David Cleary's Cheltenham Notebook: Mullins' hurdlers catch the eye in quiet week

A couple of Willie Mullins' hurdlers caught David Cleary's eye at the weekend
A couple of Willie Mullins' hurdlers caught David Cleary's eye at the weekend

With Cheltenham getting ever closer, David Cleary highlights a few more horses that caught his eye with a view to being on his shortbook of possible wagers come Festival time...

"Lyrical Theatre, less experienced over hurdles, is very much going the right way and, although also by King's Theatre, has a stouter pedigree on the dam's side than Morning Run."

Although there was some good competitive racing over the weekend on both sides of the Irish Sea, the horses that made the headlines won't necessarily be going to Cheltenham, while a few that might have been under serious consideration fluffed their lines.

The Contenders Hurdle at Sandown provided a couple in the latter category, with the Triumph Hurdle second favourite Bristol de Mai failing to build on his win in the Finale, while Jollyallan got outbattled by the more hardened, smart but hardly top-class Garde La Victoire.

Jollyallan has abundant ability, and he looked able to overcome some sloppy jumping as he moved alongside the winner at the last, only to edge right and fail to pick up so well as the winner, faced with a slog to the line.

Jollyallan's trainer Harry Fry mentioned the ground as a possible reason for the defeat, and it may be that on less testing going, Jollyallan wouldn't have had to work so hard for victory; however, he still looks too much of a raw recruit to think he can get away with his current weaknesses in the Supreme, and it may well be that he won't show his very best until he goes over fences.

Bristol de Mai faced a different test against older rivals, compared to Chepstow, and came up short. In terms of his readiness and form for the Triumph, he clearly now has to rank firmly behind his owners' other leading candidate Peace And Co.

He wasn't the only Triumph entry seen at Sandown, as half an hour earlier, Pain Au Chocolat ran out a decisive victor in a farce of a race. That said, Pain Au Chocolat is progressive and looks the part, so could well be a live contender for Cheltenham.

On the face of it, the runner-up Old Guard was firmly put in his place, but he might also be of interest, come Festival time, with the Fred Winter in mind. Old Guard clearly didn't give his running in the Finale and he was much more on song here, doing well the way the race developed. He's raced so far only on soft or heavy going, but there's a good chance he will show to much better advantage away from the mud.

The Scilly Isles Novices' Chase was another Sandown contest in which a few reputations took a dent, with the mare Gitane du Berlais seeing off the favourite Irish Saint, his main market rival Champagne West turning in a poor round of jumping, but still in contention when he tipped up five out.

Gitane du Berlais has entries in all three Grade 1 novice chases at the Festival, as well as the Mares Hurdle, though it was reported on Monday that the mare might miss Cheltenham and go for a race at Aintree instead. Gitane du Berlais' jumping stood up better than her rivals, but it's hard to view the form that highly and it may be that missing the Festival would be a good idea.

The same could not be said for her stablemate Morning Run, another of Willie Mullins' eight entries for the Mares Hurdle. She extended her unbeaten run with a ready victory in the Grade 3 Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, racing enthusiastically and picking up well after the last. She might, though, have had more to do had another of the Mullins' octet Lyrical Theatre, not made a mess of the last two after cruising into contention.

Morning Run certainly wouldn't be out of place in either the Mares or the Supreme at Cheltenham. The Supreme makes some appeal, given she isn't certain to stay two and a half miles, but the Mares is surely the option, her form right up there with all bar Annie Power, and with more to come.

Lyrical Theatre, less experienced over hurdles, is very much going the right way and, although also by King's Theatre, has a stouter pedigree on the dam's side than Morning Run. Lyrical Theatre showed a rare level of form in bumpers and it's far from impossible that she can improve sufficiently to make an impact at Cheltenham, entered in all three novice events, as well as the Mares Hurdle.

To return to the Scilly Isles, it's a shame about Champagne West's jumping, because he has the ability to figure in top novice company if putting in a clear round. That much was confirmed by Ned Stark's win in the Towton at Wetherby, back on track in a lesser Grade 2 than the one at Cheltenham in which he'd been no match for Ptit Zig and Champagne West. Ned Stark is a likeable sort, but a handicap rather than a Grade 1 novice is probably the option with him at Cheltenham.

Finally, Hidden Cyclone did all that was required of him, in winning the Tied Cottage at Punchestown with something to spare. Given he has been placed in a Paddy Power and Ryanair on two previous visits to Cheltenham, he clearly can't be dismissed lightly, so far as his Champion Chase bid is concerned.

However, it will be a little disappointing if the level of form he's shown to date is good enough actually to win one of the four feature races at the Festival.

Notebook Shortlist:

Au Quart de Tour: Champion Bumper
Black Thunder/Tenor Nivernais: 3m handicap chase
Carole's Destrier: handicap chase at 2m4f+
Eastlake/Savello: Grand Annual
Gilgamboa: JLT (Golden Miller)
Grand Vision: Kim Muir
Jezki: Champion Hurdle
L'Ami Serge: Supreme Novices'
Many Clouds: Cheltenham Gold Cup
Morning Run/Lyrical Theatre: Mares Hurdle
Old Guard: Fred Winter
Stellar Notion: novice handicap chase
Thomas Brown: Albert Bartlett (Spa)
Top Wood/Southfield Royale (needs to qualify): Pertemps Final
War Sound: Baring Bingham/Spa

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