Cue Card and Yanworth split the opinion of racing folk on Saturday. Cue Card sent out a timely reminder that even at the ripe age of 11 he will be in the Gold Cup with a live chance. Yanworth appeared to struggle home at Wincanton, but to me was always doing enough and the lengthening odds for the Champion Hurdle are generous, especially with NRNB to cover your back. At 7/1 you’d like to think he will get in the top three if running close to his best. In an open Champion Hurdle the market will react to everything and so its refreshing to see bookmakers not shortening Alan King’s star.
At Ascot, Beyond Conceit continued his swift progress over hurdles and next stop looks to be Cheltenham. He wasn’t fancied yesterday, but the market got it wrong as he just got his head in front in what will prove a strong race given time. Air Horse One looks another serious improver for Harry Fry and now has three wins in a row under his belt. Fry has a knack of finding these horses and the handicapper still looks well behind this one. Whichever race he ends up in at Cheltenham he will go in fancied. The 6YO is one to look out for over the next few weeks and the entries he takes up.
At Haydock Don Bersy was again impressive when winning the opener impressively at Haydock. Connections still view him as a long-term project and Cheltenham is not in their plans this year. Aintree is a possibility but not the be all and end all to them. I backed Zarkander and it was brilliant to see him stick it out, albeit it idling in front. He still has a big race in him – very unlikely to be at Cheltenham – and the talent is still there for a scoop at some point in the not too distant future. The Worlds End was another HA winner and is bubbling a long nicely under the radar for an outside shot at Cheltenham. He certainly has ability and the form of a number of his wins has worked out very nicely. The recognition and attention might be missing but it suits me as the big EW price for the Albert Bartlett remains.
Runs of the Day: Ascot
3 35 CUE CARD (C Tizzard) 4/9, Grade One Chase, 2M5F, Soft
Of course the result was expected and it never looked in doubt. The way he went about his business was mightily impressive and there’s no denying that; it was a stark reminder that he’s not a spent force just yet. He travelled perfectly in behind Royal Regatta and jumped as smoothly as ever. Paddy Brennan still believes he can make a stand for the old guard and in a confused Gold Cup market with little concrete form on offer, Cue Card is still a major factor. Obviously it wasn’t the hottest of G1s, but he made a mockery of some good horses. Royal Regatta – especially at Ascot – is a solid yardstick and Shantou Flyer is set for the Grand National. Imagine the scenes at Cheltenham if you know what just went and happened…
3 15 VIEUX LION ROUGE (D Pipe) 8/1, Grade Three H’Cap Chase, 3M4.5F, Good to Soft
This was a genuine trial for the National not just in name, with some real contenders throwing their hat into the ring. Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion both ran a blinder and really cemented their National ambitions. The race looked to be heading for an almighty finish, before Vieux Lion Rouge found more in the last 50 yards to push clear. The ground wasn’t ideal for Pipe’s runner but he fought well and the pace was a good one throughout, just as it will be at Aintree. The market was in a muddle after the weights were revealed in the week but now VLR has been rightfully installed at the head of the market, as short as 10-1 in some books. He was 7th in the race last year, has won over the National fences since and has already shown that he’s better than the mark/weight given to him for the big race. More rivals will emerge over the next month or so, but for now VLR is the one to beat.