Racing News – Countdown to Cheltenham – 20 Feb 2018

Patiently Worth The Wait, Lion Tamed, and Duke Back On Track

The Race Of The Season

The big Saturday contests sometimes live up to the hype, and sometimes they don’t. On still other occasions they produce a contest which is quite simply unforgettable. Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle fell firmly into the latter category.

We had a returning two-time champion and one of the most popular horses in training, Cue Card; a rising star of the game in the – undefeated over fences – Waiting Patiently; Irish raider and Gold Cup contender, Coney Island, and more going to post for what looked an enthralling three mile contest.

Whilst Coney Island was never at the races, and Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch was similarly disappointing, it mattered not a jot as Cue Card and Waiting Patiently served up a race for the ages. It was the Colin Tizzard veteran Cue Card, who took the bull by the horns, being sent straight into the lead by a possessed Paddy Brennan. Turning for home Cue Card had them all at it… all bar Waiting Patiently. Looming large on the outside, the Ruth Jefferson runner put the race to bed with a turn of foot that the valiant Cue Card simply couldn’t match.

If this race needed any more drama, it came with the added poignancy that Friday saw the funeral of Ruth Jefferson’s father – and the man who trained Waiting Patiently with such expertise – Malcolm Jefferson. Jockey Brian Hughes pointed to the heavens immediately upon crossing the line, as a jubilant Jefferson no-doubt looked down.

The Cheltenham Festival may not be on the agenda for Waiting Patiently, as he won’t be risked on good ground. For Cue Card though, one last tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup is now seemingly back on the table following this much improved display. He’s in to 25/1 from 50’s with BetVictor.

Weight Sinks Lion In The Mud

Quite how much of a bearing Saturday’s big Grand National Trial at Haydock will have on the big one itself at Aintree must be open to some debate, with the race being won by the only horse in the line-up who didn’t hold an entry for the Grand National at Aintree in April.

Venetia William’s Yala Enki was that horse, with the eight year old showing yet again how important the ability to handle the heavy ground round here is. He didn’t quite match Bristol De Mai’s 57 length Betfair Chase winning margin, but he wasn’t far off, coming home 54 lengths clear of a laboured Blaklion in second.

In hindsight it was always going to be an almost impossible task for the pint sized Blaklion to lump 11st12lbs around in the Haydock mud, and he didn’t lose too much in defeat all things considered. Nigel Twiston-Davies runner remains favourite in most National lists, with Betfair’s 14/1 being the best price on offer.

Harrington Double Handed In Gold Cup

The Jessica Harrington operation already looked pretty strongly represented in this year’s Gold Cup, with defending champion Sizing John set to fly the flag for the yard. Stablemate, Our Duke, had looked to be drifting out of the Gold Cup picture just a little following a poor start to the season, but bounced right back to something like his Irish Grand National winning  best when landing the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park on Saturday.

Coming out on top of a ding dong battle with RSA Chase favourite, Presenting Percy, this should have teed him up very nicely for the big one in March. Ladbrokes were certainly impressed, going 13/2 from 12s about the eight year old.

All Eyes On Newcastle For The Eider

From one slog of attrition to another, this weekend sees one of the toughest races of the entire season take place up at Newcastle with the 2018 edition of the 4m Eider Chase. 2015 winner Milborough is amongst the current entries, but it is Harry Whittington’s improving seven year old, Vinnie Lewis who currently heads the betting at 11/2 with Bet365.