Richard Moore takes a look at the most impressive horses over the Christmas period and gives the verdict on their Cheltenham Festival chances.
I was probably the biggest sceptic regarding this horses’ Gold Cup prospects going into the Christmas period. How could a mere novice compete against such classy, seasoned chasers? With his propensity for throwing in a few hairy jumps added into his free-going manner, I had him earmarked as lay material for the Gold Cup. What transpired on the 26th December at Kempton absolutely blew me away. The naysayers will pick holes in the form, pointing to the proximity of the likes of Tea For Three and Silviniaco Conti, but the reality is that this race was over with five fences left to jump. A win reminiscent of Kauto Star, and that is probably the biggest compliment I can pay any horse. The Gold Cup looks a mere penalty kick for the horse now, with challengers falling by the wayside (Djakadam and Cue Card defeats, Don Cossack and Coneygree injuries).
While another Mullins three year old might come away from the Christmas period with the spotlight (Bapaume took the Graded event on St. Stephens’ Day), Meri Devie created a wonderful first impression when taking the notable scalp of Housesofparliament in a three year old maiden hurdle at Leopardstown the following day. She was backed off the boards, the vibes were strong, and she duly delivered in style. The form of the race is obviously a big unknown at this point, as the pair pulled seven lengths clear of a Tony Martin runner who was rated 85 on the flat, but the manner of the victory pointed strongly to a very bright future, and the time of the race compares favourably with others on the card.
If Thistlecrack has a penalty kick in the Gold Cup, Douvan must surely be facing an open goal from a yard out in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. His performance at Leopardstown might not have seemed too significant at first glance (another impressive win for Douvan, yawn), but his time was monstrous. Indeed, it was the only race run over the four days at Leopardstown that was faster than the respective Racing Post Standard time (and was actually fast by almost four seconds). In handing out a trouncing a consistent yardstick like Simply Ned (rated between 157 and 161 since October 2014), it confirmed that the Douvan we see in open company this season has actually taken a step forward (scary thought) from last season. Soundness permitting, he could dominate this division for years to come.