In the latest edition of Road to Cheltenham, the Follow The Money team assess the weekend runs of some potential Festival performers and look ahead to the first meeting of the National Hunt season at Prestbury Park...
"Gordon Elliott's Samcro was also a notable runner on Thursday's card at Punchestown, cruising to a 15-length victory to break his maiden over hurdles at the first time of asking. This has been reflective in his prices over a couple of the antepost markets, most noticeably The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (previously the Neptunes) where he can be found confidently at the top of the market at 6.611/2."
Market not keen on The New One despite Ffos Las win
The conditions at Ffos Las for Welsh Champion hurdle day were desperate, but there were plenty of star performances to lift the spirits, including from The New One, who won the headline race in typically gritty fashion, beating Clyne by three-quarters of a length.
While winning a handicap from a mark of 160 strongly suggests that he can still compete at the highest level, The New One's Champion Hurdle odds remain a dismissive 240.0239/1, although that is from a high of 590.0589/1.
Interestingly, the nine-year-old has also drifted in recent times for the Stayers Hurdle, which is surely going to be his Festival target this year. Having been backed at a low of 36.035/1, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained horse has traded around the 65.064/1 mark since Saturday's win.
Earlier on the card, Thistlecrack's half-brother West Approach made a fine start to his fencing career. A 157-rated hurdler, there was always a strong possibility that he would develop into a better chaser, despite a disappointing back-end to last season.
He jumped more than adequately at Ffos Las, and put some decent sorts like Brelan D'As and Tobefair in their place. Bigger targets will surely be on the agenda soon, and he has been introduced at 38.037/1 on the Exchange for the RSA at the Festival.
Opening Cheltenham meeting of the season could provide clues
This weekend sees the flat season come to an end with its final Group 1 taking place in the Racing post Trophy at Doncaster, while at the same time jump racing moves up a gear with Cheltenham hosting its first meeting of the season.
The feature on Friday's card could very well be the two-mile novices chase, a traditional stepping stone towards the Arkle, where a clash between last season's Kingwell hurdle winner Sceau Royal and the well regarded Movewiththetimes looks on the cards.
With Petit Mouchoir cementing his position as an 8.07/1 rated Arkle favourite after a facile victory at Punchestown on Wednesday it is up to the English contingent to show us what they have an offer in these early months.
Elliott starts in fine style
Gordon Elliott's Samcro was also a notable runner on Thursday's card at Punchestown, cruising to a 15-length victory to break his maiden over hurdles at the first time of asking. This has been reflective in his prices over a couple of the antepost markets, most noticeably The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (previously the Neptunes) where he can be found confidently at the top of the market at 6.611/2.
Another Elliott runner, Death Duty, also stamped some authority at Punchestown, landing his short odds and looking confident over fences where he'll surely lay down his true credentials in the future. He can be found currently near the top of the RSA market at 14.5.
On Saturday's card, the highlight will undoubtedly be last season's star Juvenile hurdler Defi Du Seuil (pictured above) who puts his Champion Hurdle credentials on the line in the Masterson's Hurdle. A winner of all seven races thus far culminating in victories at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals, this four-year-old could go right to the top of the hurdling sphere.