Thick fog meant we didn't get to see as much of the racing as we would have liked on Saturday, but there were still some eyecatchers with the 2017 Cheltenham Festival firmly in mind...
"Sent off at odds of [2.20] he tracked the leaders and pulled clear in the final furlong to win by a cosy four and half lengths from Lil Rockerfeller. The market for Cheltenham reacted to this performance by making him the [3.5] clear favourite from [5.3]."
We begin this week's Road To Cheltenham column with the imperious performance of Unowhatimeanharry, who in the hands of Barry Geraghty and in the midst of the thick fog at Ascot won the JLT Long walk Hurdle in a canter.
This improving eight-year-old has won his last seven races and looks destined to be primed for the World Hurdle at Prestbury Park. Sent off at odds of [2.20] he tracked the leaders and pulled clear in the final furlong to win by a cosy four and half lengths from Lil Rockerfeller. The market for Cheltenham reacted to this performance by making him the [3.5] clear favourite from [5.3].
Snapped up by shrewd owner JP McManus in the summer the plan is coming together nicely and Unowhatimeanharry will hope to emulate Long Walk winners Baracouda, Big Buck's and Thistlecrack by winning Cheltenham's staying hurdle championship in the same season.
On the same card and in the same dense fog Brain Power showed his credentials by winning the Grade 3 Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot. Carrying a hefty 11st 11lb he was simply far too superior to his rivals under the Grand National winning jockey David Mullins. This was Mullins second ride on Brain Power and said "He's grown up and matured a lot". Trainer Nicky Henderson who is no stranger to the winners enclosure added "Under that weight, and to get there travelling that well, It's a very high class performance".
The road looks bright for this lightly raced gelding and the markets took that opinion by entering him into the Champion Hurdle reckoning at odds of [23.0]. If he keeps improving at this rate that price might well represent value come March.
Across the sea, Fairyhouse served up a cracking day's racing with the return of Yorkhill over fences being the main attraction. Despite disappointing on his final start of the campaign at Punchestown, he was unsurprisingly a warm order for his first foray over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase, and those who took the prohibitive odds of [1.12] will have had few concerns for the duration of the two mile contest.
Ruby Walsh kept things simple aboard the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old and allowed him to stride on at the head of the affairs after the third fence. Mullins said, "He has huge scope for jumping and certainly has not lost any of his ability", before going on to say, "Christmas will probably come a bit soon for his next run. He could stay at two miles or go up in trip depending where his next race fits in".
This tells us Mullins will take the best possible option available for Yorkhill to end up fit and prime for Cheltenham. The markets responded to this display with a little bit of money for him in the JLT Novice Chase meaning he now trades at [5.1].
We stay this side of the water and head to Navan for their Sunday card. The performance of Death Duty was very impressive when a strong field lined up against him. The five-year-old completed the hat-trick with a stylish display in the Grade Two contest. Death Duty cruised alongside Monalee at the second-last flight and Bryan Cooper kept him up to his work to win by three and three-quarter lengths.
His trainer Gordon Elliot, who is in flying form said, "He's done it well and we like him a lot". He also stated, "He will go for the Grade One (Lawlors Hotel) novice hurdle at Naas (January 8). He looks an Albert Bartlett type". His owner Micheal O'Leary loves Cheltenham and Death Duty is sure to be one of the leading fancies for the Albert Bartlett. The markets reacted to this display making him [4.5] having been as big as [7.2] last week.
Cheltenham Festival Movers
Unowhatimeanharry in the World Hurdle [5.3] into [3.5]
Brain Power introduced in the Champion Hurdle at [23.0]
Yorkhill in the JLT Novice Chase at [5.1]
Death Duty in the Albert Bartlett [7.2] into [4.5]