Five Things We Learned: Only Laurina can save us now

Put The Kettle On caused a minor upset when winning the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday.
Put The Kettle On caused a minor upset when winning the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday.

The Arkle is looking wide open, though devoid of any true quality

The Arkle Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday provided a real stage for a horse to showcase their Festival credentials; Al Dancer rightfully topped the market having won well at the October meeting, while Paul Nicholls’ smugness about Getaway Trump had punters flocking to his camp. Instead, however, it was the 6/1 outsider Put The Kettle On who forged clear to claim the Grade 2 event and leave us all asking, where on earth is the Arkle winner? The bookmakers find themselves in the same predicament, and have around 20 horses now priced in the 20/1 to 25/1 bracket, and it leaves us all now eagerly anticipating the seasonal debut of Laurina - possibly the only star in the division and current market leader for the Arkle – at Thurles on Thursday. We’re still a long way off March yet, but let’s hope a true contender comes from somewhere, otherwise the explosive, exciting and enthralling two-mile novice division could be the antonyms of the above and the Grade 1 contest could look more like a high-level handicap.

Never write an old boy off

Douvan winning impressively, Faugheen proving why he holds the tag of ‘The Machine’ and Yanworth pulling clear of his rivals. Don’t scratch your eyes, this is not the 2015/16 National Hunt season, and Sprinter Sacre will not be winning the Champion Chase, but what about that for a weekend of results to ignite a fire of nostalgia? All three of those horses have been subject to calls for retirement, but all three proved why you should never call time on the career of a legend. Douvan displayed the same engine that powered him to three Festival triumphs, Faugheen showed he had plenty of fire in his belly when forging clear on his chase debut at Punchestown – despite a near-race-ending error at the eighth – and Yanworth’s surprise cross country debut resulted in a one-and-a-half-length success. All three will be followed closely for the remainder of the season and thousands of racing fans will flock to see them on the racecourses, so who knows what level of success one of them could achieve? But what a result this was for racing.

Defi Du Seuil looks set for another good season

One of the highlights of Sunday’s action was the Shloer Chase, despite only being a four-runner affair. Turning for home it looked as though it could be anyone’s – even the 12-year-old Simply Ned, who the bookmakers had all but written off, was travelling strongly – but it was the pocket rocket Defi Du Seuil who soared over the second last and possessed momentum and talent in abundance to get past the long-time leader Politologue. For such a small horse, Defi Du Seuil has the ability to jump higher than those lining up against him, and boasts such an impressive turn of foot that beating the best and winning at a third Festival looks well within reach. He’s been cut to as low as 6/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and will certainly have his work cut out beating the promising Chacun Pour Soi, but he did his credentials no harm and he needs to be seen as a superstar once again.

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Battleoverdoyen is yet to take centre stage at Cullentra House

Battleoverdoyen maintained his unbeaten run over fences with a workmanlike performance in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown, but the reaction to his victory was certainly mixed. His performance was … good, probably nothing more impressive than that. Niggled at to keep up with the pace, he appeared to idle once he finally hit the front, before running out an eventual five-length winner. It mustn’t be overlooked that he beat a Cheltenham winner in Any Second Now (last season's Kim Muir winner), however, it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. Samcro looks set to be the stable’s two and half mile horse, and it looks as if that trip would be far too quick for Battleoverdoyen, anyway, so he falls into the three-mile RSA bracket, which would suit his bold jumping and pace – or lack of – but I think we will need to see a bit more of an eye-catching performance if we’re to see him take up the mantle as an Elliott stable star, a position many thought he’d fill last season.

There is a big win in Slate House

The feature race of the weekend – the BetVictor Gold Cup – looked for certain in-running as though it was going to go the way of the 4/1 favourite Slate House, until he crashed out at the second last - leaving the trio of Warthog, Brelan D’as and eventual winner Happy Diva to battle it out to the line. Since beating the eventual Supreme Novices' winner Summerville Boy in the Grade 2 Trial for that race at this meeting in 2017, Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old suffered a barren run, only returning to winning ways when chalking up his third career victory at last month's October Meeting.

He never truly settled throughout the race on Saturday, but still managed to find himself in a promising position on the bridle approaching the second last, and should he had lifted his legs slightly higher, we’d probably be discussing if he was a Festival horse or not, but I’m prepared to do that anyway. He shapes as a Ryanair horse, having both a bit of speed and stamina, and although messy jumping will ultimately result in failure in National Hunt racing, seeing how much he has come on over the summer suggests that, at seven, there is still a whole lot more to come from him yet.  

Cheltenham Festival
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