Cheltenham Festival weekend eye-catchers – Five to keep an eye on

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers.Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers.

Brian Healy picks out five Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers who ran over the past weekend and who could now pitch up at the greatest show on turf.

There were a few more Cheltenham Festival hopefuls on show throughout last weekend’s horse racing action at Kempton and Fairyhouse on Saturday, and Fontwell and Naas on Sunday.

The weekend saw some Festival hopes enhanced, while others took a dent and Brian Healy picks out five Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers who could now head to the greatest show on turf in a couple of weeks’ time.

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL WEEKEND EYECATCHERS

OUR POWER (Martin Pipe Hurdle)

Competing in the first race of the day at Kempton on Saturday, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge finished just under three lengths’ third behind the winner Downtown Getaway although it later transpired that the Power gelding had lost a hind shoe during the race so that effort can perhaps be upgraded as a result.

A dual-hurdles winner for Alan King last term, he finished fourth Fakir Doudairies in the Grade Two Finesse Hurdle last January prior to a creditable ninth in the Fred Winter Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.

He has improved this term for more of a test of stamina and he holds an entry in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle where he could outrun his big odds from a handicap mark that possibly leaves him scope for improvement.

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers. Nigel Twiston-Davies' Our Power ran better than the result at Kempton.

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Our Power ran better than the result at Kempton.

SOUTHFIELD STONE (Northern Trust Company Handicap Chase)

One of two Paul Nicholls-trained runners in the Grade Two Pendil Novices’ it was the lesser fancied of the pair in Southfield Stone who caught the eye as he finished runner-up behind the tough winner Who Dares Wins.

The Fair Mix gelding had won at Musselburgh in decisive fashion the time before and the progressive seven-year old lost little caste in defeat having been outbattled the winner. He showed a tendency to jump to his left and wasn’t always fluent under Bryony Frost; while he hung left on the run-in having led over the last.

There’s a suspicion he has more in the locker but he looks a tricky ride and headgear could help bring improvement out of him. He could prove a decent each-way prospect in the Tuesday Listed handicap contest.

SOLO (Triumph Hurdle)

The French import was making his first start for Paul Nicholls in Saturday’s Adonis Juvenile Hurdle and the Kapgarde gelding made a huge impact in romping to an impressive victory over Fujimoto Flyer and others.

High-class in France previously for Guillame Macaire he immediately jumped to the top of the ante-post betting for the Triumph Hurdle on the back of his bloodless victory. Having took up the running midway through the race he readily came clear to defeat the well-regarded Fujimoto Flyer by 13 lengths and there is certainly more to come from him.

Of all the Cheltenham Festival eyecatchers on show over the weekend, his performance was the most visually impressive and he looks a top-class prospect even if the form of that success could prove questionable in time.

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers. Solo leapt to the head of the betting for the Triumph Hurdle.

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers. Solo leapt to the head of the betting for the Triumph Hurdle.

FERNY HOLLOW (Champion Bumper)

Willie Mullins’ well-regarded Westerner gelding finally opened his account at the third attempt having found one too good in each of his two previous starts back in December behind Eric Bloodaxe and Forged In Fire respectively.

Equipped with a hood for the first time for his latest outing, he was travelling noticeably well through the race. He lengthened impressively to land the spoils by four lengths from On Eagles Wings and another well-thought of type in Frontal Assault.

The Champion Bumper awaits him now where he adds a second formidable string to Willie Mullins’ Festival team. Mullins also has the ante-post favourite in Appreciate It. The heavy ground really seemed to suit him on Saturday and while he likely won’t get similar conditions come the Festival he likely won’t be far away again.

THOMAS DARBY (Champion Hurdle)

Despite meeting with defeat in the Sunday National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, Olly Murphy’s charge remains capable of better than he showed and he perhaps shouldn’t be too harshly judged on his reversal behind William Henry.

He had beaten Saturday’s Kingwell Hurdle winner Song Of Someone on his previous start and he might not have been best suited by having to cut out most of the running given that none of the quintet who went to post seemed keen to set the pace.

The Beneficial gelding was still pitching over the last before fading to finish four lengths’ third behind Nicky Henderson’s winner and Quel Destin who finished in the silver medal spot. But the prospect of better ground and a stronger pace at Cheltenham in the Champion Hurdle might see him in much better light come the Festival so he’s not one to completely write off just yet.

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers. Don't discount Thomas Darby despite defeat at Fontwell.

Cheltenham Festival weekend eyecatchers. Don’t discount Thomas Darby despite defeat at Fontwell.