Thursday, we start at Kempton. Slate House claimed top honours in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase for Colin Tizzard. This was a good race Black Op lost little in defeat. I think Black Op looks like a real RSA horse. I can see Slate House going well in an RSA as well. Epatante proved herself a mare out of the very top drawer with a hugely impressive display in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle. Epatante was backed from 6/1 into 2/1 JP McManus has a champion hurdle contender by the look of this. Sam Twiston-Davies may no longer be the stable jockey to Paul Nicholls – but he proved the perfect stand-in for Harry Cobden when rekindling their glory days aboard Clan Des Obeaux. Last year’s winner Clan Des Obeaux provided Paul Nicholls with a record 11th victory in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase. I thought Clan Des Obeaux was brilliant here. Kempton suits really well for Clan Des Obeaux. Of the better-fancied horses, Lostintranslation did not jump well enough to win a King George in my view. I also thought he was on and off the bridle. I thought Cyrname did not stay and he also raced very free. The Cheltenham Gold cup picture will have to wait until after Leopardstown to become clearer. Honest VIC was an excellent winner of the finale at Kempton.
At Leopardstown, Notebook maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a victory in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. Having won twice at Punchestown, Notebook had no trouble stepping up to Grade 1 company, in the process taking the scalp of Fakir d'Oudairies and Laurina. It's my view Mark Walsh will not want to see this race again. I really think the best horse lost in Fakir d'Oudairies. I do not believe Notebook would beat Fakir d'Oudairies again. It was part of a great day for Rachael Blackmore and Henry De Bromhead. Aspire Tower moved towards the head of ante-post lists for the JCB Triumph Hurdle following a dominant front-running display in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. A high-class performer on the Flat for Richard Hannon and latterly Steve Gollings, the son of Born To Sea made a smart start to his jumping career with Henry de Bromhead at Punchestown last month. Ridden from the front by Rachael Blackmore, the well-backed 15-8 favourite showed signs of his inexperience early on but readily pulled clear from the home turn to land this Grade 2 by 18 lengths. Risk Factor rolled back the years evoking memories of his mother Refinement by taking the bumper.
At Limerick, the regard Faugheen was abundantly clear for all to see at Limerick today as the horse dubbed 'the machine' won an epic renewal of the Grade 1 Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase, to the delight of the adoring crowd. The race attained Grade 1 status in 2018 and today's second renewal of the top-level race was billed as a chance at redemption for Gordon Elliott's Samcro, against rising 12 year old and former Champion Hurdler Faugheen. In the race Jimmy Mangan's promising chaser Castlebrook (10/1) attempted to force the early pace but with a full circuit to race, began to feel the pinch and dropped behind leaders Faugheen and Samcro.That pair held those first two positions for the complete final circuit and raced well clear of third-placed Castlebrook in the final half-mile.
Faugheen moved clear of Samcro after jumping the second last fence and having safely negotiated the final fence, galloped to the line the ten lengths winner. The race was effectively a 'match' in the home straight, with Castlebrook finishing 22 lengths behind in third.Faugheen received a rapturous reception on returning to the packed winners' enclosure with jockey Mullins performing a flying dismount.The Champion Amateur was delighted, and a smidgen emotional, following the performance and later said “he was electric and jumped fantastic apart from one mistake.“The plan in my head was to get over the third last fence, the ditch, and wind it up from there. That's what we did and we raced down the hill and by the time we got into the home straight I knew I had Samcro off the bridle. “Today was the plan but after than is he an RSA horse?“We won't rule anything out but we'll enjoy today. The Moriarty Chase at Leopardstown appears the obvious next race before Cheltenham and then see how you go.“By god he is something else and the reception he received was very special.”I did one (a flying dismount) on Bacardys once previously at Punchestown!” For Samcro the question is what know from recent press snippets it sounds like Samcro is a burster with that condition at this level you can never be certain how it will go.
At Wetherby, Top Ville Ben recorded his third success over Wetherby’s three-mile course with a strong performance to land the 888Sport Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase. Ridden by Tommy Dowson, the Phil Kirby-trained seven-year-old showed he was tailor-made for the West Yorkshire track with a dominant display.Jonniesofa made the running until Top Ville Ben took over as the field passed the winning post with one circuit left to run. Jumping well within himself, Top Ville Ben (3-1 favourite) pulled away from the opposition after the final fence to win by eight lengths from Didero Vallis.Last year’s winner Lake View Lad stayed on well from the rear to claim third place, a further three and a quarter lengths away. At Down Royal, there was a double for Gordon Elliott with Isle Of Destiny and Farouk D'Alene.
