A top weekend of racing from Cheltenham, Doncaster and Thurles saw Apple’s Shakira emerge as the star of the show.
Nicky Henderson’s charge justified favouritism at 1/10 to land the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle by just over 3l from Harry Skelton and Nube Negra.
It was an assured jumping display from the unbeaten hurdler who has been cut into 7/2 from 5/1 for the Triumph Hurdle in March.
She’ll face a bigger field at the Festival but the ante-post markets put her well-ahead of nearest challengers Espor D’Allen and Summer Juvenile Hurdle winner We Have A Dream at 10/1.
In the first big race of the day from the Gloucestershire course, it was Guitar Pete who triumphed ahead of fancied pair Clan Des Obeaux and King’s Odyssey.
The 9/1 shot claimed victory following a fatal injury to Starchitect who looked to have the race won when 7l from home.
It proved to be something of a hollow victory for connections who will likely aim Guitar Pete at one of the Cheltenham handicaps in the spring.
Later on in the International Hurdle, it was My Tent Or Yours who sprung a shock to claim a first victory in three years from The New One and Melon.
Those odds not only reflect the differential in age between the pair but also the fact the Festival race is run on the old course which will likely suit Willie Mullins’ mount better than his counterpart.
Kilbricken Storm showed inexperience when defying odds of 3/1 to take the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle but can be found at 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in March. Next Destination remains the favourite at 6/1, ahead of Samcro at 7/1.
Meanwhile, over in Ireland, Killahara Castle defied odds of 200/1 to land the Boreen Belle Mares Novice Hurdle by 5l from the Mullins trained True Self.
In doing so she became the longest-priced winner in Irish racing history.
It’s 100/1 that she pulls another shock to take home the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham.
All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication