After last weekend’s Cheltenham extravaganza, the mixed bag of racing at Musselburgh, Sandown and Wetherby this Saturday was a slight comedown. There was something for everyone, but the day lacked a real star performer after the withdrawals of Yanworth and Brain Power. A number of well regarded and backed favourites also failed to impress in their preparation for Cheltenham with connections of Project Bluebook, Clan Des Obeaux and Missed Approach now left in the air surrounding the festival. The ground at Sandown was very testing and not very King George like. It made for a real slog and while some lapped it up it brought many challenges to a stop before they even got going.
Buveur D’Air cantered to victory in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown and looks a contender for the Champion Hurdle now reverting back to the smaller obstacles. But, w knew that anyway… If anything had threatened him from that field it would have been a huge disappointment and Cheltenham would have been an afterthought. Chasing never looked natural and fair play to Nicky Henderson for realising and not sticking with it for the principle as so many do. ‘If’ Faugheen shows up it’s a fight for the place money; if not, JP McManus looks to have an army ready to pounce. The cheek of the bookmakers to cut Buveur in the aftermath was laughable, but then again it’s what we expect now.
At Wetherby, Ami Desbois made mincemeat of the very generous 137 he raced off that was left unaltered after his admirable third behind Messire Des Obeaux in the Challow. Down in class he was dominant from the front and kept on finding in the closing stages. It gives another boost to Messire Des Obeaux who still remains a double figure price for the Neptune in which many less proven but perhaps more exciting are considerably shorter. Calett Mad and Missed Approach both came with big reputations into the G2 Novice Chase but look to have thrown away any shot at the Festival after the 33/1 outsider Baywing beat both by 20L plus. Neither horse had an excuse and were both beaten fair and square on the day.
The well backed Diego Du Charmil was the best winner of the day at Musselburgh and showed signs of the promising horse of last campaign. It has taken a while to get going this winter and while a boost to the Brain Power Ascot run may be a slight over reaction, Paul Nicholls will be hoping this can be the kick on needed for the still only 5YO. Project Bluebook was very disappointing in the Triumph Trial and after being bought by JP I thought he would cruise up to victory in ordinary enough field. He did show some promise though, but was very green at times going sideways across the track when under pressure a couple out. There is plenty to come but the Festival will come too soon you’d imagine.
Run of the Day: Sandown
2 25 TOP NOTCH (N Henderson) 11/4, Grade 1 Novice Chase, 2M4F, Soft (Heavy in Places)
Now four out of five over fences and this was his biggest win yet, displaying another impressive round of jumping. It was a small field but competitive nonetheless. Four from the five runners had a real shot as the market reflected. Top Notch has been progressive each start since his Uttoxeter debut over fences and looked a grade above his rivals at Sandown. He’s a small horse but jumps so efficiently and the testing ground was no issue whatsoever. The JLT looks the obvious race in March as 20F has brought out the best of him. The 6YO is now as short as 7/1 for the race and this would have been unthinkable a few months back. Undoubtedly there were a few flat runs from his rivals at Sandown, but Baron Alco ran up to scratch and has decent form already this season, giving Top Notch a real nod heading to Cheltenham, especially if Yorkhill falters or reverts back to hurdles.