Saturday was something of a Ladies Day at Cheltenham as Lizzie Kelly produced 6/1 shot Sirrah Du Lac to land the Grade 3 handicap chase for Nick Williams by a head from 5/2 favourite Janika, then half an hour later Bryony Frost drove out the smart Frodon (9/4) to win the feature Grade 2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase.
Not to be outdone, Emma Lavelle then sent out the exciting Paisley Park (10/3f) to easily win the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle. He now heads the ante-post list for the Stayers Hurdle at 3/1.
With a view to the Cheltenham Festival, now less than 50 days away, the debate has already begun as to whether or not Frodon should run in the Gold Cup.
The Paul Nicholls-trained star idled in front before being driven out to beat Welsh National hero Elegant Escape (2/1f) by three-quarters-of-a-length having looked set to win comfortably after the final fence.
He would have to travel a furlong further, quite likely on more testing ground, in the race that matters more than any other.
Nicholls, a multiple champion jumps trainer, dropped a big hint however, telling reporters: “…In a year that I think is quite open I’m dead keen to go [for the Gold Cup] … He was giving away weight as well, and I still think there’s improvement there.”
Strange then to see the seven-year-old still available at 25/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, yet no bigger than 10/1 for the shorter Grade 1 Ryanair Chase!
Patrick Kelly’s RSA Chase winner Presenting Percy, impressive when landing the Galmoy Hurdle Gold Cup at Gowran Park a few days earlier, remains a clear 3/1 ante-post market leader for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Next weekend, the Cheltenham Festival picture may become a little clearer still with the key Leopardstown February meeting set to attract a host of stars to a high quality fixture.
A big performance from either Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade, or Willie Mullins’ Melon in Saturday’s Grade 1 BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle would enhance their respective prospects for the Cheltenham equivalent.
It’s a similar story earlier on Saturday for the Mullins-trained pair of Footpad and Min in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.
Both respectively represent the best hopes of an Irish shock victory over Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but one of them will have to produce something very special if they are going to bustle up the long odds-on Nicky Henderson-trained favourite on March 13.