Punting wise for the members it was a really frustrating day.The bets was 15 x0.25pt each way doubles 1 x 0.25pt each way accumulator. Hold the Note 120 Kempton (11/2) Brought Down , Black Op 155 Kempton (3/1) placed, Bay Ambition 205 Limerick (3/1) placed, Batcio 255 Leopardstown (6/1) placed, Honest Vic 340 Kempton (10/1) won. It was very much a crossbar day.
Friday, we start at Chepstow. Allmankind produced a devastating front-running display to land the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle for Dan and Harry Skelton. Potters Corner recorded a famous success in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow for Glamorgan trainer Christian Williams. This was a really impressive performance. At Leopardstown, A Plus Tard inflicted what many viewed as a surprise defeat on Chacun Pour Soi in the Paddy’s Rewards Club “Loyalty’s Dead, Live For Rewards” Chase. I must admit I was not surprised Chacun Pour Soi although visually impressive at Punchestown was only having his third run over fences here. A Plus Tard is a battle-hardened horse I think A Plus Tard is a player in the Champion Chase. Abacadabras got back on the winning trail with an ultimately comprehensive success in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle. Blue Sari, runner-up to Envoi Allen in last season’s Champion Bumper, dropped out tamely early in the straight and trailed home last of four. I am sure this was not the real level of Blue Sari. I would not be wild about the jumping of Abacadabras at all.
The Paddy Power Handicap Chase produced a highly dramatic finish with Roaring Bull (16/1) storming home under Jack Kennedy to lead close to the line. After plenty of thrills and spills on the way around, it was still a wide-open contest racing to the final fence. Plan Of Attack led over it but was collared by last year’s third Fitzhenry (6/1 fav) 100 yards from the line. That one looked set for a big payday but, having been only sixth jumping the last, the Gigginstown-owned six-year-old Roaring Bull finished fastest to score by half a length. It was a big double for Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott following the earlier win for Abacadabras. Dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon opened his account over fences with a battling display. At Limerick, Gordon Elliott completed a fine day taking the Grade 2 novice hurdle with Fury Road.
At Kempton, Global Citizen gave trainer Ben Pauling a much-needed boost with a game front-running success in the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase. The Desert Orchid Chase minus Altior went to Bun Doran. The change of tactics to front running seemed to work really well. At Wetherby, the Castleford Chase went to Marracudja made all the running to win by eleven lengths in a very impressive fashion.
Saturday, we start at Leopardstown. I was in attendance. Apple’s Jade raised the roof at Leopardstown with a third straight win in the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle. This was superb stuff. Apples Jade was really well backed (11/4 -6/4). Delta Work came with a thundering late run to deny the gallant Monalee in the Savills Chase it may have been different if Rachael Blackmore (had not lost her irons close home) came back for more but had to give best by a head. This was a brilliant race. It is hard to know what to think of the runs of Kemboy and Presenting Percy. I thought Presenting Percy got a very negative ride. A brilliant day for Elliott was capped by The Bosses Oscar completing a treble. At Limerick, there was a double for Henry De Bromhead and Hugh Morgan. At Newbury, Richard Johnson made it 100 winners for the season as Fair Kate initiated a treble for the rider in the Betway Mares’ Handicap Hurdle. Thyme Hill was made to work hard by The Cashel Man to land the odds in the Betway Challow Novices’ Hurdle. Dorking Bay completed the Johnson treble. At Leicester, there was a double for Olly Murphy with Oscar Academy and Itchy Feet.
Sunday, we start at Leopardstown. Sharjah ran out an impressive winner of the Matheson Hurdle for the second successive year. Klassical Dream fluffed his lines again this time with an X rated mistake four out. Coeur Sublime ran below he made a noise apparently so did I when I saw him fading!! Battleoverdoyen made hard work of beating two rivals to win the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown. What had looked a competitive Grade One on paper overnight cut up badly on account of the ground drying out to good. This happened a bit at Leopardstown last winter it is a slight worry about the chase track given the amount of rain this winter. Eric Bloodaxe took the bumper for Joseph O'Brien and Gigginstown. At Limerick, Eleazar Des Neiges landing the Ryans Cleaning Event Specialists Maiden Hurdle today for trainer Henry De Bromhead and jockey Hugh Morgan. The final shakeout of Christmas was 19 winners for Gigginstown in 63 races in Ireland over the festive period. At Doncaster, Lady Buttons got up in the final stride to just pip Happy Diva – with La Bague Au Roi close up third – in a thrilling race for the MansionBet Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase.