The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup was won by the four-year-old novice Frodon (up 6 lb to 148p) who coped much better with the demands of this type of race than he had in the BetVictor Gold Cup and showed improvement as a result. He has the option of returning to graded novices, though without the benefit of a weight allowance in the New Year. Runner-up Aso (up 1 lb to 147) might even have won had his jumping not come up a little short when the pressure was on, doing well to rally as he did after two out. It will be no surprise, given the yard (Venetia Williams), to see him effective at three miles. Last year’s winner Village Vic (also up 1 lb to 161) was only third this time around but he ran yet another good race at this track, right up to best, off a mark fully 22 lb higher than when successful 12 months ago. Quite By Chance (up 6 lb to 150) saw things out really well and proved better than ever in fourth. The finishing effort of Bouvreuil (down 4 lb to 143+) in sixth was again disappointing; he’s an awkward customer.
The New One (up 4 lb to 167x) had been due to make his chasing debut the previous week, but returned over hurdles instead and ran as well as he ever has, his jumping for once an asset and seen to maximum advantage as he emulated Birds Nest and Relkeel in winning the International Hurdle for a third time. He was given a perfect ride, the track probably better for him than the Old course, though a similar ride and round of jumping in the Champion Hurdle might just enable him to better his previous efforts in that race. My Tent Or Yours (down 1 lb to 163) has never won at Cheltenham but stood out on the form of his second in the Champion Hurdle in the spring. However, he was very easy to back as the rain came, and ran below form, this course on soft not suiting him nearly so well as the Old course on good.
Also on the Cheltenham undercard, Whisper (144 from 131p) looked much more like his old self after a write-off campaign over hurdles last season when landing the novices’ chase from Baron Alco (143 from 139p). Favourite Different Gravey (down to 143+ from 147p) was last of the five finishers; he turned in a dismal effort, going backwards from his chasing debut, his jumping falling apart, though his rider wasn't happy from an early stage. Wholestone (unchanged on 134) coped best with a muddling pace in the Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle, though he didn't need to improve to come out on top; he'll continue to run with credit, though will need to improve to make an impact in the very best races in the spring. Favourite West Approach (also unchanged on 130) is best excused the run in fifth, a blunder just as the race was beginning in earnest costing him his chance.
Sunday’s highlight was the much-anticipated return of Douvan in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork. Although his two closest market rivals failed to complete, there was still plenty of substance to this latest runaway success, cruising clear off a good pace despite conceding weight all round. He is unchanged on 180p but it’s not unrealistic to think he could better that rating by the end of the season when taking on better opposition. Douvan’s win was the second leg of a quickfire double for Willie Mullins, Djakadam (unchanged on 175) having won the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase just 15 minutes earlier. He didn't need to be at his very best to follow up his impressive 2015 John Durkan win, but this was still a highly satisfactory winning return from eight months off, particularly as this relative test of speed against two race-fit rivals didn't really play to his strengths. Runner-up Outlander (up 4 lb to 163) backed up his Clonmel effort and is clearly better than ever this winter, posting a career-best here despite again having to settle for minor honours, while fellow Gigginstown runner Sub Lieutenant (162 from 163p) ran creditably upped in grade, even though he failed to confirm Down Royal placings with Outlander. Black Hercules failed to meet expectations on his first try outside novice company, looking rusty (particularly in the jumping department) after nine months off.