An eventful weekend as ever in the jumps season. First we lost the Friday of the traditional three-day November meeting and then the ante-post favourite for the 2020 Champion Hurdle, Klassical Dream, was turned over by his stablemate Saldier at Punchestown in the Morgiana Hurdle.
To top it off, neither champion UK jumps trainer Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson sent out a winner at the Cotswolds over the weekend, where all 15 races were won by a different jockey.
The Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle didn’t look like a stellar edition beforehand but it was run in a virtually identical time to the highly-competitive Greatwood Hurdle, which suggests it is form to be viewed in a really positive light.
The winner, Hang In There, is more of a chaser than a hurdler on looks, so it bodes well for his prospects that he could run to a useful level at such an early stage of his career. He isn’t yet the finished article, and he showed signs of inexperience at Cheltenham and was on his toes beforehand.
On this evidence he is definitely one to keep on the right side.
The bookies escaped a bashing when the strong-travelling Slate House came down at the second-last in the BetVictor Gold Cup when looking a huge threat. He deserves extra credit for getting into contention having jumped none too fluently and he could be better suited by smaller fields and contests that are run at a less searching gallop.
He endured a disappointing campaign last season, when he was beaten on all four outings over fences, but he is clearly in much better form this term and could take advantage of his novice status against much less experienced rivals. Is he a lively outsider for races such as the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival?
Faugheen’s illustrious career looked to be in jeopardy when he was sharply pulled up at Aintree on his final start last season, reported to be suffering from a fibrillating heart. Happily, the cherished 11-year-old was back in the winner’s enclosure at Punchestown on Saturday on his belated debut over fences, showing his younger rivals a clean pair of heels as he dashed to victory by seven and a half lengths.
The race was not without incident, however, and Paul Townend did remarkably well to keep the partnership intact at the first open ditch when Faugheen made a bad mistake. But the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner proved he still retains plenty of ability, despite his advancing years, and forged clear of some promising rivals.
It’s hard to know how high he can go as a chaser but he is well up to winning a graded novice on this evidence.