Road to Cheltenham: Course lover Harry enhances Pertemps claims

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It was a weekend where two of the market leaders for the Cheltenham Festival shortened despite not leaving the comforts of their stable, as prep for the big one turns up a notch.

Douvan’s odds for the Arkle were clipped in from 1/2 to 4/9 after L’Ami Serge’s blowout in the Kingmaker Chase at Warwick, as Festival plans were thrown up into the air for Nicky Henderson’s charge.

Meanwhile at Newbury, the comeback of champion chaser Dodging Bullets failed to deliver the return win that was somewhat suspected as Paul Nicholls’ gelding was turned over by Top Gamble.

A consequence of that was that Un De Sceaux shortened further at the head of the betting for the Champion Chase, going from 4/5 to 4/6.

There were plenty of movers who did actually step foot on a racecourse over the weekend; here are our three big talking points.

A Smashing success for De Bromhead…

With 33 of his 39 Graded successes in the last five years coming over fences, it is clear that Henry De Bromhead is a man who likes to focus his efforts on chasers when it comes to the big races.

He has a chance to add a fifth Cheltenham Festival success, this time with Smashing, who enhanced his Ryanair Chase credentials with an easy win at Gowran Park on Saturday.

Sent off the 9/10 favourite, the grey led from start to finish to record an authoritative victory over the classy pair of Morning Assembly and Ballycasey.

A step up in trip looks to have been the making of him after finishing well down the field in the Arkle last term, and with three wins on the bounce has seen his price for a Festival triumph cut from 20/1 to 14/1.

Smashing (red cap) finished fourth in the Coral Cup in 2014

Smashing (red cap) finished fourth in the Coral Cup in 2014

Harry on course for a Cheltenham hat-trick…

Course form can be a major factor when picking your horses to back during the big week, and with two wins from two visits to Prestbury Park, you can’t argue with Unowhatimeanharry’s credentials.

Harry Fry’s charge has come on leaps and bounds this season, winning all four of his runs, including the Grade 2 Bristol Novices’ Hurdle in December.

His latest success came in a qualifier for the Pertemps Final at Exeter, where he shouldered top-weight under Noel Fehily, and displayed ample stamina to stay on strongly to win by four-and-a-half lengths in Devon.

He was added to the market for the Final of the series at Cheltenham as a 12/1 chance after his victory, but a subsequent stream of money has seen the eight-year-old backed into 10/1 joint-favouritism.

Noel Fehily and Unowhatimeanharry have formed a fearsome partnership

Noel Fehily and Unowhatimeanharry have formed a fearsome partnership

More final fence drama for Ruby…

It was Annie Power last year, Killultagh Vic last month, Valseur Lido last week and now Black Hercules has been added to the list of final obstacle ‘moments’ that have besieged themselves on Ruby Walsh.

While the second in the above list recovered under Walsh to win in dramatic fashion, there was to be no such miracle on Sunday as his mount took a tumble in the Ten Up Novices’ Chase.

Travelling well to move into the lead, the seven-year-old clipped the top of the fence, and crumpled on landing, leaving Measureofmydreams to pick up the pieces at Navan on Sunday.

Despite the spill, the way in which the Graham Wylie-owned gelding moved into the lead saw him clipped into 11/4 (from 7/2) for the National Hunt Chase over four miles at the Festival.

The weekend’s winner saw his odds halved for the RSA Chase, going from 33/1 to 66/1, but it will take massive improvement for him to take the Grade 1 in a month’s time.

Black Hercules remains a live Festival contender

Black Hercules remains a live Festival contender

 All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.