- Buveur D'Air - 2/1 Champion Hurdle
- Sir Erec - 9/4 Triumph Hurdle
- Dallas Des Pictons - 12/1 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
We saw Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D'Air win Sandown's Contenders Hurdle for the third year running and Defi Du Seuil land a competitive Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, but the bulk of the Cheltenham Festival trials were in Ireland, so without further ado.
Apple's Jade Does Not Have Buveur D'Air Beat
Apple's Jade was a phenomenal winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday, making all to win by a massive 16 lengths. The big question was her next target and that was confirmed on Sunday, when trainer Gordon Elliot announced the Champion Hurdle over the Mares' Hurdle was the aim!
It's what all racing fans were praying for: a match-up against current champion Buveur D'Air. I still have reservations about whether she can win or not - she's been beaten twice in three runs at Cheltenham, and didn't blow them away the day she won either.
However, she does look a much stronger mare this season and could be very difficult to peg back up the Cheltenham hill. It'll be a fascinating race, but Buveur D'Air is the proven horse and is in better form than previous years.
His win this weekend over Vision des Flos wasn't breathtaking, but he won with plenty in hand. He's still just about the favourite in the Champion Hurdle betting, at a best-price 2/1 with Betfair, but Apple's Jade is challenging that, her odds no bigger than 9/4 with William Hill.
Martin Pipe For Dallas Des Pictons
Trainer Gordon Elliot has won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham for the last two seasons, both winners owned by Gigginstown House Stud, and now connections have the new favourite in Dallas Des Pictons, who won on his handicap debut off a mark of 130.
He was a well-backed winner at Leopardstown, toughing it out from the last to win quite snugly, the step up in trip seeming to bring out improvement in the six-year-old.
He's honest and gallops all day, which is a big plus for the Festival, Unibet quoting the best Martin Pipe odds of 12/1. He was a well-backed winner at Leopardstown, toughing it out from the last to win quite snug. He's honest and gallops all day which should really suit him come Cheltenham.
Off You Go Hides Handicap Plots
Saturday's Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle threw up plenty of eyecatchers too. The winner, Off You Go, who has won last year too, was clearly still well-handicapped, but in behind Uradel made very smart headway, before finding trouble on the run-in and finishing fifth.
That was the second handicap hurdle he'd manage to finish, and given he's rated a huge 102 on the Flat, he could take high rank off about 132 in one of the Festival handicaps, lBet365 making him 10/1 second favourite for the Martin Pipe, and 14/1 for the County Hurdle.
Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Sayar (40/1 Coral Cup) was having his first hurdles run since last April. He finished down the field, but is a former Grade 3 winner who looks on a very handy handicap mark of 136. Wonder Laish, from the same stable as the winner, was very weak in the market, but had previously taken a very valuable handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse.
O'Brien Odds-On For Triumph Hurdle Win
After four-year-old Fakir D'Oudairies bolted up at Cheltenham last weekend, trainer Joseph O'Brien landed another major Triumph Hurdle trial at Leopardstown on Sunday, as Sir Erec made all to win the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle in devastating fashion.
He's probably one of the most exciting Flat racers to have gone over jumps and he proved that it wasn’t all hype either, as jockey Mark Walsh confidently made the running on the huge son of Camelot.
He's a worthy favourite for the Triumph Hurdle now at odds no bigger than 9/4, and I don't think I've seen another horse that could beat him at the Festival. He improved his jumping and, as with most of Camelot’s progeny, stamina is their main asset, so I can only see the test of the Triumph being a positive for Sir Erec.
British Novices Proving Superior
Changing ground conditions called a world of late non runners at Leopardstown on Sunday, the likes of Delta Work, Coeur Sublime and Paloma Blue all missing from action.
It led to British-trained La Bague Au Roi bagging another Grade 1 in the 2m5f Flogas Novice Chase, but she won't be going to Cheltenham, meanwhile Arkle hope Le Richebourg was a good winner of the Irish Arkle, but I don't think that the opposition was of much strength.
At Sandown, jockey Barry Geraghty held on to Defi Du Seuil for as long as possible in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, and the new tactics worked as he reversed the form with his Cheltenham conqueror Lostintranslation.
The JLT Novices' Chase will be his next run, but I still have question marks over his jumping. However, this season there hasn't been a star novice chaser and the markets are tight, Defi Du Seuil as big as 6/1 joint-favourite for the JLT with Ladbrokes.
Over hurdles, Klassical Dream out-battled Aramon to win the 2m Grade 1 novice hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday. At this stage the British-trained novices seem much stronger than the Irish equivalent in that division, though Klassical Dream is 8/1 second-favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle across the boards.
Farewell To Special Tiara
A special mention to 2017 Champion Chase hero Special Tiara, who passed away this weekend. He was a horse of a lifetime for trainer Henry De Bromhead, a ballsy front-runner who excited racing fans with his enthusiastic jumping, and never gave up. He went out doing what he loved.