1. Tizzard in contention for first trainers’ title
Cue Card, Thistlecrack and Native River now occupy three of the first seven places in the betting for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March and the fine starts they have each made to the current campaign has initiated hushed talk of a trainers’ championship tilt for the Dorset handler once better known as a dairy farmer. Don’t milk it, but his odds could look a big price should Cue Card or Thistlecrack provide Tizzard with another King George VI victory on Boxing Day.
2. Nicholls won’t go down without a fight for jumps crown
Paul Nicholls was the beneficiary of Willie Mullins’ failed championship bid last season and the master of Ditcheat has made a quick start this time round. Nicholls furthered his lead with a big win in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last weekend and appears to have two good chances of doing so again in the Silver Cup at Ascot on Saturday. Indeed, Irish Saint shaped well when fifth on his seasonal debut over hurdles and he looks worth a bet.
3. Stars conspicuous by their absence
In contrast, Willie Mullins has been represented just once this side of the Irish Sea to date (Un de Sceaux was a gutsy winner of the Tingle Creek at Sandown) and we are yet to see some of his biggest names return to action at all. Faugheen still hasn’t been sighted on a racecourse since January and his position at the head of the World Hurdle market reflects the uncertainty surrounding the race in the absence of last season’s winner Thistlecrack. The Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday will hopefully offer some more clues and looks a prime opportunity for Unowhatimeanharry to put forwards his own credentials as the leading staying hurdler in training.
4. W Mullins faces battle without Gigginstown muscle
A first British trainers’ championship could already be beyond Mullins’ reach and he appears to have a battle on his hands as he bids to defend the equivalent title in Ireland. Gigginstown’s decision to remove their horses from the Closutton handler’s care was a significant blow and the transfer to Gordon Elliott of many has only served to strengthen that rival’s own title credentials. The scales appeared to be tipped in Elliott’s favour in the early exchanges, but Mullins hit back with big victories for Douvan and Djakadam last weekend. A first Champion Chase victory for Mullins looks a formality if Douvan makes it to Cheltenham in one piece.
5. Henderson hero makes way for fresh blood
While the retirement of Sprinter Sacre means that we will never see him and Douvan go head to head, Nicky Henderson appears to have plenty of fresh talent coming through in his absence, and two of his most promising young hurdlers are engaged in Saturday’s Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot. Brain Power and Consul de Thaix finished first and second at Sandown last month, but the latter is fancied to reverse the form on 4 lb better terms and looks the one to beat here.