Cheltenham Festival: Stay out of the red with improving Copperhead

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Copperhead-wins-at-Ascot

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Tizzard novice thrives in gruelling conditions

The Reynoldston Novices’ Chase at Ascot hasn’t provided many Cheltenham clues in recent years, but Saturday’s renewal attracted what looked a strong field, with the five RSA Chase entries all having already shown a level of form close to the standard required for the race.

In the event, the gruelling conditions had too much of an impact on the outcome for the race to live up to its promise, the winner Copperhead proving the strongest stayer and the only one who coped fully with the test. Market principals Pym and Sam Brown were both pulled up, while Danny Whizzbang weakened to finish a tired third after looking to be going best in the back straight.

 

None of that should detract from the performance of the winner, though, who continues to progress with every start over fences, taking the step up in grade in his stride here after a pair of handicap wins.

Colin Tizzard’s charge is entered in both the RSA and the National Hunt Chase at the Festival, his abundant stamina would make the last-named event the more obvious choice, though his level of form would certainly warrant a run in the former, particularly if conditions were testing.

Sporting-John-wins-at-Ascot-Feb-2020

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John has Sporting chance in Ballymore Hurdle 

Defi du Seuil has been the flagbearer for the Philip Hobbs/J. P. McManus combination in recent years, but the pair look to have another big talent on their hands in the shape of Sporting John, who extended his unbeaten record under Rules to three with another ready success in the novice hurdle that kicked off Saturday’s card at Ascot.

Although the race attracted only four runners, three of them had looked above-average, and it was hard not be impressed by the way Sporting John brushed aside the others with ease. Travelling strongly into the lead two out, he just needed to be shaken up by Barry Geraghty to forge clear on the run-in, ultimately winning by six and a half lengths.

There was plenty of depth to his earlier form – he had beaten subsequent Grade 2 winner Harry Senior on his hurdling debut at Exeter in November – but this represented another significant step forward.

Now rated 145p with Timeform, that puts him behind only Thyme Hill (150p) and Fiddlerontheroof (149p) amongst the British-trained novices heading to Cheltenham. With further progress on the cards, he has certainly earned his place in better company.

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Emery enters the Champion Hurdle fray

Tiger Roll was the headline act in Ireland over the weekend, but, while he shaped encouragingly in finishing fifth in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday, it didn’t really tell us anything new so far as his claims of recording a fifth Cheltenham Festival success are concerned. He remains the 11/10 favourite for the Cross Country Chase with Paddy Power and deservedly so.

Instead the biggest market mover to emerge from the weekend’s action was Cilaos Emery, who is now a 6/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle after making a triumphant return to hurdling in Saturday’s Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park.

A faller at the first in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown just 14 days earlier, Willie Mullins’ charge made a couple of minor errors along the way here but made his class tell, quickly putting daylight between himself and the chasing pack after leading on the bridle two out.

A Grade 1 winner in this sphere back in his novice days, he doesn’t have much find on ratings with some of the current market leaders for the Champion Hurdle (for which he is set to be supplemented) and will go there with solid place claims at the very least.

All the latest odds for the Festival are over on PP.com now