The Betway ambassador picks out her star performers from a busy weekend of racing in Ireland and England and considers what it could mean for Cheltenham.
Gordon Elliott may have saddled four winners on the card at Punchestown, but it was Willie Mullins who took the big prize home on the day, and he also had two very smart horses win a novice hurdle and a beginners’ chase.
No horse wants to be running against Constitution Hill, who looks out of the ordinary, but if there is one horse that could beat him if he’s not on song, then it’s going to be State Man. He looked in good nick when winning the Morgiana on Saturday, as he should have done at his price.
I expect he’ll follow a similar path to last year, with the Matheson Hurdle over Christmas, the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and then on to Cheltenham. Willie also has Impaire Et Passe to aim for this division, so that will be some team to take on Henderson’s aeroplane.
State Man to win 2024 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle – 11/2
Gaelic Warrior was a little novicey at times, but you couldn’t have asked for much more on his first start over fences. He jumped grand on the whole and just cantered away from the field, and they weren’t bad horses in behind him.
One thing I would say, though, is that he’s too brave and will need to mature over fences, and sometimes that can lead to jockeys just being passengers. He’ll be tested when he goes up in grade, but I don’t see the need for him to step up in trip just yet, despite winning over 3m over hurdles. He’s got plenty of options and is one of many exciting horses Willie be sending over fences this year.
HALKA DU TABERT
Another impressive debutant over fences was Halka Du Tabert at Cork on Sunday. She had some good top-class form over hurdles.
She wasn’t beaten far in the Mares’ Novice at Cheltenham last year and you’d have to image they’ll be working backwards from the Mares’ Novice Chase in March. She jumped out to her left on occasion, which she has done before, but that should be ironed out with experience.
If anyone was questioning whether Fastorslow’s win in the Punchestown Gold Cup was a fluke, then he put that theory to bed by winning the John Durkan on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t the Galopin Des Champs that we knew from last year, but he’s been beaten twice now, so you might just have to question how rock solid his previous form actually was.
It’s also worth mentioning that this race is over a trip significantly less than the Gold Cup, and it might just be that he simply needs 3m. Let’s take nothing away from the winner, though. He was given a great ride by JJ Slevin who bided his time and, despite dropping his whip, managed to push Fastorslow past Appreciate It on the run-in.
He could have been told to follow Paul Townend but he ran his own race, which is a very hard to thing to do rather than take the easier route of following the best horses.
I was really impressed by this mare of Henry de Bromhead’s on her first start since coming over from France. She’s got plenty of experience and isn’t a novice, which may have made her less of an enticing prospect for some owners who want novice hurdlers, but she was very good and I felt she won with more left in the locker.
PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEKEND
This week’s training performance and ride of the weekend go to the combination of Noel Meade and Sam Ewing, who teamed up with Idas Boy. It was the horse’s first start in over a year, but he was fit as a fiddle and jumped superbly. Sam is only a young jockey, but he gave this horse a really good, professional ride and he’ll be a great asset for any yard who choose him to ride for them.
OVER IN ENGLAND
It was great to see Venetia Williams win a Grade 1 with Royal Pagaille, who just loves it at Haydock when the mud is flying. His jumping wasn’t foot perfect – although it never has been – but he simply outclassed and outstayed his rivals.
If it came up heavy at Cheltenham in March, you’d have to have a serious look at him.