I was in attendance for Cheltenham Trials day. I had the Covid Christmas like so many others it was nice to be back on the racecourse. The card was a little disappointing, in reality, it actually exposed the UK cupboard in some divisions. Paisley Park claimed his third successive victory in the Cleeve Hurdle with an astonishing run that saw him almost left at the start. The Emma Lavelle-trained gelding won the staying feature in both 2019 and 2020 before his 2021 bid for a treble was scuppered due to waterlogging – and this latest tilt looked well and truly blighted, too, as he spun around and lost lengths on the field. Gradually eased back into it by Aidan Coleman, the 5-1 chance – winner of the Stayers' Hurdle in 2019 – jumped the last level with favourite Champ and powered up the hill to register a three-and-a-quarter-length success that had at one stage looked an impossibility. Nicky Henderson’s Champ was the eventual runner-up, with Rebecca Curtis’ Lisnagar Oscar third.
Aidan Coleman said afterwards "He’s tried that a few times, he has that in him – I was waiting for him and he still did it. I thought I was doing enough, but he’s just probably getting a bit older and a bit wiser," Coleman said of Paisley Park’s start."He’s a very good horse, people have been writing him off this year. This is really special, the longevity of this horse is just a testament to his ability and his character. This is his track, I know he’s won two Long Walks at Ascot, but he’s won three Cleeves now and a Stayers’.
It was a remarkable effort from Paisley Park considering the ground he gave away at the start. The run of Champ was disappointing at best, he never really looked like winning. I still think the Stayers Hurdle revolves around current titleholder Flooring Porter.
Chantry House (5-6F) booked his Gold Cup ticket as he returned to winning ways with a hard-earned success in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase. After being pulled in the King George when sent off favourite at Kempton Park over Christmas, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding had a point to prove as he lined up under Nico de Boinville for the five-runner affair. The eight-year-old travelled only moderately at times, inching into the lead as his rivals tired before staying on in determined fashion for a two-and-a-half-length victory. Former stablemate Santini kept him honest up the hill for new trainer Polly Gundry, with Harriet Graham's Aye Right taking third place under Callum Bewley. The win for Chantry House was notable as a 4,000th winner for owner JP McManus. A mind-boggling achievement
I was very underwhelmed by Chantry House he looked exhausted afterwards having to be dismounted after the winning post. Santini ran with credit I could see him running better in a Gold Cup than Chantry House. The UK hopes appear to firmly sit with Protektorat in terms of a potential Gold Cup winner.
There was one outstanding performance on the day it came from an Irish trained horse.
Pied Piper (11-8F) strengthened Gordon Elliott's formidable hand in the juvenile division with a hugely impressive victory in the JCB Triumph Trial. Carrying the same colours as Fil Dor, who will put his unbeaten record on the line at Leopardstown next weekend, Pied Piper was favourite to claim Grade Two honours following a narrow victory on his hurdling debut at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve. A dual winner on the Flat for John Gosden, the son of New Approach appeared to have plenty on his plate with Kempton scorer Iceo and course and distance winner Interne De Sivola among his rivals. But after being settled at the rear for much of the way, Pied Piper cruised into contention before easing clear under a motionless Davy Russell to score by nine lengths – to take over from Fil Dor as Triumph Hurdle favourite, although that might not be his ultimate destination, with the Supreme Novices' Hurdle also under consideration. This was really very taking Pied Piper looks to be really smart.
North Lodge (7-1) is unbeaten in two runs after triumphing in a dramatic renewal of the Grade Two Ballymore Novices' Hurdle. The race was incident-strewn from the off, with hurdles missed out due to the low sun and Harpers Brook coming down early on and hampering Henry Daly’s favourite Hillcrest, who jinked and unseated Richard Patrick. Joined by Nicky Henderson’s Balco Coastal up the hill, the Alan King-trained North Lodge then drifted across the track on the run to the line, slightly impeding the Seven Barrows runner, who was eventually beaten by two and a half lengths. After a stewards’ inquiry the placings remained unaltered and King’s charge added a Cheltenham success to his prior hurdle win at Aintree in early December. I would still imagine the Ballymore winner is trained in Ireland. They will sort themselves out at The Dublin Racing Festival.
At Doncaster, John McConnell is looking forward to taking Mahler Mission straight to Cheltenham for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle following his victory at Doncaster on Saturday. The six-year-old earned quotes as low as 20-1 for the three-mile test at the Festival after he backed up his first success at Sedgefield two weeks earlier with a Grade Two-winning display in the River Don Novices' Hurdle on Town Moor. McConnell is happy with the way Mahler Mission has taken those exertions in beating The Real Whacker by two lengths over an extended three miles but does not want to go to the well again before Cheltenham.
