If the Cheltenham Paddy Power Open meeting was a taster of what is to come this National Hunt season then count me in!
AL FEROF, GRANDS CRUS, BRAMPOUR, FINGAL BAY, STEPS TO FREEDOM (to name but a few) all put down major markers for the season ahead whilst at the same time letting connections know that they fully intend to be involved when the festival strolls into view in March!
There were, however, plenty of eye-catching performances outwith the winners this weekend and here are 3 that went in (or in 1 case stayed in!) my notebook –
BAREL OF LAUGHS (J Culloty) – 3rd in the Amateur Riders Handicap – 1.10 Friday
The 5yo ran a race full of promise on what was only his 3rd Chase start. He briefly looked like he was going to mount a challenge but ultimately failed to find that extra gear to match strides with the front 2. His pedigree has plenty of stamina influences in it so it would be no surprise to see him need further than this 3 mile trip. Trainer Jim Culloty intentionally skipped putting this gelded son of Milan down the bumper route as a youngster as they have always had him pegged as a chaser and on the basis of his 3 chase starts to date (1-1-3) he was completely correct. The Cheltenham fences provided little problem for this novice chaser and he is a youngster with plenty more to offer Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Jim Culloty and his small team.
NOBLE ALAN (N Richards) – Faller in the Paddy Power Gold Cup – 2.35 Saturday
Oh Alan, Alan , Alan…….! Just try and hold your concentration for the full race!
Once again the 8yo was travelling sweet as a nut out the back and making his usual stealthy and seamless move onto the hindquarters of the leaders before BAM! he catapults jockey Dougie Costello out and over his head. It is becoming all too familiar a sight now but the facts are he isn’t a poor jumper of a fence, far from it, he just seems to have these moments where his concentration dips and he looses sight of the job in hand. If you watch the race back you will see he made no mistakes until this point and was coming into the equation full of running. It is still in my mind that further may be better suited for him (although this would mean he has longer to try and hold his concentration for!) but one thing for certain is his mark of 142 is a very winnable one. He is going to land a valuable race at one point and it’s likely to be at a tasty price…….
THIRD INTENTION (C Tizzard) – 7th in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle – 2.20 Sunday
He continues to catch the eye throughout his races but he also continues to lack for something at the business end. Does he need to strengthen up? Is there a breathing problem? Does he need further? It could well be the third of those options as there are bits and pieces of stamina in his pedigree and it could be a step up to 2m4f/5f is in order for this 4yo son of Azamour. He actually led around the 2nd last hurdle in the Greatwood but faded to finish a 7 length 7th. It’s interesting to note that he recorded his highest RPR rating yesterday (142) and the impression remains there is yet more to come from this one….
Plenty to ponder over from a fantastic weekend of racing.