Cheltenham Festival: 3 main take-outs from the weekend’s action

The clues are starting to fall into place for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

Timeform

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Timeform’s Tony McFadden looks back on the weekend action with a view to the Cheltenham Festival.

Imperial Alcazar a Pertemps Final improver in waiting

No horse trained in Britain has won the Pertemps Final since 2015, but that is perhaps unsurprising when you see that the roll of honour includes subsequent Grade 1-winning chasers Presenting Percy and Delta Work, while dual scorer Sire du Berlais is a leading fancy for this year’s Stayers’ Hurdle.

Perhaps another Irish raider will prove to be well ahead of their mark – The Bosses Oscar and Morosini appeal as two progressive types – but Fergal O’Brien’s Imperial Alcazar will be entitled to plenty of respect on the back of a comfortable success at Warwick on Saturday. That was just his second attempt at three miles and he saw things out thoroughly, surging to the front between the final two flights and passing the post two and a quarter lengths clear of his rivals, despite being eased near the finish. The handicapper will have a say but, given his profile and the way he went about things, Imperial Alcazar could stay a step ahead of the assessor. He is likely to go off at a shorter price than the price currently available with Paddy Power Non-Runner-No-Bet.

Arkle Chase flagged for Sky Pirate

Sky Pirate had been given the Timeform squiggle – indicating that he could not be relied upon – after putting in a weak-finishing effort on his return over two and a half miles at Wetherby in October, and that looked a fair enough call after he again wilted up the hill in the Paddy Power Gold Cup despite cruising into contention.

However, he finally got off the mark over fences at Cheltenham last month when dropped to two miles and he again looked like a reformed character when following up at Warwick on Saturday, showing plenty of resolution after the last to readily fend off a strong challenge from the runner-up.

He has been reinvented as a two-miler and, all of a sudden, looks like a progressive chaser to keep on the right side. It’s unsurprising that he’s favourite for the Grand Annual, (now run on the Wednesday) though he’s likely to be among the top weights for that contest and would be well worth his place in the Arkle, for all it’s looking like a hot edition this year.

His new Timeform rating of 151 places him behind only Shishkin (165P), Energumene (160p) and Franco de Port (152p) among the likely Arkle contenders.

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Stamina test on cards for Next Destination

Next Destination had to work hard to see off Fiddlerontheroof and justify odds-on favouritism in the Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick but his performance should be viewed positively as the tactical nature of the race did not play to his strengths. Next Destination is a thorough stayer – he won a Grade 1 novice hurdle over three miles for former trainer Willie Mullins – while runner-up Fiddlerontheroof won last year’s Tolworth Hurdle over two miles and was stepping up in trip.

A relative test of speed at the trip should have been in Fiddlerontheroof’s favour, but Next Destination stuck to his task well and found plenty on the run-in when challenged to forge a length and a half clear. Next Destination’s jumping looked largely assured, just as it had done when he made a winning chasing debut on his first start for Paul Nicholls at Newbury, and he can raise his game another notch when faced with a bigger field and stiffer test of stamina.

Rider Harry Cobden suggested that connections might consider going straight to Aintree, but the National Hunt Chase, over 3m 6f would look like a suitable target at the Cheltenham Festival and it’s likely that he would be among the top-rated runners in that contest.

It will be interesting to see if he’s given the option when the entries are revealed this week.

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