Racing was hit hard this week with the high profile tragic loss of Champion Hurdle hopeful Darlan as well as fatal injuries for Mujamead and Desert Vision. High profile stars such as Silviniaco Conti, Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs and My Tent Or Yours will hopefully put on a show this weekend to remind us all why we love this sport so much despite the tragedies that sometimes occur.
With top racecards from Newbury, Leopardstown and Warwick, racing fans are spoilt for choice as trainers hope to fine tune their festival hopefuls with just over a month to Cheltenham.
Newbury’s ‘Super Saturday’ is the perfect preparation for trainers on this side of the Irish Sea, and for punters; it answers a lot of questions as to what are serious festival players, and what simply aren’t.
The Irish however have their own preparations ongoing and the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown looks certain to be a classic.
Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs will lock heads for the third time this season in what looks to be a stunning Irish Hennessy and will also answer a lot of questions as to whether ‘round 4’ between these two stars will be in the Gold Cup.
Flemenstar’s convincing victory over Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan in December was nothing short of electrifying. The way he approached and took off at the fences with so much accuracy made the hairs on my back stick up and he never looked at one point like the race wasn’t his.
However we all know the class of Sir Des Champs and many thought he would come back in the Lexus Chase with questions over Flemenstar’s ability to stay the 3m trip.
It looked for the majority of the race like it was to be another sublime demolition for Flemenstar after gobbling up a number of fences in superb style.
He looked in full control coming to last fence but looked tired jumping it and the field began to draw him in up the running and was eventually beaten a close third by Tidal Bay but beat Sir Des Champs by a nose on the line in a pulsating finish.
However Sir Des Champs jumped very poorly that day again and he came on like a train at the end prompting many to think he can reverse the form at the third time of asking.
At 11/8 a piece for the Hennessy there is little to choose between them in the market and it will undoubtedly be close.
It comes down in my opinion to whether or not Flemenstar stays or not. If he stays the trip then it is hard to see anything but a victory as he jumps so well, if not then Sir Des Champs will be there to pounce.
The Betfair Hurdle is arguably the most open out of the many feature races tomorrow with Supreme Novice’s hopeful My Tent Or Yours leading the market at 9/2.
The promising Nicky Henderson trained 6-year-old has had a complicated season so far despite his two wins and a second from three runs.
His maiden victory over hurdles was an impressive one seeing off Taquin Du Seuil by 1½ lengths at Ascot, form which was boosted by Taquin Du Seuil’s Challow Hurdle victory. However his second run was less impressive when beaten 4½ lengths by Chatterbox over this course and distance at 4/11.
He did however return in superb style when beating Population by 7 lengths at Huntingdon last month and Henderson remains confident that he has got what it takes to be a player come the festival next month.
At 11-2 in the weights he has 10lbs in hand of top weight stablemate Petit Robin (11-12) and considering his form he is coming off a handy mark to strike.
Henderson has an army of contenders with Cash and Go, Punjabi, Lyvius and First In the Queue to add to My Tent Or Yours and Petit Robin so must have confidence of taking the race.
However, there is class all over this field of 23 including the likes of Cotton Mill and Swing Bowler both off handy marks, it is by no means a certainty that Henderson will be in that winners enclosure come 3.45.
Paul Nicholls leading charge comes in the form of Pearl Swan. The promising five-year-old had a topsy-turvy novice campaign last year which included a victory, a disqualification and a fall at the last at the festival.
That festival performance was one of the most peculiar races I have seen. Coming round the bend at the top of the hill Ruby Walsh was asking questions with the horse very much off the bridle and looked for all the world like he was to be pulled up. However he came charging from nowhere down the hill and had as much chance as any coming to last only to fall.
Off a mark of 10-13 he is poised to strike and at 9/1 with Ruby Walsh on his back, he is good value to do so.
Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls will also team up in the Denman Chase on Gold Cup fancy Silviniaco Conti. At odds of 4/6 he is a little more fancied than Pearl Swan in the Betfair Hurdle but still looks good value after his Betfair Chase romp in November.
Nicholls has deliberately held back his new Gold Cup hopeful so he is as fresh as possible come the festival, and this looks the ideal prep run. Despite carrying top weight he is still very much the one to beat boasting some tremendous form including defeating King George conqueror Long Run and Wierd Al.
Paul Nicholls will be cautious of the fact that Kauto Star once was beating in this race from top weight many years ago but it is by no means the same with Silviniaco Conti giving away weight to only 4 of the 8 declared runners with Menorah, Master Of The Hall and Weird Al all going off that 11-10 mark.
Nicholls was quoted as saying he would not swap Conti for any other of the Gold Cup contenders so it would seem like it should be procession for him this weekend.