Tony Elves kicks-off his Cheltenham diary series by looking back at the weekend's action.
The Colin Tizzard-trained gelding has signalled his intent, following a surgery for a trapped epliglotis, when waltzing away from Dynaste in the Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby at the end of October and had clearly come on for that run as he pounced on the dual King George VI Chase winner for a victory that suggests his chances of collecting a £1 million pound bonus for any who who wins the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in not beyond the realms of possibility.
Cue Card and Paddy Brennan look as good a partnership as strawberries and cream and Cheltenham held no fears in the past for Cue Card who beat Al Ferof in the Champion Bumper way back in 2010 and scalped the classy First Lieutenant in the Ryanair Chase in 2013.
The Cheltenham Hill on Gold Cup Day has proved a bridge too far for many top class chasers, with Wayward Lad the most memorable example, but when Paul Nicholls describes Saturday’s victors performance as "awesome" then the 14-1 available about Cue Card for March 18, 2016 looks worth a shilling or two of anybodies money.
In contrast, the 5-1 generally on offer for Vautour for the Gold Cup looks a trifle skinny after a far from exuberant reappearance in the Grade 2 Stella Artois Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old had looked imperious when scoring by 15 lengths from Apache Stronghold in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival last March but he was asked to pull out the stops by Ptit Zig who failed by only a length and three quarters when conceding 5lb to the 2-5 shot.
Vautour was going right-handed at Ascot and will surely improve considerably as the season progresses but I would suggest the powder is kept dry until one of last season’s star novices’ proves his real prowess once more.
Mullins had reintroduced another of his leading lights at Thurles on Thursday Sir Des Champs returned in splendour in the Listed two mile and six furlong chase.
The Gigginstown-owned chaser split Bobs Worth and Long Run in the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup and was having his first outing since December of that year but he made relentless progress in the closing stages to collar Rubi Light before the last before going onto record a two and three quarter lengths. William Hill offer 33-1 for the Gold Cup at time of writing and that could well represent a little bit of value. Come March, Willie Mullins could quite easily have every favourite for the Festival bar the colour of the Queen’s hat and Douvan looked every inch top drawer for the Arkle Challenge Trophy after commencing his chasing career in grand style at Navan on Sunday.
The winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle jumped his fences, bar the last, like an old hand and is 7-4 best for the Racing Post Arkle. Hardly odds that make you want to rush in and, further evidence, will be available after his next dress rehearsal in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on December 26 but at least his position will deter any thoughts of investing in others at this stage.