THERE was a proper Champion Hurdle trial at Cheltenham on Saturday and although Zarkandar took the honours on this occasion, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the first three home landed the big prize at the same venue in March.
Connections were obviously delighted with the winning favourite, but runner-up Grandouet also put in an awesome performance, not having run since winning the same race a year ago and he was giving the winner 4lb and was only beaten a couple of lengths.
Third placed Rock On Ruby also gave the same amount of weight to the winner and trainer Harry Fry was far from downbeat about last year’s Champion Hurdle hero, saying that he’ll improve no end for the run and his next port of call is likely to be the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
Don’t forget that Saturday only really sorted out the likely English challengers and the great Hurricane Fly is still our favourite. Hopefully he’ll next be seen in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on the 29th.
Talking of that brilliant four-day Festival at Leopardstown, I can’t wait to see Arvika Ligeonniere back in action again in the Racing Post Novice Chase on St Stephen’s Day.
The thing that I love about this fellow is his jumping and he literally does jump like a stag. His last win in the top-class Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse was just so impressive and he was clear before the field entered the straight and went on to beat a good horse in Dedigout by 11 lengths.
Now that victory came over two and a half miles and it is interesting that champion trainer Willie Mullins is dropping him back to 2m 1f.
But I can’t see any problem in that at all as he looked to have a great cruising speed at Fairyhouse and Mullins stated that he was keen to have a go at this distance before stepping up in trip. If he does well here he could be a serious challenge to the English-trained Simonsig in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham.
Before then I’m hoping Michael McDonagh lets Robertstown Rover take her chance in Sunday’s Molony Cup Handicap Chase at Thurles.
I was mightily impressed with her on Saturday as she jumped for fun to land a handicap chase at Fairyhouse comfortably by 12 lengths from Lascalahall, firmly giving the impression that there is more to come.
Unlike my previous fancy, she steps up in trip at Thurles from 2m 5f to three miles but she certainly wasn’t stopping on heavy ground over the shorter distance so I have absolutely no doubts that the longer trip will be fine.
She’s also won on good to yielding ground and although I suspect the racing surface will still be close to heavy, if it does dry up a bit she’d probably still handle it okay.
The 10-year-old was actually 6lb wrong at the weights at Fairyhouse but surprisingly she could still be well in as her current chase mark of 66 is 21lb lower than she is rated over hurdles despite all her wins coming over the bigger obstacles!
Regulars will know that I like to stick to a winning formula with the footy and although I’ve been in two minds whether to go for the draw or a Norwich win at West Brom on Saturday, I’ll go with the latter at 3-1.
I gave all the stats about Norwich’s amazing Premier League undefeated run in last week’s column and they duly obliged at home to Wigan.Meanwhile West Brom, although the better team, could only muster a 0-0 draw against a patched up West Ham side that was deflated by so many injuries to the first-team squad.
Sunday Thurles 1pm Robertstown Rover
Saturday 3pm Norwich to beat West Brom away
Wednesday 26th Leopardstown 2.55pm Arvika Ligeonniere