is 'favourite at the moment'.
Also on Sandown's card was was the Grade 2 Jane Seymour Mares' Novices' Hurdle, a gruelling event that was won by a rapidly improving mare in the Stuart Edmunds-trained Queenohearts.
This mare won a Listed bumper on the same course and is now 2-3 over hurdles. She will run in Cheltenham's Mares' Hurdle, and if underfoot conditions were soft or worse, she's a great value bet each-way at 40/1 with generous bookmakers Betway.
Lisnagar Oscar - Very strong staying effort winning the Grade 2 Prestige Novices' Hurdle at Haydock by 10 lengths. He's 20/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, which has seen many Prestige Novices' Hurdles runners do well.
Grand Sancy - This horse has been so well campaigned this season by trainer Paul Nicholls, and won his fourth race of the term at Wincanton, the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle. He is 25/1 with BetVictor for both the Supreme Novices' and Ballymore Novices' Hurdles and looks value for either.
Chris's Dream - There were only six runners in Navan's Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase, but this was a very likeable performance from the Henry de Bromhead-trained winner. He likes Navan, and obviously likes going left-handed, so is worth an interest if he turns up for either the RSA Chase or JLT Novices' Chase.
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