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Weekend review: Festival clues aplenty at Cheltenham and Doncaster

| 01.02.2016

David Metcalf | February 1, 2016

Yanworth rockets to head of Neptune betting after sensational success

Yanworth is now a rock solid 9/4 favourite with Coral for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on March 16th, following an awesome display when cruising to victory on Festival Trials Day at the home of jump racing.

The Alan King trained gelding took the step up into Grade 2 company in his stride when sauntering to a seven length success over the highly regarded and hitherto unbeaten Shantou Village.

After being held-up in the early stages by a confident Barry Geraghty, Yanworth cut through the pack like a knife through butter.

As Shantou Village kicked home home aproaching the last, Geraghty sat motionless on the JP McManus owned six-year-old.

It was then just a case of what Yanworth would find when he pushed the button, and the answer was plenty as he quickened clear instantly when asked on the run-in to win unextended.

To my eyes, it was one of the most exciting and breathtaking performances I have seen by a novice for many a year, and Yanworth looks a Festival banker for the home team.

Smad earns his Place in Gold Cup line-up

Cheltenham Trials day

Trainer Alan King has confirmed that his dashing grey Smad Place will be targeted at the Cheltenham Gold Cup following his victory in the Cotswold Chase, and he is 12/1 (from 33s) with Coral for chasing’s blue riband event.

The nine-year-old ran out a comfortable 12 length winner over last year’s Grand National winner Many Clouds, making all and jumping superbly throughout.

Although Smad Place also holds an entry in the 2m 5f Ryanair Chase a day earlier at the Festival, King is now clearly favouring a crack at Gold with the the gelding after speaking with owner Peter Andrews.

Smad Place certainly desreves his place in the line-up having won three of his four starts this season.

His only defeat came when fourth to Cue Card in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day when held-up rather than allowed to bowl along in front.

Smad Place is clearly at his best when ridden aggressively, but I think he will need to improve again if he is to get the better of the like of Don Poli and Don Cossack in the Gold Cup on Friday, March 18th.

Djakadam, who crashed out at the 10th in the Cotswold, is out to 5/1 (from 7/2) with Coral for the Gold Cup and will head straight to that contest without another run.

Thistlecrack looks out of this World

Festival Trials Day - Cheltenham Races

Thistlecrack cemented his position at the head of the betting for the World Hurdle when romping to a facile 12 length success in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltennham on Festival Trials Day.

The Colin Tizzard trained gelding is 11/8 (from 5/2) with Coral for World Hurdle glory on Thursday, March 17th, after dispelling any myths that he was unsuited by the undulations of Cheltenham.

Thistlecrack, who had previously won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Long Walk at Ascot, had suffered a heavy defeat on his only previous visit to the track.

However, the eight-year-old has improved at a rate of knots since that run and could not have been more impressive when landing the Cleeve.

A confident Tom Scudamore got Thistlecrack in the slipstream Camping Ground, and after taking up the running on the bridle approaching the last the pair pulled effortlessly clear on the run-in to win with any amount in hand.

A delighted Tizzard: “Thistlecrack really powered up that run-in against really top-class opposition – that’s brilliant. He has won on the bridle in a World Hurdle qualifier and at home he works like that too. He has won three times on the trot now and he is getting better and better. I don’t know how good he is.”

Thistlecrack is now clearly the real deal, and it is going to take a monster performance from something to prevent him lifting the World Hurdle.

Vaniteux strikes in Lightning to enhance Festival claims

Vaniteux boosted his Cheltenham Festival claims with battling success over Arzal in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.

The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding looked set to win by a convincing margin when taking the third last, but had to be driven right out to score by 3 3/4 lengths in blustery conditions after idling on the run-in.

Vaniteux is now 7/1 co-second favourite (from 9s) with Coral for the Arkle over 2m on Tuesday, March 15th, but also holds an entry in the 2m 4f JLT Novices’ Chase two days later for which he is 14/1.

Although many were not inmpressed the the manner of Vaniteux’s victory, I was and winning jockey Nico de Boinville was also pleased with the performance.

He said: “He’s a very nice horse. We were run off our feet a bit early on but they went a strong gallop and it felt a good trial. There is a strong headwind and he was idling a bit in front.”

Owner Richard Kelvin-Hughes added: “He’ll go for the Arkle, that’s been the plan for two years.”

Magnificent seven for brave Barters Hill

Barters Hill File Photo

Barters Hill took his unbeaten record to seven when digging deep to land the the Albert Bartlett Novices´ Hurdle at Doncaster, and is now 5/2 clear favourite (from 7/2) with Coral for the race of the same name at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday, March 18th.

The Ben Pauling trained six-year-old was far from fluent at the the fourth and second last, but showed what he was made off when challenged on the run-in to beat Ballydine by 3/4 of a length.

Barters Hill was simply in no mood to be denied, and stuck his head out bravely under jockey David Bass to win a shade cosily at the line.

Although it was not a flashy performance, Barters Hill’s “thou shalt not pass” attitude is going to make him a tough not to crack at next month’s Festival.

Pauling said: “I’m over the moon. David said he didn’t jump quite as fluently as he was hassled by Up For Review.

“He’s had a tough race, but we’ve still got six weeks before the Cheltenham Festival. There’s no pressure now. He’s still unbeaten, and that’s the main thing. He’s a horse of a lifetime.”


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David Metcalf

A lifelong Manchester United supporter, David has over 25 years’ experience in the media industry having worked for regional and national newspapers. He is a huge horse racing, football and greyhound fan and has done interviews on various radio and TV stations, including talkSPORT and Sky Sports, whilst working as a PR front man for a betting firm. David has also written for most of the top Premier League football fan websites, and produced a Cheltenham Festival guide with former eight-times champion national hunt jockey Peter Scudamore, MBE, after helping him to set up a syndicate for his trainer son Michael.