Cheltenham Sunday

GIVEN there were four graded races on the card, Sunday’s racing did not always deliver in terms of quantity or quality, but the small field did not detract from an excellent race for the Grade 2 Shloer Chase, which featured the last two winners of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, as well as 2020 runner-up Nube Negra.

The last-named kicked off a tremendous afternoon for the Skelton brothers, with a flawless display from the 9/4 chance to overpower Politologue (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) by six lengths. Favourite Put The Kettle On plugged on gamely for third, but was not at her best, and lost her unbeaten record at the track having won on all four previous visits.

Nube Negra has leapfrogged the likes of Politologue as the best of the established chasers in the division in Britain, but that is reckoning without Shishkin, who looked a world-beater in the Arkle, and who still tops the ante-post market for the Champion Chase.

There was talk of a clash with Shishkin and Chacun Pour Soi after this race, but Dan Skelton made pointed remarks about the ground and the horse’s record fresh after this win, and it’s unlikely that he will be campaigned aggressively before the spring, with the Desert Orchid at Kempton more likely to feature in his plans.

West Cork delivers a perfect coup

On a red-letter day for the stable, Dan Skelton’s West Cork (Harry Skelton) made a winning return from a long absence to land an ante-post gamble in the Grade 3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, beating David Pipe’s Adagio by three-quarters of a length, with the J. P. McManus-owned No Ordinary Joe and Camprond filling out the frame.

The winner drifted to 11/1 on the day, but was the subject of significant market support when betting opened, and this was clearly a thoroughly planned coup by the stable. He was a smart novice in 2019/20, and was last seen finishing second in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton in that season. His future prospects depend on the handicapper, as he could hardly be made any fitter based on paddock appearance.


The runner-up emerges from the race with plenty of credit. A Grade 1 winner last season, and runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle despite an attack of colic in his preparation, he had to concede weight all round, but looked better than ever in going down narrowly to a well-treated rival. He will be back in graded company after this, and his connections are entitled to consider him a Champion Hurdle prospect, for all Honeysuckle towers over that division at present.

Frost times it just right on Yala Enki

THE turnout for the Grade 3 Jewson Click & Collect Handicap Chase was disappointing, but provided a crowd-friendly result as Bryony Frost gave Yala Enki (Paul Nicholls) a perfectly judged ride to make almost all in the three-mile, three-furlong event.

Frost controlled the gallop and kicked on at just the right time to draw the finish out of her rivals, of whom the error-prone The Mighty Don emerged best, and it was surprising to discover that the stewards found her guilty of causing interference after the third-last fence. To my eyes, and those of Yala Enki’s connections, she merely held the inside line, and did not impede Empire De Maulde, who cannoned into Go Another One as Brian Hughes switched for his run.

A two-day ban is not worth appealing, but it left a sour taste given the quality of the ride.

Moving fast

I Like To Move It (Nigel/Sam Twiston-Davies) took the scalp of Tritonic here in October, and stepped up in grade to land the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle, run as the SkyBet Supreme Trial, but in truth the 4/6 favourite did not need to improve to beat Washington in a two-finisher affair.

It’s understandable why the fields for good-quality novice chases are small at this time of year, but three runners for Grade 2 novice hurdle is a pathetic turnout, and a poor spectacle.

That should not be held against the winner, and he’s impressed with his quickly his jumping has improved since his debut. The Supreme is the plan, but he looks an ideal candidate for the Betfair Hurdle, for which he’s now qualified. He took a mark of 138 into this contest, and the handicapper is going to struggle to justify a significant raise given the circumstances of this win.

Nicholls treble

Threeunderthrufive and Timeforafortune bookended the card in the novice chase and listed bumper to give Paul Nicholls a treble, and the most surprising aspect of that feat is that the champion trainer had gone over 50 runners since his last winner at the track, that being Magic Saint in the two-mile handicap chase on the Friday of this meeting last year.

The former jumped well to follow up an easy win at Exeter, but a note should be made of Oscar Elite, who travelled very well until capsizing at the third last.

There was a long way to go at that point, but in-running backers were taking long odds-on about him even then, and he looked sure to play a big part in the finish.

Pyledriver revs up for Hong Kong Vase

Lingfield Saturday

BEST horse on show at Lingfield on Saturday was undoubtedly the Coronation Cup winner Pyledriver, who warmed up for a tilt at the Hong Kong Vase by landing the one-and-a-quarter-mile Churchill Stakes by half a length and a neck from Harrovian and Felix.

William Muir and Chris Grassick’s charge had been sidelined by a muscle injury since his Epsom success, but showed his well-being to score over an inadequate trip and under a penalty. Much more will be needed if he’s to claim that Group 1 at Sha Tin, but he has spent his career surprising people, and he goes to Hong Kong fresh and in fine heart, so isn’t taken lightly.

The other listed race at Lingfield saw Good Effort repeat his 2020 win in the Golden Rose Stakes, comfortably beating 2019 winner Judicial to maintain a perfect record at the track. He’s more likely to go to Meydan than Newcastle (the new venue for AW Finals Day) in the spring.

Cawleys, Thornton and Crawford on the mark

SCOTLAND has been a happy hunting ground for Irish-based trainers over the years.

Ayr’s meeting on Tuesday provided no fewer than three wins for Irish yards, with brothers Brian and Alain Cawley teaming up with Ask Blossomfort in the mares’ handicap hurdle, before Karl Thornton’s Shanroe Al C took the feature handicap chase under Daryl Jacob.

Stuart Crawford maintained his excellent record in Scottish bumpers, and gave Jacob a riding double when Carnfunnock landed the finale in the colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.