- Presenting Percy - 3/1 Gold Cup
- Paisley Park - 11/4 Stayers' Hurdle
- Lethal Steps - 33/1 Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle
Last week saw Cheltenham host their last meeting before the Festival in March, with clues aplenty there, at Doncaster, Naas and Gowran's show-stopping Thyestes Day, where we finally got a glimpse of the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite.
Frodon Should Go For Ryanair Chase
The atmosphere when Frodon managed to get his head in front in Saturday's Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham was quite extraordinary, with the partnership of jockey Bryony Frost and the horse warming the hearts of racing enthusiasts.
However, I'm sorry, Frodon has next to no chance in Cheltenham Gold Cup. The trip is a furlong more than the Cotswold's and Frodon was paddling from the last fence. He "got away with it", in the sense that Bryony was allowed to get a breather into him coming down the hill, before gaining enough of a lead to last home.
His closest rival Elegant Escape was badly outpaced coming down the hill before flying home to get within a length of trainer Paul Nicholls' charge. For me, Elegant Escape should be aimed at this year's Grand National, but connections may want to take the Gold Cup route, like Anibale Fly did last year.
As for Frodon, he should be aimed for the Ryanair Chase, for which he is 10/1, but Nicholls seems set on the Cheltenham Gold Cup right now.
Shades Of Thistlecrack In Paisley Park
Wow! The Stayers' Hurdle betting was looking very messy until this week, but Paisley Park stamped, jumped and firmly put his marker down in Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle to go clear favourite at no bigger than 11/4 with BetBright.
Okay, maybe there was no superstar in Cheltenham's Grade 2, but Lil Rockerfeller, Wholestone, West Approach, Unowhatimeanharry etc are all very solid yard sticks and have been for years.
Paisley Park absolutely pulverised them by 12 lengths, and that was when idling up the run-in and in jockey Aidan Coleman's words "getting there a furlong too soon". He really reminded me of when Thistlecrack took the same route, and no horse in training could have taken Thistlecrack far enough in his races.
Paisley Park races very similarly and there doesn't seem to be a horse that can get him off the bridle.
No Poking Percy After Galmoy Return
Last year's RSA Chase winner Presenting Percy has generally been favourite in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting since his win at the Festival last March, and having not run since then, proved his well-being with a return victory in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.
For me, Presenting Percy will take a huge amount of beating in the Gold Cup. You could tell he would come on a lot for the run last Thursday, as his ears were pricked all the way from the second-last hurdle to the line; after idling, he picked up again when his closest rivals got within a length.
He won with plenty in hand, but connections have managed to peak him at the Festival two years running now. Jokingly, jockey Davy Russell mentioned the Stayers' Hurdle as an option after the race, for which he was installed at 2/1 NRNB, however, I think he's got as much chance as running in the Mares' Hurdle as he has the Stayers!
They've had one race in mind all year, as they have done the last two years, and there's very little to poke him with. He's a proven stayer, winning a 3m5f handicap chase at Fairyhouse last season and he's 2/2 at the Festival.
There's even a chance he could still be improving, as he's only had 5 runs over fences. With a current rating of 169, that's a scary look into the potential this horse could has!
Dynamite Dollars Disappoints In Arkle Prep
Dynamite Dollars was disappointing in Saturday's Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase at Doncaster, despite winning.
He jumped well enough, but the latter part of the race didn't convince me he could win an Arkle Novices' Chase as he only beat the 136-rated Ballywood by a couple of lazy lengths.
At this stage in the Arkle betting, I would be leaning towards course-and-distance winner Lalor or perhaps Cilaos Emery, who we saw win impressively at Gowran on Thursday, beating quite a decent field!
Honeysuckle New Mares' Novice Favourite
Honeysuckle was made 5/1 favourite for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Festival when taking another step forward to win a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse on Saturday; It's a 2m2f hurdle won previously by Limini and Laurina, who both went on to win at the Cheltenham Festival.
Having started out in a point-to-point beating Annie Mc(now rated 128 with Jonjo O'Neill) by 15 lengths, it's been a bit of a surprise how much speed Honeysuckle has shown on the track, with three wins at 2m4f, 2m and now 2m2f.
I believe she could be even better too, as she doesn't do an awful lot in front, but has been so clear of her rivals that she's had to do the donkey work. Honeysuckle is the typical 'chaser next year' type, but she's shown already she's well equipped to land a big prize over hurdles before the bigger obstacles next year.
Her main rival at Fairyhouse, Robin De Carlow flopped and looks a stayer. Trainer Willie Mullins has yet to unleash a real star mare this season as Champion Bumper heroine Relegate hasn't replicated the top form from her bumper season yet.
Look For Blinkers On Lethal Steps
One of the biggest eye catchers of the weekend was Sunday's Naas runner-up Lethal Steps, who has a sneaky look about him for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle!
On his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse last year, he drifted vigorously in the market from 2/1 to 6s and was given a very educational ride, before staying on strongly, given way too much to do.
Again on Sunday, he was given time over his hurdles and stayed on strongly, this time to take second behind a smart one in Konitho, trained by Joseph O'Brien.
On the Flat, this horse was borderline Group class, rated 102, but his best performances seemed to be linked to him wearing blinkers, which he hasn't done so over hurdles, yet.
Trainer Ger Lyons used blinkers on him for the first time in the Group 3 Derby Trial at Leopardstown, where he was only beaten 5 lengths by subsequent Epsom Derby fifth Hazapour.
Then when trained by Andrew Balding, blinkers went back on in a Listed event at Newmarket and he outran his 50/1 odds to be beaten just 2 lengths, finishing fourth.
I have a suspicion that trainer Gordon Elliot, who won last year's Fred Winter with Veneer Of Charm, has some headgear at his County Meath yard reserved for Lethal Steps to wear for something big - perhaps the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle?