Our team reflect on an exciting weekend of National Hunt racing across Britain and Ireland.
What did you make of the Betfair Chase and if you had to back one today who would you go for in the Cheltenham Gold Cup?
Ben Linfoot: It was an incredible performance from Cue Card who proved he stayed three miles in emphatic fashion. No horse has got as close to Sprinter Sacre over fences as this fellow and he's out of the very top drawer. It looked a really hot race on paper and he's beaten most of his rivals for the King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup here, so it was no wonder he was slashed for both. A best-price 9/1 for the Gold Cup, it would be an astonishing achievement to win a third different race at the Festival following his Bumper and Ryanair successes (not to mention his Supreme fourth and Arkle second). Mind you, proving you stay three miles and a furlong around Haydock doesn't mean you'll stay the extended three and a quarter miles in a Gold Cup. With that in mind, Bobs Worth might not be a bad bet at 6/1. The emphasis on speed here didn't suit and his run was too bad to be true wasn't it? A Cheltenham specialist and a proper stayer, his season will revolve around the Festival highlight and 6/1 is very tempting if you can forgive him Saturday's run. On balance, I think I can.
Will Hayler: Like you, I think Bobs Worth will show his true colours at Cheltenham in March, but I don't think there's much juice in his price - particularly as I'm not convinced he'll perform much better in the Lexus (if that's where he goes next). Boston Bob remains a more appealing bet at the odds, as far as I'm concerned.
Ian Brindle: Cue Card got into his rhythm and was always going to be a difficult nut to crack if he stayed and on reflection his SP of 9/1 was an overreaction given he didn't run that bad a race at Exeter previously. I agree with Ben regarding 6/1 being a decent bet at Prestbury Park about Bob's Worth and it wasn't too long ago that Kauto Star was able to put behind a disappointing run in this race here to win a Gold Cup later in the season. I don't know what to make of Long Run - he jumped ok (bar missing one down the back) but this was another below par effort and connections might need to do something different in order to reinvigorate him.
Michael Shinners: I think we will see a much fitter Bobs Worth next time we see him, although he was still bitterly disappointing. I was really impressed with Cue Card. He showed an excellent turn of foot and showed that he gets 3 miles against top class opposition. The horse I was most impressed with was Silviniaco Conti who travelled like the best horse in the race before tiring before the last. Paul Nicholls suggested after the race that he would have needed the run and he could be a major player come March.
Rolling Star and Annie Power enhanced their Champion Hurdle claims on Saturday according to the betting, how impressed were you with the pair?
BL: The four-year-olds just keep on franking Our Conor's JCB Triumph Hurdle win, as if it needed it, and he could be a freak. As much as I like The New One, I can't believe Our Conor isn't a strong favourite for the Champion Hurdle. If he improves further I don't think any horse will live with him. Rolling Star ran well and put his Triumph Hurdle defeat behind him but I can't really see him developing into a Champion Hurdle horse though he's clearly another talent in the hands of the right man. Annie Power took a while to get on top of Zarkandar receiving plenty of weight and though she was ultimately impressive I can't see two miles being her trip. If it wasn't for a certain Quevega, she'd be nailed on for the mares' race.
WH: Annie Power's a talented mare and I liked her performance against Zarkandar, albeit with the caveats you would expect. She certainly doesn't lack anything in size and I could see her appreciating the uphill finish at Cheltenham. Granted an end-to-end gallop (and we've seen in the last couple of years that's far from a gimme in the race), I wouldn't rule her out of getting into the Champion Hurdle shake-up. But Willie Mullins has so many cards to play in so many games, it's tough for an ante-post punter to be dogmatic about where she might end up.
IB: Fair play to Willie Mullins for taking advantage of the reluctance of British trainers to enter such races. She does look a chasing type to me but you couldn't crab her for Saturday and she'd have beaten Zarkandar even if he had wore the blinkers. She'll have no problem in mopping up the Mares races in Ireland this winter. Rolling Star has reportedly grown over the close season though the way he jumps suggests he might be worth a try going the other way around.
MS: Both were impressive, although I would have my doubts as to whether either would be good enough to win a Champion Hurdle. Annie Power is a talented Mare who in my opinion will be better suited by a longer trip. She was ultimately impressive on Saturday, although I think she is better over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Rolling Star was a touch disappointing last season after looking top notch at Cheltenham earlier in the season. I have a nagging doubt that Rolling Star might be a horse to catch early in the season, so I will be interested in how he gets on next time out.
The top four in the betting (Cue Card, Dynaste, Al Ferof, Silviniaco Conti) for the King George were all in action on Saturday. Who do you fancy?
BL: The 3/1 favourite for the King George, Cue Card will be hard to beat at Kempton in the form he showed at Haydock. His laboured fifth there last year can now be put down to his early mistakes and, perhaps, the heavy ground. Better ground this year and he looks sure to be right in contention on this effort. Mind you, Dynaste looks a worthy rival now he's proved he can live with the big guns and his Feltham win last year showed how well he's suited to the track. I would probably just prefer his chances at present given Saturday was his seasonal reappearance and at around 5/1 he's the one for me. Al Ferof couldn't have asked for an easier task on his reappearance following an enforced absence but it was nice to see him back at Ascot. Yet to run over three miles under Rules, the extra distance could unlock further improvement in him, though it'll have to. Silviniaco Conti ran well in defeat and he too is a player in what is shaping up to be a fascinating King George.
WH: I just can't see any value in the market at present. All four of the horses mentioned have very obvious claims and victory for none of them would be a great surprise. If I'm going to have an ante-post bet, I like there to be at least one of the main players in the betting about whom I am cold, or which I suspect might be a non-runner. Yes, it's going to be a fascinating King George - tactically for sure - but at this rate it could well be one where I don't end up having a bet. I know, I can't believe it either.
IB: I'm not rushing in yet as it's still a long way away. If we stop the tape four out you have to say that Dynaste was travelling well though you'd hardly suggest he found a great deal off the bridle. We learnt nothing new about Al Ferof - it'd have been a disappointment for him to have been beaten on debut and it will be fascinating to see if John Hales (who won the race with One Man in the 1990's) lets him take his chance.
MS: Silviniaco Conti travelled like a dream and blew up before the last. He showed he retains all his ability and I think that Kempton could be perfect for him. You couldn't fail to be impressed by Cue Card and Dynaste ran a blinder. Over at Ascot Al Ferof showed his well being, so in short I'm not sure! If all 4 turn up over Christmas, it will be a fantastic race.
Give us one other horse that caught your eye over the weekend.
BL: Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold cantered all over an excellent field in the Monksfield at Navan and looks one to keep an eye on for the rest of the season. 20/1 for the Neptune seems fair.
WH: Alfie Sherrin ran a race remarkably reminiscent of stablemate Sunnyhillboy two years back in the same Brush Hurdle contest. Six months after Haydock, Sunnyhillboy went on to very nearly win the Grand National. You can guess where I'm going with this.
IB: It'll be a tough choice for the champ as i thought Colbert Station ran a decent trial on Sunday at Navan. Jonjo O'Neill introduced a really nice type in the bumper at Huntingdon on Saturday in Fort Worth and I think this full brother to Pink Hat could turn out to be something special.
MS: Blue Fashion for Nicky Henderson looks a really useful recruit and ran a blinder on his British debut at Haydock. He looks like a horse who will thrive under Hendo and could well be a Coral Cup horse in March at the Festival.