Cheltenham Festival 2015 movers and shakers
There were Cheltenham Festival clues aplenty in a busy weekend of top class action with Carlingford Lough emerging as a Gold Cup contender with a game success in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown and Vibtaro Valtat enhancing his Arkle claims with an impressive success at Warwick.
Here’s my round-up of the latest movers and shakers for the four-day spectacular which gets underway on Tuesday, March 10th:
Apache Stronghold: Got the better of a titanic battle to gain revenge on Valseur Lido in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown under a sublime ride from Paul Carberry. The Noel Meade trained gelding had been beaten eight lengths by Willie Mullins’ charge in the Drinmore Novices’ Chase in Decmeber, but showed a very willing attitude to come from off the pace and prevail by 3/4 of a length on this occasion. Meade has always held the strapping son of Milan in the highest regard, and considers the seven-year-old to be a future Gold Cup contender. Apache Stronghold is clearly a very exciting prospect who is improving with every run over fences, and if taking another step forward he has to be a big player in the JLT.
Coral latest odds: JLT Novices’ Chase 5/1 (from 12s)
Carlingford Lough: Emerged as a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender when building on a promising reappearance in the Lexus Chase to provide AP McCoy with his first Hennessy Gold Cup success at Leopardstown. The John Kiely trained nine-year-old made a mistake at the second-last fence, but found plenty under a power packed ride from the 19-times champion jockey to get up close home and beat Foxrock by 3/4 of a length. The pair pulled eight lengths clear of last year’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere in the Grade 1 contest, and Carlingford Lough is a real battle-hardened performer who has all the right credentials to play a leading role in the 3m 2f Festival showpiece.
Coral latest odds: Cheltenham Gold Cup 10/1 (from 20s)
Mr Mole: Through his hat into the ring for the Queen Mother Champion Chase when winning an incident packed Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in good style. The Paul Nicholls trained seven-year-old lost 15 lengths at the start when awkwardly away when the tapes went up, but under a confident ride from AP McCoy crept into the contest and was always in command from four out when the odds-on favourite Sire De Grugy made a blunder and unseated his rider. That allowed Mr Mole to cruise home by 13 lengths, but even if Sire De Grugy had stood up I still think he would have triumphed. The son of Great Pretender is now really getting his act together and looks a powerful second string for his handler, who also trains Dodging Bullets, in the Queen Mother.
Coral latest odds: Queen Mother Champion Chase 8/1 (from 20s)
Nichols Canyon: Made amends for unseating his rider at Leopardstown over Christmas with a convincing all-the-way win in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at the same venue. The Willie Mullins trained five-year-old hardly put a foot wrong and kept finding plenty under Ruby Walsh to pull clear of the opposition in the straight to beat the useful Windsor Park by 3 1/2 lengths. The pair pulled 8 1/2 lengths clear of the third home and highly touted Alvisio Ville and the form has a solid look to it. One of a whole host of Mullins’ entries in the Neptune, but now looks the stable number one and heads the market for the 2m 5f contest.
Coral latest odds: Neptune Investment Management Hurdle 6/1 fav (from 20s)
Vibrato Valtat: Made it four wins from five starts over fences when running out the easy winner of the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick. The progressive Paul Nicholls trained gelding tracked the leaders going well, and after leading on the bit two from home cruised effortlessly clear to beat Top Gamble by a facile 4 1/2 lengths. The runner-up is a useful sort, and the once quirky Vibrato Valat seems a reformed character whose slick jumping and turn of foot make him a big player in the Arkle. The six-year-old is also well suited by a strongly run race, and with Un De Sceaux in the line-up looks sure to get that in the 2m contest at Cheltenham on Tuesday, March 10th.
Coral latest odds: Arkle Chase 6/1 (from 10s)