Tony McCoy's Festival hopes boosted
Published 20/02/2014 | 01:30
There were plenty of Cheltenham clues on offer at Doncaster, with at least four of the scorers possibly heading to the Cotswolds next month – headed by a 2013 Festival winner in Holywell.
Jonjo O'Neill's novice chaser waltzed away with the Pertemps Final last March and bettered that when second to Solwhit in a Grade One at Aintree a month later.
He has reached nothing like those heights over fences to date, but his hurdles rating had him miles clear of his opponents in the Betdaq Novices Chase.
Ulster great Tony McCoy was at work early on the 10-11 favourite but in typically determined fashion the champion jockey prevailed by three-quarters of a length from Victor Hewgo.
Holywell's Festival options are varied, with the Ladbrokes World Hurdle a possibility.
"I think he finds chasing hard as he's not very big," said McCoy, closing in on an incredible 19th successive title.
"He might not be as good over fences and could be a horse that goes back hurdling at some stage."
Trainer O'Neill said: "I don't know where he'll go now (at Cheltenham). He's in the four-miler, the three-mile handicap, the RSA and the World Hurdle.
"We'll just wait and see and leave all his options open and it's up to us to pick the right one."
There are few better trainers of four-year-olds than John Quinn, and his Pearl Castle defied a penalty in the Betdaq Juvenile Hurdle.
Having blundered three out, he came back on the bridle quickly for Brian Hughes, who then switched to the outside on the 4-6 favourite, a manoeuvre which brought the jockey a two-day ban (March 5-6).
Pearl Castle's Cheltenham options are in the hands of the handicapper, with the Fred Winter and Triumph Hurdle, for which he is as low as 12-1, in the mix.
"He came back on the bridle after his mistake which is a good sign," said Quinn.
"Left to me, this horse wouldn't go to Cheltenham on soft ground and we'd wait for Aintree, but you know what Cheltenham is like. Come Gold Cup day they might have to turn on the taps.
"He had to work hard but the second (Zamoyski) is no mug."