Cheltenham Festival: 3 things we learned at the weekend with Elimay the one to beat in mares chase

Timeform reckon Elimay, You Raised Me Up & Brinkley all laid down markets for the mid-March festival.

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Elimay shows why she is the one to beat in Mares chase

The cold snap meant there wasn’t much racing last week but there was still a leading Cheltenham Festival contender in action in the shape of Elimay, the joint-favourite for the inaugural running of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase. Elimay had produced a very smart performance when chasing home leading Ryanair Chase contender Allaho at Thurles on her previous outing, and she didn’t need to improve on that form to win the listed Opera Hat Chase back in mares’ company at Naas on Saturday.

Elimay, the 8/15 favourite, was presented with a straightforward task and she completed it with the minimum of fuss, hitting the front on the bridle between the final two fences and drawing five and a half lengths clear on the run-in. That was her third win from four starts over fences and her Timeform rating of 159 identifies her as the one to beat at the Cheltenham Festival, so she deservedly heads the market with Benie Des Dieux. For reference, Colreevy – who is also trained by Willie Mullins – is rated 147p, while Annie Mc, arguably the best of the British contenders, is rated 152.

You Raised Me Up is one to watch for the County Hurdle

The County Hurdle was identified as the likely target for You Raised Me Up following his win in a novice hurdle at Naas on Saturday and he could be an interesting contender at the Cheltenham Festival. The extent of his chance will obviously depend on what mark he is given by the British handicapper, but You Raised Me Up was competitive on his only previous outing in a handicap, when he ran a cracker to finish third in the ultra-competitive Ladbrokes Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last year.

He was a decisive winner of a maiden hurdle at Listowel in September and deserves credit for giving weight and a beating to a promising rival on his return from another break at Naas on Saturday, especially as unease in the market suggested he might come on for the run. He only scored by half a length on Saturday but was value for more having blundered at the second-last.

His trainer Martin Brassil produced City Island at concert pitch to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle a couple of years ago and will have You Raised Me Up primed to run well in the County Hurdle on the final day.

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Pertemps test could suit strong stayer Brinkley

Brinkley looked like an excellent prospect when winning a novice hurdle at Newbury by a wide margin on his first start for David Pipe last season, so it was disappointing to see him pulled up on his return at Exeter in December. That effort was too bad to be true, though, and he has quickly left it behind, getting back on the up with decisive wins at Wincanton last month and at Exeter on Sunday.

His latest win was achieved in a Pertemps qualifier and, given his upwardly-mobile profile, he would be of interest in the Final at Cheltenham, for all the inevitable rise in the handicap would likely put him towards the top of the weights. Brinkley has only raced on testing ground, so a sounder surface at the Festival would pose a different test, but he was very strong at the finish at Exeter and should relish the stiff uphill finish at Cheltenham. It’s worth checking how the handicapper reacts to Sunday’s three-and-a-quarter-length success.

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