There were plenty of Cheltenham Festival clues on offer at the weekend as both Warwick and Kempton served up a great double-header, with the odd performance in Ireland worthy of note, too.
Warwick’s feature event, the Betfred Classic Chase, was a thrilling affair with young pretender Shotgun Paddy just seeing off the old stager Carruthers and preventing what would have been an immensely popular victory for Mark Bradstock’s veteran.
As it was, Emma Lavelle’s Shotgun Paddy (9-1) is now one of the favourites for the four-mile National Hunt Chase in March although he would only run if there were enough cut in the ground.
“This horse has been very quick at his fences from day one,” said Lavelle’s partner and assistant, former jockey Barry Fenton. “Let’s see how he comes out of it [before deciding on targets]. The main thing is that he has to have soft ground, and if you got that the National Hunt Chase is the way you would go.”
The resurgent Leighton Aspell was in the saddle and he also took the other feature race on Oliver Sherwood’s Deputy Dan (5-2) who was turning out just two weeks after winning in attritional conditions at Chepstow, but how good he actually is might still be up in the air as Willie Mullins’ Rathvinden came down three from home. “It’s nice to have some ammo for Cheltenham,” said Sherwood. “The ground will be the key. If it’s in any way testing he’ll go for the [shorter] Neptune, but should it be good ground, which he’s never seen, we’ll go for the Albert Bartlett.”
At Kempton the Philip Hobbs-trained Captain Chris (15-8 favourite) highlighted a treble for Richard Johnson in the Listed williamhill.com Chase as he thrashed Champion Court by 23 lengths. Another Hobbs stalwart was successful as Planet Of Sound (10-1) won for the first time in almost four years in the William Hill - Bet On The Move Handicap Chase.
Johnson had an easy time on the Lavelle-trained Closing Ceremony (10-11 favourite) in the williamhill.com Novices’ Hurdle, while the rearranged Tolworth Hurdle was dominated by Nicky Henderson with Barry Geraghty choosing the wrong one in Josses Hill as Royal Boy (9-1) and Tony McCoy just prevailed.
In Ireland, Mullins’ hotpot Vautour was all out to land the odds in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. He was sent off at 1-4 but Western Boy pushed him all the way.
All eyes were on the Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux at Navan yesterday as he turned the three-runner Follow Navan On Facebook Hurdle into a procession.
A definite dark horse for the Champion Hurdle, the 1-12 favourite could yet prove the biggest danger to illustrious stablemate Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham.