Following on from Cheltenham Trials day and the Dublin Racing Festival, this weekend had a lot to live up to, and whilst there may not have been as many stars in action over the two days as the aforementioned meetings, we still saw a handful of performances that could have an impact on events at Prestbury Park next month.
The biggest talking point of the weekend came at Warwick where Jonbon saw off his only rival in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at odds of 1/16 to maintain his unbeaten chasing career. So far, so unexpected. However, the 5 ½ length victory was far from the stroll his odds suggest it should have been, and while it has to be remembered this was just a prep race for the Arkle, and trainer Nicky Henderson was putting on a brave face afterwards, bookmakers were among those unimpressed, with his Festival odds eased out to 13/8 (from evens). That price change means Willie Mullins is now responsible for another ante-post favourite, with his Leopardstown winner, El Fabiolo, the 5/4 (from 2/1) market leader for the Arkle.
At Newbury, Funambule Sivola won the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase for a second successive year. The Venetia Williams-trained 8-year-old went on to finish second in the Queen Mother Champion Chase as a 40/1 outsider twelve months ago, and is currently 33/1 for what does look a stronger renewal of the race this time around.
Trainer Chris Gordon is having a superb season, and now has the 10/1 second favourite for the Grand Annual after Aucunrisque landed Newbury’s feature handicap hurdle, while Magic Daze was the most notable winner at Naas on Saturday, her defeat of odds-on favourite Dinoblue in a Listed contest seeing her odds for the Mares’ Chase next month tumble to 8/1, from 20/1.
The Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle was the highlight of Sunday’s card at Navan. Saint Sam was sent off a short-priced favourite for the normally all-conquering Willie Mullins team, but as with Dinoblue 24 hours earlier, this was a rare reverse for the Irish champion, with his charge well beaten in fifth. The impressive winner was Blazing Khal, returning from a long absence in style, and now the 3/1 (from 5/1) joint market leader, along with Teahupoo, for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
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