During a Saturday afternoon of English racing at Ascot and Haydock Park where the conditions at both courses were described as fairly testing, old warriors Un De Sceaux and The New One booked their tickets for the Cheltenham Festival with popular victories. For the former horse, he was winning the 2m1f Clarence House Chase for an unprecedented third time.
The Irish raider won the 2m5f Ryanair Chase at lasts season’s Festival and also claimed victory in the 2m Tingle Creek at Sandown in 2016, which proves that he can be a versatile animal. Yet he was unable to dictate the pace on Saturday as useful two miles handicapper Speredek set a brisk early tempo.
Un De Sceaux
Several fences from home, it appeared that Un De Sceaux was experiencing difficulties closing the gap, but his superior stamina prevailed turning for home and he finished a fairly comfortable winner.
Trainer Willie Mullins has yet to finalise the eventual Cheltenham target for Un De Sceaux as he reviews all options with his horses, but on potentially drying ground at the Festival, retaining his Ryanair title would seem the logical choice. Two miles in Spring conditions may not suit the 7-year-old gelding these days.
As for the novice Brain Power, who had been expected to provide a potent challenge to Un De Sceaux, a fall two fences from home ended his hopes of victory. The Nicky Henderson trained appeared tired and remained on the ground for several minutes before regaining his feet amid much cheering from the crowd. It was later mentioned that fatigue was not really the issue, but a breathing problem which distressed the horse. His participation in the Arkle Chase must now be questionable.
The New One
Over in the Haydock mud, The New One won the Champion Hurdle trial for the fourth successive season. It was a spirited performance by the 10-year-old after he appeared beaten at the final hurdle, only to overhaul Ch’tibello close to the finishing line.
The New One is a regular visitor to the Cheltenham Festival but trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has suggested that his horse will bypass the Champion Hurdle in March and concentrate on the Stayers Hurdle.
Although The New One now lacks the speed to be real contender to win the 2m Champion Hurdle, he has yet to race over three miles but did win the 2m5f novices hurdle at the 2013 festival. He may represent decent each-way value for the Stayers Hurdle.
La Bague Au Roi could join him in that race after her easy win in the 2m7f mare hurdle at Ascot. The mare is unbeaten in her four latest starts over various types of ground and distance and could feature in the Stayers Hurdle, but there are additional options for her at the Festival. The eventual target is likely to be the subject of a late decision by trainer Warren Greatrex, but she is one to note for Cheltenham.
Bonbon Au Miel
Meanwhile at Navan in Ireland, there was an encouraging display in the 2m4f novices chase by the Willie Mullins horse Bonbon Au Miel. The French import won the race by a comfortable eleven lengths after a rather tame display at Fairyhouse last month when finishing a well-beaten fourth over three furlongs longer.
It was suggested that the 7-year-old needed that race in December and will be campaigned next over three miles. Bonbon Au Miel should not be overlooked if entered at Cheltenham as he is clearly an improving horse.