On a glorious Saturday that had something for every lover of the jumping game, Cue Card of course took top billing with his brilliant front-running performance up at Haydock.
Earlier on the card Nicky Henderson’s Rolling Star proved himself a highly talented young hurdler who had reportedly strengthened up over the summer. He could yet make into a top grade hurdler or a top handicapper at the very least and it will be interesting to see where he is placed.
The Betfair Cash Out “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle has over the years been something of a benefit for the David Pipe stable, with previous winners Grand Crus and Dynaste. This year’s race followed suit as Gevrey Chambertin, a brother to the former, ran out a brave winner. The grey 5 year old put together an impressive sequence of 3 wins last winter before losing all form at Cheltenham and Aintree and looked to have plenty of weight for this ultra competitive race.
In the event, Tom Scudamore took matters into his own hands and had the horse in front a long way from home, building up a decent advantage as they turned for home. Before that point Barry Geraghty had moved Utopie Des Bordes up into contention from an exaggerated wide position, the ground on the inside being chewed up.
All the way down the straight, Gevrey Chambertin maintained his lead, with Geraghty gradually closing but looking unable to breach the gap. However, after the last hurdle, on the flat, Utopie Des Bordes began to wear down the leader who just hung on for victory. David Pipe has suggested he may go chasing now and he looks a potentially very exciting novice chaser given his performance here.
At Ascot, Annie Power took the honours in an interesting Ascot Hurdle. With only the 4 runners – which quickly became 3 when Magnifique Etoile crashed out; Bygones of Brid set out to make the running from Zarkandar with Annie Power and Ruby Walsh content to it at the back of the field.
By the fourth from home Zarkandar had asserted and the early leader dropped away, leaving Annie Power stalking last season’s Aintree Hurdle winner. As they turned into the home straight, Ruby appeared to be travelling smoothly into contention, although on the inside, Daryl Jacob had not yet asked Zarkander any serious questions.
At the final flight the race developed quickly in earnest – and was just as quickly put to bed, with Annie Power, in receipt of 11 pounds, sprinting clear on the flat to record an emphatic success. She clearly stays well and one wonders if Willie Mullins might come back to England for a tilt at the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Zarkandar ran very well in a tactically muddling race and on seasonal debut and still looks to have plenty of Grade 1 potential.
The race before this saw a winning return for the exciting almost white Al Ferof in the Amlin 1965 Chase. The race had already been criticised for only yielding 3 runners and sadly that became 2 when Captain Chris was found to be lame and was withdrawn this morning.
That left French Opera, a horse who has run way below his best for a while now, as the sole challenger to Al Ferof. Paul Nicholls’ 8 year old had looked a potential King George candidate last year when winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup in exhilarating style but picked up a small tendon injury in early December and missed the rest of the season.
This was his first race for just over a year and he ran well, jumping exuberantly – sometimes in hair-raising style, so extravagant were several of his leaps. That tells us he was fresh and he will likely travel to Kempton for a crack at Cue Card in the King George VI Chase next. That would of course resurrect fond memories of John Hales’ marvellous grey One Man, who took the Kempton prize on 2 occasions and frighteningly, was making his mark in chases this time 20 years ago.