With under a month to go until the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, those looking for potential clues might well have been keeping an eye on last season’s Gold Cup winner Long Run at yesterday’s Newbury meeting.
But while the seven-year-old scraped home in the Betfair Denham Chase, it was another Nicky Henderson-trained horse, Sprinter Spectre, who produced the real crowd-pleasing performance, enhancing his growing reputation ahead of the Arkle Chase with a dazzling performance in the Game Spirit Chase.
The 2/5 favourite settled in behind rivals early on before heading into a clear lead down the back straight in the Grade Two contest, winning comfortably by six lengths.
He is now the overwhelming 6/4 favourite for the Arkle Challenge Trophy at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, with jockey Barry Geraghty, – who won the Arkle in 2002 with Moscow Flyer – buzzing about the six-year-old’s Cheltenham hopes:
“Call him what you like – the business, the real deal – all I know is that he’s special and I’ve never ridden one like him.
“Moscow Flyer was brilliant but he’d doss in front and would beat a bad horse by two lengths the same as a good one.
“You’d call him unassuming in human terms, but this horse is flamboyant.
“He just needs wrapping up in cotton wool and looking after as he’s still got so much potential.”
And there was another eye-catching Cheltenham warm-up performance in the competitive Betfair Hurdle, as Paul Nicholls’ Zarkandar took advantage as Tony McCoy and Darlan took a tumble to win by a length and a quarter in only his fourth start over hurdles.
And with Nicholls asserting that there’d be “huge” improvement between now and Cheltenham, the 6/1 third fav for next month’s Champion Hurdle is certainly staking a claim to challenge favourite Hurricane Fly (4/6).