With the festive celebrations well and truly behind us it’s time to look back at some of the National Hunt action that has taken place over the last few weeks and the bumper Christmas programme of racing certainly didn’t disappointed with some proven class acts excelling, whilst there was also a couple of flops for good measure.
Sprinter Sacre was fully expected to be one of the shining jewels of KemptonPark’s stellar meeting, but the unbeaten Nicky Henderson-trained chaser lost his unblemished record when pulling up in the Desert Orchid Chase, to leave Sire De Grugy with a comfortable task of landing the Grade Two event.
Having breezed over the first few obstacles, Barry Geraghty pulled the two-mile champion up at the halfway stage and it was reported that the Seven Barrows star was suffering from an irregular heartbeat but subsequent tests suggest that wasn’t the case and he could bounce back and is still a 4/5 shot with Betfred to retain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at the Festival in March.
Whilst Sprinter Sacre failed to live up to expectation, it was Bobs Worth who propelled back into the limelight as he comfortably dispatched of some top notch rivals, including Sir Des Champs, in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, and the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion was cut to 9/4 to retain his crown after his victory.
Sir Des Champs was subsequently ruled out for the season after picking up an injury, but Bobs Worth could face his stiffest adversary in the shape of Silviniaco Conti, who produced a tremendous staying performance to get the better of the front-running Cue Card in an energy-sapping King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
It appeared that jumping the second last, Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card would frank the Betfair Chase form but he tied up in the closing stages and left questions surrounding whether he would be able to see out the Gold Cup trip, so a return to the Ryanair Chase, which he won last year, could be the plan for the dual Cheltenham Festival winner.
Bobs Worth was not the only shining beacon in Ireland as the incomparable Hurricane Fly reigned supreme yet again as he oozed class when dispatching of two emerging hurdlers in Jezki and Our Conor to land the Ryanair Hurdle and Willie Mullins’ 18 times Grade One winner is now vying for favouritism for the 2014 Champion Hurdle, as he looks to win the coveted prize for a third time.
As Hurricane Fly strutted his stuff in the Emerald Isle, the best of British were jostling for position towards the higher echelons of the Champion Hurdle betting and it was My Tent Or Yours who capitalised on a final flight blunder from The New One in what was a mouth-watering duel between two of the emerging forces of the hurdling scene in the Christmas Hurdle.
Mullins may be the dominant force in Irish circles but he had to withstand disappointment when Champagne Fever was unable to land the Racing Post Novice Chase but his runner is still a market leader for the Arkle Challenge Trophy, whilst Mountainous was the staying king of the Christmas period as he fought off the Paul Nicholls-trained duo of Hawkes Point and Tidal Bay to land the Coral Welsh National, and could now be a stayer for the notebook.