Tony Elves kicks off his weekly look at potential 2017 Cheltenham Festival prospects.
The big wheels on the National Hunt scene are starting to get into motion now and one potential star of the two mile novice chasing division, IDENTITY THIEF was unwrapped at Punchestown last Saturday.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained six-year-old, as his odds of 2-11 implied, had a simple task in the Download The Betdaq App Beginners’ Chase but the most important factor in the two mile event was the jumping ability of the favourite as he measured his fences with the accuracy and aplomb of much more seasoned professional.
That is hardly surprising bearing in mind that his trainer tends to be more concentrated on long term chasing prospects and is speaks volume for his early career. For those needing reminding, Identity Thief was a neck winner from Top Notch in the 2015 Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in which recent Irish St Leger winner and Melbourne Cup prospect Wicklow Brave was ten lengths adrift and signed off his hurdling campaign last season with a length and a half defeat at the hands of Vroum Vroum Mag in the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle where Champion hurdle runner-up My Tent Or Yours was three and a half lengths back in third.
The bare facts are that we have a very classy hurdler who was really bought as an embryo chaser and has taken his first steps over fences as a natural to the game. He has been priced at 10-1 for the Arkle Challenge Trophy and that looks a fair enough quote for horse who could well be infinitely better over fences than he was over hurdles and it looks worth dipping the toe into the water and have a 1pt win with a further airing over fences on the agenda in December.
At Cheltenham on Saturday there was an eyecatching performance from Sceau Royal in the Mastersons Holding Hurdle as he scooted to an 11 length victory from Leoncavallo in a good time. There are several firms quoting Alan King’s young hurdler at 16-1 for the Champion Hurdle which looks absurb in a division in which there is such strength in depth with Faugheen, Annie Power and Apples Jade just to mention the first three in the ante-post market and should Sceau Royal line up at Cheltenham in March he could well be bigger than his current price.
There was nice performance from Fox Norton in the Randox Health Handicap Chase as he displayed his undoubted jumping ability with an 11 length victory from Sizing Platinum and he could well be one to consider for one of the handicaps come March but it really too early days to be going down that road.
Aintree on Sunday brought together a cracking field for the 188Bet Monet’s Garden Old Roan Handicap Chase with victory going to Third Intention from the Colin Tizzard team. The Grade 1 winning God’s Own and Vibrato Valtat occupied the minor placing with last years Hennessy winner Smad Place running a perfectly respectable race in fourth over two and a half miles which is much shorter than his best and Royal Regatta and Sire De Grugy completing the line-up. They are all likely to prosper during the season but not on the grand stage we are concentrating on.
One potential star of the novice hurdling division was unearthed on the same day when Robin Roe made his hurdling debut in the Mobile Casino at 188 Maiden Hurdle. The Dan Skelton-trained five-year-old oozed class as he cruised to a 12 length victory from even money chance No Comment and earned a 20-1 quote for the Neptune Novices’ but as winning point-to-pointer it is far too early to be going in until further plans are known as he could well have the alternative of the Albert Bartlett. Whatever his final destination point he looks one to follow and plenty of Cheltenham ammunition can come our way courtesy of Robin Roe. We will learn plenty more about him if he turns up in the Challow Hurdlet at Newbury in December.