Bishopsfurze blazing a trail to Cheltenham
The clouds that lingered so coldly over the Turf in midwinter have begun to reveal their silver lining, with trainers now finding themselves obliged to get a run into Cheltenham Festival candidates literally any day of the week.
Today, for instance, the north's leading candidate for the RSA Chase shows up at Bangor-on-Dee, while yesterday two of the strongest stables either side of the Irish Sea were simultaneously fielding candidates for the big novice hurdles at the Festival.
Bishopsfurze looks of particular interest, following his easy win at Clonmel for the flourishing partnership of Willie Mullins and Paul Townend.
True, he cannot afford to jump at Cheltenham the way he did the last two flights, when lucky to keep his feet, but it is worth remembering his storming finish after being hampered in the Champion Bumper last year.
Predictably enough, given their trainer's form, the only horse able to go with him into the straight was his stablemate, Skorcher, but Bishopsfurze saw him off readily by seven lengths.
He certainly did not look short of pace and the two miles and five furlongs of the Neptune Investment Hurdle — for which he can still be backed at 25-1 — would seem preferable to the stiffer test of the Albert Bartlett.
Within five minutes, over at Wincanton, Nicky Henderson was welcoming back Gibb River after he had shrugged off a double penalty at odds of 1-9.
He will now go for the Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle, for which he is 25-1 with the sponsors.
Today Henderson sends Rackham Lerouge to Bangor as one of just two runners prepared to take on Wymott, whose trainer, Donald McCain, chose the venue for his Festival rehearsal on account of “the fantastic job they do with the ground there.”
In a rather more sumptuous arena, meanwhile, Gitano Hernando made only a reasonably pleasing comeback at Meydan last night.
The Newmarket raider was set plenty to do, off a steady pace, and circled the field before keeping on at one pace for fifth in the second round of the Maktoum Challenge.
The race was won in devastating fashion by Bold Silvano, a top-class performer in South Africa who will now be prepared for next month's Dubai World Cup by Mike De Kock.