McConnell Commented"He came out of it fine. He's a very tough horse and there's not a bother on him. It was a good performance. We were thrilled. He ground it out well," said the County Meath handler."He'll go straight for Cheltenham. He's had two trips in the last couple of weeks and three runs in five weeks. He'll go straight for the Albert Bartlett."
It's brilliant for the McConnell yard to have another contender for the Albert Bartlett as they also have Bardenstown Lad
The Sky Bet Chase. Windsor Avenue produced a dramatic 40/1 shock win in a gruelling Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster for Northern-based trainer Brian Ellison. The 10-year-old, whose last victory was back in November 2019, picked off Kerry Lee's Storm Control who ran out of steam in the final few strides on Town Moor. Windsor Avenue, wearing blinkers for the first time, led the 16-runner field as they turned for home but had looked there for the taking and was duly passed by Storm Control as the pair reached the second last fence. The remaining challengers, led by Christian Williams' well-backed Cap Du Nord who had made a couple of bad jumping errors on the way round, were left well behind as Storm Control cleared the last. But, his rider Daire McConville was sending out warning signs as a tired Storm Control slowed drastically before the line, giving Sean Quinlan on Windsor Avenue just enough time to urge his mount back in front. Cap Du Nord came home third at odds of 15/2, ahead of Hill Sixteen in fourth. The race was marred by the loss of Paddy Power Chase winner Midnight Shadow, who suffered a fatal injury. This brings me to a pet hate of mine. The water jumps at UK tracks. They need to go they are outdated and unfair obstacles on the horses. It is time for them to go.
At Fairyhouse, French recruit Allegorie De Vassy is now unbeaten in two Irish outings after recording a comfortable victory in the Grade Three BetVictor Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse. The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old started as the 7-4 joint-favourite alongside stablemate Brandy Love, who jumped violently left throughout the race and veered dramatically off her line over the penultimate obstacle. Losing lengths in the process, Brandy Love handed the race to Allegorie De Vassy, who flew the last to cruise home for a three-and-a-half-length victory under Sean O'Keeffe. No doubt we will see the Willie Mullins duo at Cheltenham for the Dawn Run.
At Naas, Darasso a Grade Two winner at Navan in November and fourth to Honeysuckle in the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse on his latest start, the Joseph O’Brien-trained nine-year-old gave weight to his five rivals in admirable fashion. Felix Desjy set the pace until the penultimate flight where his Gordon Elliott stablemate Saint Felicien took over. However, the 4-5 shot could not ward off the attentions of Darasso, who pulled away to score by three and a quarter lengths under Mark Walsh in the colours of JP McManus. Darasso’s victory denied Saint Felicien’s jockey Robbie Power a triumphant return on his first ride since suffering multiple injuries in a fall at Tramore in October. A long term project of mine Whiskey Sour ran a nice race in third. I am hoping Whiskey Sour is aimed at The County Hurdle I think he would have a right chance at a very decent price.
Stattler (11-10F) took his unbeaten record over fences to two with a game staying performance in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase. Willie Mullins' seven-year-old outpointed Farouk D’Alene after a prolonged tussle to land the Grade Three contest by one and a quarter lengths in the hands of Paul Townend. Stattler’s stablemate En Beton made the running but he gave way after jumping the third-last fence. That left Stattler and Farouk D’Alene to fight out the finish, with the favourite getting the better of the argument as his stamina kicked in at the business end of the three-mile-one-furlong test. The leading pair pulled 17 lengths clear of Vanillier in third place. Stattler is going to be high on many peoples lists for the National Hunt Chase. I think he lacks a bit of experience for that. I still prefer the likes of Run Wild Fred and Ontheropes who will bring strong handicap form to the table.
Top-class bumper horse Kilcruit belatedly opened his account over hurdles with a straightforward success at Punchestown. The seven-year-old won the major bumpers at the Dublin Racing Festival and Punchestown last season, either side of being narrowly denied by stablemate Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. He was expected to take high rank in the novice hurdling division this term, but was beaten at odds of 1-14 on his hurdling debut at Cork and suffered another odds-on reverse at Leopardstown over Christmas. The Willie Mullins-trained gelding appeared to face a gilt-edged opportunity to make it third time lucky in the Punchestown.com Maiden Hurdle - and got the job done with the minimum of fuss. Sent straight to the lead by Paul Townend, Kilcruit was closely pursued by Bold Approach, but the remainder of the field was a long way behind from an early stage. The 1-5 favourite was in complete control rounding the home turn and passing the post with 21 lengths in hand over Bold Approach, who was eight lengths ahead of Cratloe Hill in third. Kilcruit will surely go down the Supreme road he could be a lively each-way bet at decent odds.