THAT was a wonderful weekend of racing. Big Buck’s, The Giant Bolster, Hurricane Fly, Our Conor, Harry Topper, Annacotty, Valdez, Red Sherlock, Trifolium. What was not to like? Despite his first reverse in 19 races, the returning Big Buck’s divided opinion among pundits and bookies. The criticism of Sam Twiston Davies was predictable although the scrutiny was understandable.
But Paul Nicholls said he was thrilled with the run and that is good enough for me. In terms of the Cheltenham Festival betting market, the bookies were in a tizz over how to react. Coral eased him to 9/4 for the World Hurdle while both BetVictor and Ladbrokes hardened him to 7/4 and 5/4 respectively. Reve De Sivola has taken a walk in the market while At Fishers Cross has attracted support after his good second to the 66/1 winner Knockara Beau. Let’s just hope Big Buck’s is none the worse and can line up on March 13: the roof will come off if he wins.
Le Rocher is now clear second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle behind Ivan Grozny after his authoritative victory over Kentucky Hyden and Vicenzo Mio. Le Rocher’s form looks pretty bombproof but Vicenzo Mio, who is very highly regarded, had to do the donkey work in front and I’m convinced he is better than what he showed. He has drifted out to 33/1 for the Triumph and shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Performance of the day at Cheltenham probably belonged to Feltham winner Annacotty, who just failed to give lumps of weight away in the novice handicap chase. It was a bold front-running effort and he is set to run at the Festival in either the RSA or the JLT, depending on the ground. He is as big as 25s for the RSA and 20s for the JLT and looks excellent each-way value for either.
The Gold Cup market was largely unaffected after the Argento Chase where The Giant Bolster gained a deserved victory and 33/1 is good each-way value for a horse who has already finished second and fourth in racing’s blue riband. But if it comes up very soft on Gold Cup day then the 50/1 about Harry Topper might be worth an each-way nibble, although it would have to be pretty bottomless.
Red Sherlock looked every inch a Neptune horse with his Grade Two victory over course and distance and is widely available at 8/1 for the Festival.
Another interesting mover was Valdez, who remains unbeaten over fences after his victory at Doncaster. He will be much better on better ground but 14/1 is still available for the Arkle, although some bookies have him as low as 10s.
And then there was The Fly. Hurricane Fly’s gutsy defeat of Our Conor showed his battling qualities and he generally shares favouritism with The New One for the Champion Hurdle, which is building up to be THE race of the Cheltenham Festival.