John Ferguson’s first Cheltenham Festival winner may have so far eluded him, with a return of just two places from his 25 runners, but could 2016 be the year it all comes together?
Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting saw the Prestbury Park course open its doors for the first time this season, and we weren’t disappointed with what was served up.
In the shadow of the brand new Princess Royal stand, Friday’s action kicked off with the emergence of a real Neptune hope for Ferguson.
Penglai Pavilion was classy enough on the flat to finish fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe behind Treve in 2013, so was an intriguing recruit to the hurdling game.
Two from two arriving at the home of jumps racing, the real question mark was not his quality, but his ability to stay the 2m5f trip.
Things looked promising turning for home as Aidan Coleman sat motionless on the five-year-old.
Only after jumping the last did he get serious with the horse, who responded handsomely to his urgings, storming clear to win by four-and-a-half lengths.
He may have been weak in the betting prior to the race – drifting from 7/4 to 11/4 – but his odds for Festival success weren’t going to be lengthening.
His 25/1 quote for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle remained unchanged, but the son of Monsun was introduced to the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle as a 14/1 shot.
Friday’s race was won by The New One en route to success in the contest at the Festival in 2012-13, so Ferguson’s gelding has some smart company to emulate.
He will, however, have to go one better than stable-mate Parlour Games, who was second in the race in March.
Just 24 hours later and Ferguson was welcoming another of his yard back into the winner’s enclosure at the Gloucestershire track.
Devilment was a well beaten fourth in the JCB Triumph Hurdle seven months ago, but looks to have trained on handsomely over the summer.
Reversing the form with Nicky Henderson’s Hargam in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle, the son of Cape Cross showed plenty of guts to fight off Karezak in second.
Sat in plum last as the eight runners ran down the hill approaching the home turn, Aidan Coleman took the widest route up the stand-side running rail to launch his charge to victory.
He was subsequently added to Ladbrokes’ Champion Hurdle betting as a 20/1 shot.
Connections of the likes of Faugheen and Peace and Co are unlikely to lose a huge amount of sleep over the one-and-a-half length victory, but for Ferguson, it looks as he will have two live outsiders for Festival glory come March.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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