The Road to Cheltenham: More Festival clues from the weekend

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It was a relatively low key weekend of racing in England and Ireland but there were still some big-name disappointments as well as more horses emerging as Cheltenham contenders. The Follow They Money team have the details...


"Paul Nicholls was philosophical afterwards but it was clear he expected to see a bit more from Dodging Bullets and with time running out to regain form he unsurprisingly weakened in the Champion Chase betting while hot favourite Un De Sceaux firmed up slightly for the 2m crown."

As the Festival looms ever closer a number of performers advertised their claims for festival glory this week. The main betting event was the £155,000 Betfair Handicap Hurdle, which went the way of Nick Williams' Agrapart but the winner does not hold any Cheltenham entries so perhaps of more significance on Saturday's Newbury card was the 2 mile Betfair Exchange Chase which marked the return to the track of reigning Queen Mother Champion Dodging Bullets after a year on the side lines.

However all the money beforehand was for Kerry Lee's Top Gamble and he lived up to his name by storming clear of his more decorated rival up the straight for a resounding 10 length victory.

Paul Nicholls was philosophical afterwards but it was clear he expected to see a bit more from Dodging Bullets and with time running out to regain form he unsurprisingly weakened in the Champion Chase betting while hot favourite Un De Sceaux firmed up slightly for the 2m crown.

Top Gamble was clipped for the Ryanair but connections have made no secret of their preference for Punchestown over Cheltenham so he rates a very doubtful runner at this stage.


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Elsewhere on the card Out Sam threw his hat into the ring for the RSA Chase with a strong showing in the 3m Novice Chase, Warren Greatrex's stayer is improving all the time and shapes as lively outsider for the festival.


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The closing bumper usually throws up a good one and Ballyandy undoubtedly fits that bill after a smooth 9 length success. The way he travelled suggests he is capable of mixing it with the best around in the Cheltenham Bumper next month and he already has winning form to his name at Prestbury Park.


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There was a big upset at Warwick where leading Arkle contender L'Ami Serge was turned over at long odds-on by Gary Moore's Violet Dancer who landed the Betfair Hurdle on the same day 12 months previously.

The winner now enters Cheltenham calculations but Nicky Henderson's vanquished favourite has drifted out to dismissively long quotes for the 2 mile Novice Championship and may be more likely now to target the longer JLT Novice event in March after this humbling experience.


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There were also some pointers to be found in Ireland, not least Henry de Bromhead's Smashing who ploughed through the heavy ground to land the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park in some style. His jumping was sound and he quickened when asked so if able to reproduce the same level on a sounder surface then he could yet have a say in the Ryanair Chase and there was some ante-post interest in that direction following this dominant display.

Finally at Navan Snow Falcon ground his way to a narrow success in a depleted Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle, trainer Noel Meade confirmed afterwards that the World Hurdle was the plan with the step up to 3 miles expected to suit.


Notable Market Moves

Dodging Bullets 9.08/1 out to 13.012/1 for the Champion Chs
Out Sam 400.0399/1 in to 34.033/1 for the RSA Nov Chs
Ballyandy 30.029/1 into 12.011/1 for the Champion Bumper
L'Ami Serge 9.08/1 out to 24.023/1 for the Arkle Nov Chs
Smashing 40.039/1 into 14.013/1 for the Ryanair Chs
Snow Falcon 200.0199/1 in to 50.049/1 for the World Hrd


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