The Cheltenham festival is rapidly approaching with less than 70 days until a rampaging sea of tweed descends on Prestbury Park.
This past weekend provided the perfect opportunity for some contenders to prove their credentials and trigger some fairly dramatic price changes.
Apple’s Jade showed she has plenty left in the tank with an 11th Grade 1 success at Leopardstown, while Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work more than halved in price after beating a host of Gold Cup challengers on Saturday.
Apple’s Jade – Mares’ Hurdle (6/1 from 14/1)
Write Apple’s Jade off at your peril! Gordon Elliott’s superstar mare streaked away to land the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle for the third year running.
She scored her 11th Grade 1 success when beating Unowhatimeanharry by 17 lengths, while Willie Mullins pair Penhill and Bacardys simply couldn’t lay a glove on her.
Though a beaten favourite in the Mares’ Hurdle and Champion Hurdle in the past two seasons – Apple’s Jade showed she had plenty left in the tank and tumbled from 14/1 to 6/1 for the Mares’ Hurdle.
Delta Work – Cheltenham Gold Cup (10/1 from 25/1)
A strong renewal of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown made for fascinating festive viewing with Gigginstown House-owned Delta Work finishing best.
The Gordon Elliott trained 6-year-old disappointed on his reappearance from a 186-day break when finishing fourth in a five-runner Champion Chase at Down Royal, but has bounced back in style.
Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders Kemboy, Presenting Percy, Road To Respect and Monalee were all involved with the latter unlucky to be headed at the finish after Rachel Blackmore lost her irons on the flat.
Thyme Hill – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (6/1 from 8/1)
Not overly stylish and accurate, but Richard Johnson rode Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill to victory in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.
The Cashel Man pushed him all the way to secure the first Grade 1 success of his career at 4/6 but should have more to come in the spring.
However, whether he targets the Ballymore or the Albert Bartlett is anyone’s guess and trainer Hobbs didn’t help the ante-post punters with his comments afterwards.
“You’d imagine if it’s soft ground we’d go 2m5f at Cheltenham (Ballymore), but if it’s good-ish ground we will go 3m (Albert Bartlett),” Hobbs said.
Sharjah – Champion Hurdle (8/1 from 25/1)
Willie Mullins-trained Sharjah is now among the market leaders for the Champion Hurdle after winning his second successive Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Ridden by Patrick Mullins, Sharjah jumped fluently throughout and patiently stalked Petit Mouchoir before powering away to take the Grade 1 by over three lengths.
Paddy Power reacted by slashing his price from 25/1 to 8/1 for the Champion Hurdle, where favourite Epatante also shortened to 5/2.
Best of the rest
A few other movers and shakers include Marie’s Rock who tumbled in price from 20/1 to 8/1 for the Mares Novices Hurdle after an electrifying turn of foot in the Listed Byerley Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Taunton on Sunday. Now unbeaten in three starts, she looks an exciting prospect.
Willie Mullins hailed Stormy Ireland a “brilliant jumper” after leading from start to finish in the Grade Three Advent Insurance Irish EBF Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown. The 9/10 favourite is now a 12/1 chance (from 16s) for the Mares Hurdle behind leading contenders Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle.
Lady Buttons has shortened to 20/1 (previously 25/1) after beating Happy Diva at Doncaster. And Cobblers Way, who helped our lucky punter bag a 2,328/1 parlay five-fold, shows at 33/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle.
* All odds correct at time of posting.