As we head deeper into the New Year, no doubt opinions are hardening and antepost wagers are being placed in preparation for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
A few of the past weekend’s notable winners could well form part of punters’ thinking with the likes of Death Duty, Finian’s Oscar and Lifeboat Mona each enhancing their respective claims.
Here’s our round-up of the latest action, with a nod to Prestbury Park…
Death Duty looks the real deal
Even discounting Augusta Kate’s tumble, Gordon Elliott’s Death Duty was a mightily impressive winner of the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas last Sunday.
Teenage jockey Jack Kennedy steered the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle favourite to victory and he subsequently told RTE: “The Albert Bartlett can turn into a real test and that would suit Death Duty.
“He won’t be stopping, that’s for sure. He’ll keep going and gallop all the way to the line.
“He’s some jumper too, very slick over his hurdles, and he jumped great on Sunday. That’s a huge asset to have.”
Following his seven-length romp our traders have cut Death Duty to 9/4 from 5/2 for the Albert Bartlett.
Invitation Only is next best at 10/1 and those odds are a reflection of just how highly the bookies rate the Gigginstown runner’s chances.
What’s the best target for Finian’s Oscar?
Colin Tizzard did it again on Saturday with Finian’s Oscar his latest big race winner when taking the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle.
In beating respected rival, Capitaine, by five lengths at Sandown the Ann and Alan Potts-owned charge thrust himself into the Festival reckoning.
However, where should Tizzard aim his precious talent?
Trainer Tom George told the Racing Post’s Monday Jury: “The Neptune could be the right race for him. He doesn’t need to stay at two miles and I’m sure he’d have the stamina for that race.”
Meanwhile, fellow handler Nicky Richards said: “Colin Tizzard ran him over two miles on Saturday so I’d imagine he would stick to that.”
The National Hunt Twitterati also had their say on how highly, or not, they rate FO.
— Michael White (@mp_white11) January 9, 2017
— Stu ‘Jimbo’ Williams (@Jimbo_JumpsMan) January 9, 2017
@the_racehour not as impressed as some…. Will be smashing 3m chaser in time ..but not the good thing at cheltenham some might say
— Matt Smith (@MattyladKRO) January 9, 2017
Mona for the Mares’, Coneygree out of the Gold Cup, Fry not dismissing Ballyoptic
In other news, Lifeboat Mona beat some useful rivals on the same Sandown card, including recent Prestbury Park winner Briery Queen, and is now 20/1 for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Elsewhere, 2015 hero Coneygree will now miss the Cheltenham Gold Cup. King George winner Thistlecrack remains the 4/5 favourite.
And finally, Harry Fry believes Ballyoptic is a worthy rival in this year’s Stayers’ Hurdle – despite the fact that his Unowhatimeanharry has beaten him twice already this season.
The trainer told RTE: “I think Ballyoptic should not be dismissed lightly at all. We beat him fair and square at Newbury, but he was running a very good race and would have been much closer to us if he had stayed up at the last at Ascot.”
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing