Weekend fixtures at Ascot, Haydock Park, Wincanton and Gowran Park provided an opportunity for many prospective Cheltenham Festival bound horses to prove their well-being and fitness ahead of the four-day March meeting. While Waiting Patiently extended his unbeaten sequence over fences ahead of a possible tilt at the Ryanair Chase, the performance of Black Corton at Ascot suggests that he will be difficult to beat in the RSA.
Black Corton’s Rivals
The Paul Nicholls trained Black Corton faced just three rivals in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase, but under the guidance of jockey Bryony Frost, he led for the entire three miles distance and was a more comfortable winner than the eight lengths official margin suggests.
In winning seven of his last eight chases, the 7-year-old gelding is proving to be a reliable animal capable of racing on any type of ground, and his only recent defeat was incurred at Newbury during early December when just failing to beat Elegant Escape. The winner carried three pounds less in weight, but as with most of his races, Black Corton galloped all of the way to the line and his apparently limitless stamina reserves are worth noting ahead of the RSA Chase, for which he is quoted at about 8/1.
Cue Card Failed at Ascot
On the same Saturday card, Cue Card may have failed in his attempt to win the Ascot Chase for the third time, but he may have benefited from an extended rest after finishing a remote second in heavy ground behind Bristol De Mai at Haydock during November. The Colin Tizzard horse demonstrated much of his old enthusiasm when finishing second behind Waiting Patiently, with his trainer now considering one final attempt at winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Cue Card fell on both previous efforts in the race.
Chef Des Obeaux
Over at Haydock, Chef Des Obeaux caught the eye when winning the near 3m Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and he has been backed down to as low as 6/1 for the equivalent race at Cheltenham. The Nicky Henderson trained horse has now won his last three hurdle races with the last two successes earned via 15+ lengths margins.
It was anticipated that the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton would also provide some clues for Cheltenham with Elgin eventually winning the race. His performance has led to speculation that he may be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle, and he did win the Greatwood Hurdle over course and distance during November. However, his winning display on Saturday could be termed as workmanlike and he carried more than a stone less in weight than close fourth The New One when winning that race at Cheltenham.
Red Mills Chase Winners
Meanwhile at Gowran Park on Saturday, both Presenting Percy and Our Duke advertised their claims for the RSA Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup respectively when separated by only one length at the finish of the 2m4f Red Mills Chase. Winning horse Our Duke and the runner-up were competing at a distance shorter than preferred with the former horse seemingly improving as the season progresses.
Perhaps the most notable performance at Gowran Park was that of Saldier in the 2m maiden hurdle. The former French flat horse was appearing for the first time in Irish racing and sauntered to a ten lengths victory which could have easily been doubled.
Quotes of 10/1 are already being offered on the Willie Mullins trained 4-year-old winning the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival, but he still represents something of an unknown quantity and he beat some fairly moderate opposition at Gowran Park.