Weekend racing review: Who to back for the Champion Chase?
Chad Yeomans singles out his standout performers of the weekend, including a horse whose antepost price for Cheltenham could be about to halve.
Ireland having plenty of rain in recent weeks means we’re going to be seeing lots of top-class racing on their side of the Irish Sea early in the season.
The horse I was most impressed with on Saturday was the Willie Mullins-trained Cilaos Emery, who cantered home in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas by 9½ lengths.
He was Mullins’ best novice chaser last season – beating the Arkle winner Duc des Genievres by 15 lengths at Navan – but sustained an injury which ruled him out of Cheltenham.
As he won that race in February, he has lost his novice status, but he showed on Saturday how capable he is and that the step up into open company shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.
With the two-mile division wide open, he’s one I’d recommend backing for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. He’s got pace to burn and jumps very well and will be half the price he is now ( ) were he to win next time out.
However, the most impressive performance all weekend has to go to Andy Dufresne, who wiped the floor in a maiden hurdle at Navan.
I loved the way he travelled, and he jumps hurdles so slickly.
He’s going to be a tough nut to crack wherever he goes this season and it just highlights the embarrassment of riches that Gordon Elliott has in the novice-hurdle department.
Fusil Raffles won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton but didn’t really impress me enough to convince me he’s going to be a main player in the Champion Hurdle. He’s got plenty of natural ability but, for me, isn’t in the same league as Klassical Dream and Buveur D’Air.
It was great to see Sir Alex Ferguson at Wincanton to see his well-supported Give Me A Copper win the Badger Beers Trophy. He jumped and travelled very well and could have been named the winner from a way out. He’s fragile and obviously has his issues but, if he’s kept fresh, he could be a player in plenty of the staying chases this season.
I’d also watch out for Willie Mullins’ Energumene when he runs again. He was very green and is a big, stocky horse. You won’t be seeing the best of him in bumpers, but he’s going to make some staying chaser down the line.
Yesterday saw the return of Santini at Sandown Park and, despite winning the Conditions Chase, he was very workmanlike and not at all impressive.
He strikes me as a horse who could run on well in a Gold Cup but won’t have the pace at a crucial time in the race, and it is interesting that we have left him unchanged at for the Festival showpiece following his win at the Esher racecourse.
Ones to watch
There’s plenty to look forward to this week and I hope L’Air Du Vent lines up in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.
He finished third there last month, but that race was a crawl, and I’d expect there to either be a much faster pace or for him to make it himself. Either way, he possesses lots of talent and it would be good to see him get his head in front.
It’s the Betway Churchill Stakes at Lingfield Park on Saturday and it’s hard not to be excited by the entries.
John Gosden has entered Lord North , who could be getting his first sight of Lingfield Park before being aimed at the Betway Winter Derby and Betway Winter Classic.
Visit Betway's horse racing betting page.