Frodon for Grade 1 success?
Performance of the week came from Frodon, whose victory in the Old Roan at Aintree was testament both to the confidence and judgement of his rider Bryony Frost and to the skills of his trainer Paul Nicholls. The rider always looked to have matters in hand, even though being pressed in the straight, while Nicholls has placed the horse superbly - the Old Roan is one of the less strongly-contested races at this level and it gave Frodon an eighth win from 19 starts over fences.
Whether Frodon, who was well held in last season's Ryanair, can bridge the gap to Grade 1 level this time round remains to be seen, however.
Willing to follow Ready And Able
In terms of strength of form, the staying handicap hurdle was the deepest race on the card, with the pair that came clear, Ready And Able and Settimo Milanese, looking well ahead of their marks.
Ready And Able, in particular, is set to go places this season; he looked well suited by the step up in trip as he completed a handicap hat-trick and although he faces quite a hike in the weights, he looks to have plenty more to give. Before his new mark kicks in, connections might be tempted to run Ready And Able in the Pertemps qualifier at Newbury next Thursday. His wins have all come on good ground, though whether that is crucial or coincidence is a question as yet unanswered.
Fitness at a premium
The Showcase meeting at Cheltenham was well subscribed, with the good ground a big draw, though persistent rain on Saturday meant conditions were heading towards soft by the end of the card. As such, fitness was at a premium and reduced the competition somewhat.
The race-fit Pearl of The West was ridden to make sure the four-year-old hurdle was a proper test and that found out the favourite Gumball, who remains with a rather patchy profile. Pearl of The West herself was spoken of as a Mares Hurdle candidate afterwards, but she had a lot in her favour here and needs to improve further.
The runner-up Redicean may be of more interest, even though he won't be easy to place. He had an 8-lb penalty and ran right up to his best in splitting two rivals with the benefit of recent outings. Redicean failed to fire in the Triumph but this suggested he can go forward again this winter.
Make Waves a banker next time
The card closed with a good-quality bumper, in which the first three marked themselves down as useful jumping prospects. The third Breaking Waves needs marking up, as he went round the poached inside, while the first two were taken widest of all. Breaking Waves was the clear pick on looks beforehand and his debut form has worked out well, so more races look sure to come his way.
Keep faith with Sebastapol
The most interesting race for the future on Friday was the maiden hurdle, which featured a good mix of horses with decent form over hurdles already and promising recruits from bumpers. It was run in a good time and looks sure to throw up winners, with the hurdling debutants Thomas Darby and Sebastopol looking especially interesting.
Thomas Darby did really well to win the race after doing a lot wrong - failing to settle, jumping somewhat less than fluently and hanging right under pressure - with a good turn of foot enabling him to win with a fair bit in hand. He had looked green in winning his bumper and it's to be hoped it is just inexperience, rather than anything worse, that is the issue at present. If he matures with racing, he can go to a high level.
Sebastopol was arguably a shade disappointing, given how good he had looked in winning a competitive bumper on his debut, but he perhaps wants more of a test of stamina and he showed signs of inexperience. The run won't be lost on him and he could improve quite a lot with this under his belt.
Profit from Christmas
The handicap hurdle won by First Assignment is another race likely to throw up a winner or two. Mr Antolini shaped well on his first start since the spring, going for a long way as if still on a good mark, despite having climbed a long way up the handicap last winter.
Christmas In April couldn't justify strong support on his first start for Colin Tizzard, but he too shaped well after a break. He's not had much racing for his age and this effort suggests his new connections will get a return on their investment before long.
Mellow Ben is a third name to note from the race. He didn't look obviously well treated beforehand and didn't land a blow, but he travelled comfortably off the pace and was just left too far back as the race took shape. He's probably still on a decent mark and is qualified for lesser races.
Theclockisticking turned out for the Cheltenham Pertemps qualifier and ran creditably, without finding the improvement expected from Chepstow. He jumped really well but appeared flat out a long way from home, suggesting perhaps headgear is worth a try. Traffic Fluide has been given an entry in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday. Meanwhile, others with entries this weekend include Verdana Blue, in listed events at Ascot and Wetherby over hurdles on Saturday, and Whatmore who could drop back to two miles over hurdles at Ascot.