The pick of a cracking Saturday of racing action came down in Surrey, as Sandown played host to an excellent seven race card. There were plenty of races with Cheltenham Festival implications here, and it was a pair of runners from the yard of Nicky Henderson who advertised their Cheltenham claims to best effect.
Champion Hurdle Contender
First up came the JP McManus owned six year old, Buveur D’Air. Having made his first two starts of the season over fences, and having won both of them easily enough, some were a little surprised when the announcement was made last week that this ones Festival destination would in fact be the Champion Hurdle.
No doubt the continuing absence of Faugheen played some role in that decision, but so too would his battling success over Petit Mouchoir last term, form which is beginning to look pretty smart. Only three turned up to take on Buveur D’Air on his return to the smaller obstacles in the Betfred “Follow Us On Twitter” Contenders Hurdle, but that trio did contain the useful Rayvin Black and Fighting Fifth winner, Irving, to at least provide the Henderson runner with some sort of test. At least that was the theory.
In the end Buveur D’Air simply laughed at the others, cantering home without coming off the bridle. He was certainly entitled to win this race, but the manner of the success was very impressive, particularly as Henderson stated after the race that, “there’s room to get him fitter”. He is now in to 4/1 for the Champion Hurdle, a race which is beginning to look more open by the day.
Top Notch Going Well Over Fences
Also a smart hurdler for Henderson, having been runner up in a Triumph and fifth in the Champion Hurdle, Top Notch has been set the task of making his presence felt over fences this season. Not the most obvious chaser due his compact stature, anything he lacks in size he makes up for in ability and sheer willingness.
Stepping up from a Class 2 to a Grade 1 posed a stiff question ahead of the Betfred TV Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase on Saturday, particularly with a couple of highly regarded rivals in opposition. Top Notch answered the question in emphatic fashion, producing what was by far his best display over fences to date to post a convincing five length success.
The JLT Novices’ Chase seems the likely target now, with his ability to stay this trip now confirmed. BetVictor certainly seemed impressed, trimming him into 7/1 from 20/1 for that Day 3 event.
Douvan Impresses… Again
The main Irish contest of the weekend came over at Punchestown on Sunday with the latest running of the Grade 2 Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase. You don’t see many horses starting at odds of just 1/14 in a Grade 2 event, but then you don’t see many horses as good as Douvan.
Probably the best chaser in training, he completed this assignment without breaking sweat. That’s 13 wins from 13 starts for Willie Mullins now and 14 consecutive triumphs in all. It wold take a brave man to bet against him extending this streak still further in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race for which he is now 4/11 favourite.