David Cleary's Cheltenham Countdown: Blue lands Elite

Arkle Chase favourite Kalashnikov
Kalashnikov - looking to go one better at Cheltenham next March
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David Cleary has loads to reflect on over the last seven days, while our Market Ops teams update the big antepost betting news...

"Lostintranslation is perhaps even more interesting with spring targets in mind. He has the physique to make a significantly better chaser than hurdler and his stamina is totally untapped, having spent most of his novice hurdling campaign last season at two miles."

Verdana enhances Greatwood claims

It's amazing what a difference a little drop of rain can make. With a general easing in the ground, there was some of the most competitive racing of the autumn over the last seven days, with pride of place going to Wincanton on Saturday, where the card featured the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle.

The Elite, back as a conditions event after a spell as a limited handicap, attracted a competitive field of seven, though the penalised Verdana Blue (pictured below) ran out a ready winner. She had a speed test that suited her better than some others, a good pace to run off of and the advantage of a recent run, so it's best not to get too carried away with her Champion Hurdle claims, though a victory under a penalty in the Greatwood at Cheltenham on Sunday would require some revision of that view.

Verdana Blue 1280.jpg

Cap Fits for Christmas

Connections of the vanquished runners can reasonably draw positives from the race as well: runner-up If The Cap Fits, off since last Boxing day, made a highly encouraging return, his rider soon accepting things once the winner asserted after the last. If The Cap Fits was favoured by the race conditions, but there is likely to be more to come, given his lightly-raced profile, and a bold showing in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton next month could well be on the cards.

Verdana Blue's stable companion We Have A Dream was sent off favourite on his first start since landing the two-mile one-furlong Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree, but he found shorter than two miles on good ground just too much of a speed test. He is worth another chance at this level. Fellow four-year-old Redicean also found this too sharp, though the competition was a bit beyond him too. The same is true of Smaoineamh Alainn, though she gave a good account of herself for a long way and remains of interest at the right level.

Groove stars

Earlier on the Wincanton card, Bags Groove made the most of his chasing experience to defeat market rival Secret Investor in the Rising Stars Novices' Chase in impressive fashion. This was more about style than substance, but Bags Groove has clearly taken very well to his new discipline and a step up to Grade 1 surely awaits - the Kauto Star at Kempton looks an obvious stepping stone, with three miles likely to be no problem at all on pedigree.

Lostintranslation overlooked for RSA?

There was a multitude of riches on the novice chase scene over the week as a whole, with Kalashnikov's romp at Warwick and the clash of La Bague Au Roi and Lostintranslation at Newbury topping the bill. Kalashnikov (pictured below) looks as if he has the attributes required to make an even better chaser than a hurdler, though whether he should be such a strong favourite for the Arkle, at this early stage, is debatable.

Kalashnikov yellow 1280.jpg

What is surprising, is that there weren't similar positive moves in the ante-post markets for La Bague Au Roi and Lostintranslation after they had come readily clear of their rivals at Newbury. The pair were of a similar standard to Kalashnikov as hurdlers and are every bit as likely to build on what were for both assured chasing debuts. La Bague Au Roi is a bigger price than she should be on ability for the RSA, though her record at Cheltenham, on limited evidence, is a concern.

Lostintranslation is perhaps even more interesting with spring targets in mind. He has the physique to make a significantly better chaser than hurdler and his stamina is totally untapped, having spent most of his novice hurdling campaign last season at two miles. His stable also houses the Spa Hurdle winner Kilbricken Storm, who made a winning start over fences at Ffos Las on Sunday, though he wasn't exactly convincing and it may be Lostintranslation will emerge the more serious RSA candidate of the pair.

Patrick to turn tables on Escape

The Future Stars at Sandown on Sunday featured a quartet with an entry in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury at the start of next month. Elegant Escape got on top after the last, though the runner-up Thomas Patrick is the more likely to collect at Newbury - he is a much more assured jumper and has proven himself in a big-field handicap. The favourite Terrefort wasn't himself, which detracts from the value of the form; he jumped indifferently and reportedly returned sore behind.

There was also a clash of second-season chasers at Naas at the weekend, with Saint Calvados gaining revenge for his Arkle Chase defeat by Footpad, who looked held when he came down at the last, having also blundered at the third. In truth, neither looked exactly at the top of their game, Saint Calvados not so carefree in front as previously and jumping with less dash as a result, though tactically his rider Gavin Sheehan got things spot on. The Tingle Creek beckons for the winner, while Footpad suffered an overreach.

Update

Casablanca Mix was collared late on in a listed mares chase at Market Rasen, seeming stretched by the step up to three miles - she's not one to give up on. Ready And Able fell two out in the Pertemps qualifier at Newbury, in his bid to follow up his Aintree win, though he was taking time to make much impression when he went.

Prime Venture was beaten a fair way behind Kilbricken Storm at Ffos Las on his second chasing start, though jumped and travelled encouragingly for much of the way under a very patient ride, again spared a hard race - he is definitely still of interest. Mister Whitaker remains on course for the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.

All the latest Cheltenham Exchange market movers...

Last season’s Arkle hero Footpad didn’t get his season off to a great start when falling at the last when looking beat at Naas on Saturday. Layers have pushed him out to [6.2] from [4.5] in the Champion Chase market with Saint Calvados moving in from [50.0] to [17.5] after his strong front running display in the same race.

On the back of this Altior strengthened his position at the head of the market at [2.38].

Arkle favourite Kalashnikov cemented his position at the top of the market moving from [9.0] into [6.8] after an impressive round of jumping on chase debut at Warwick.

She’s Back! Apple’s Jade returned to the winners enclosure at Navan on Sunday with a strong front running performance against very solid competition. She’s moved from [6.0] in to [4.2] in the Mares Hurdle on the back of this.

Finally a poor jumping performance at Sandown on Sunday from Terefort has made him easy to back in the Ryanair [44.0] and Gold Cup [65.0].

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