Road to Cheltenham: Vyta Du Roc gives Henderson huge RSA shout

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The Grand National weights lunch and subsequent performance of Silviniaco Conti at Ascot on Saturday may have had some thinking of Aintree, but before we get to Merseyside, there’s still the little matter of Cheltenham.

Trials for the big races continue to come thick and fast and the antepost markets are constantly being shaken up to react to the action.

Last weekend was no different, with some excellent (and some not so excellent) performances meaning there were plenty of movers for the week at Prestbury Park.

Vyta answers any stamina questions

Prior to lining up in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, only once had Vyta Du Roc been tested over three miles, when being left in a distant second behind Thistlecrack at Aintree.

His stamina, therefore was not totally assured as he lined up in Berkshire, but any worries about whether he stayed were soon confined to the bin.

Paul Nicholls’ Le Mercurey looked to have the race at his mercy but a slow leap at the last handed the initiative to Nicky Hendersons’ charge who took full advantage.

The Seven Barrows trainer was fairly non-committal as to where his Cheltenham target would be; “He does stay and there is the alternative of going up in trip for the four-miler,” he said after the race.

The seven-year-old was cut into 16/1 for the RSA Chase, while he is a 20/1 shot for the National Hunt Chase over a mile further.

A crack at the more illustrious RSA might look a better bet for the gelding, taking his jockey Daryl Jacob’s comments into account.

Jacob spoke of how the horse “hasn’t got loads of pace”, but that isn’t necessarily a requisite to win the Grade 1, with the likes of Don Poli, Lord Windermere and O’Faolain’s Boy – horses you’d be stretched to call fast taking the race in recent years.

The owners have L’Ami Serge for the Arkle and Bristol De Mai for the JLT Novices’ Chase, so having a representative in each of the three big novice events might just suit them.

With solid form at Cheltenham, including a win in the Sharp Novices’ Hurdle and a fourth place finish when blundering the last in the Neptune, backing him for a big performance doesn’t look such a bad idea.

Is Chocca Wocca a dark horse for Festival success?

Making her first start since last April, Chocca Wocca continued what was an excellent weekend for Nicky Henderson at Market Rasen on Sunday.

Unseen since finishing in a Listed bumper at Aintree, Nico De Boinville’s mount was very free going in the early stages – something forgivable in the circumstances.

Nevertheless, despite pulling for much of the first mile, the six-year-old found plenty under pressure for her jockey, grinding out success by half-a-length.

With that keen nature, some doubts might creep into punters’ minds about her ability to get up the hill in the Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

However, you’d expect her to be a bit more contained having blown the cobwebs away in Lincolnshire, and would have to go to the Festival with a live chance.

She remains a 16/1 shot for the newest race of the week, and could well improve enough to oblige at a tasty price.

Triumph Hurdle picture thrown into chaos

It was a weekend of moving and shaking for the Ladbrokes traders for the juvenile event at the Festival, as two odds-on favourites and relative shorties for the race were turned over.

First Fixe Le Kap ensured it wouldn’t be an entirely perfect weekend for Nicky Henderson, when finishing second when sent off at 1/4 at Haydock.

Previously unbeaten for his trainer, the grey was pushed out from 6/1 to 12/1 for the opener on Friday.

Less than 20 later and it was Voix De Reve who was letting down favourite backers, this time at Fairyhouse when finishing third at 8/15.

He too was pushed out for Festival success, going from 16/1 to 25/1.

All that means that Joseph O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov and Alan King’s Sceau Royal move back to the head of the market at 3/1 and 7/1 respectively.

Whether we get more big moves in the race ahead of Cheltenham is anyone’s guess.

All odds and markets 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.