Tony Elves looks back at the big performances from Cheltenham's Open meeting.
The full moon this evening will the closest the Moon has been to earth since 1948 but I don’t think you have to be a stargazer to consider that MOON RACER looks a great wager for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March at current odds of 8-1.
The David Pipe-trained hurdler has an abundance of talent which was displayed in no uncertain manner in the Festival bumper at Cheltenham in 2015 when the likes of Modus, Wait For Me and Yanworth were in his slipstream and on his next outing 16 months later when beaten only three quarters of a length by Blow By Blow in the Grade 1 Champion bumper at Punchestown where the Grade 2 Aintree bumper winner Bacardys was back in third.
Patience has been a virtue with this lightly-raced seven-year-old gelding but his first venture over hurdles was a clash of the Titans when he took on the 2016 Festival bumper winner Ballyandy at Perth in September and came out on top by three quarters of a length.
The David Pipe-trained son of Saffron Walden had to give 4lb to that rival in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices at Cheltenham on Sunday but the decision was much more of a knockout on this occasion as he scampered clear after two out to score by two and a quarter lengths from Mirsaale with Ballyandy half a length back in third.
Bearing mind that Pipe only decided at a late stage last year not to run in the Supreme and keep his potential superstar a novice for this season we have a bet with a capital B as it looks like the minor niggling problems that interfered with his career appear to have been ironed out and he remains lightly-raced with only seven outings under his belt.
Pipe is keen to get further match practice into Moon Racer which gives further credence to the suggestion that he is over any problems that may have been bothering him and there could well be further improvement to come. The four closest to him in the betting Senewalk, Jenkins, Melon and Samcro have yet to jump a hurdle in public and with his unquestioned class Moon Racer looks worth a 3pt investment for the Supreme Novices with maybe a 0.5pt wager on the Champion Hurdle at 33-1 should that race have fallen apart and the Pipe team tempted by the bigger prize.
The afternoon had begun with announcement that superstar chaser Sprinter Sacre had been retired and tragedy was to strike for the Nicky Henderson team when Simonsig took a fatal fall at the third in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase.
Victory in that two mile contest went to the rapidly improving Fox Norton who coasted to a nine length victory from Simply Ned and earned a 6-1 quote for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. As good as the Colin Tizzard-trained gelding was I don’t personally see him as a likely winner and Douvan is obviously too short to lend support too at 4-7 for that Grade 1 event.
Tizzard had looked to give us further enlightenment on Thistlecrack’s Gold Cup claim when last season’s staying hurdling star had his second race over fences in the extended three mile novices’ chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
A heart-stopping moment occurred at the fifth (first open ditch) which he blundered but from then it was plain sailing which is what you would expect from a 1-7 shot and contracting of his odds to 7-2 for the Gold Cup seemed a measure in the extreme. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of Thistlecrack’s greatest fans having put him up when he 8-1 for last year’s World Hurdle but he has still to be tested against seasoned chaser in a proper chase run at an end to end gallop and if his jumping was to show any blemish in that division then he wouldn’t be rushing in at such prohibitive odds.