Twelve months ago Betfair Super Saturday at Newbury took place on ground described as ‘firm’ by Timeform and while it wasn’t quite the other extreme suggested by the official description of ‘heavy, soft in places’, this year’s meeting took place under much more seasonable conditions.
The Denman Chase provided the odds-on Shishkin (remains 176§) with a fairly straightforward opportunity to put his various woes from earlier this season behind him and he did all that was required, setting himself up nicely for a crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Whilst jumping left and tending to go in snatches at various stages, he went on soon after the third last to beat Hitman (160 from ?), who typically found little off the bridle, by four and a quarter lengths with Protektorat (remains 166) close to his best another half-length back in third. Shishkin’s best form would make him one of Galopin des Champs’ main threats in the Gold Cup, with Britain’s other main hope L’Homme Presse (rated 171) having his final prep race in next Saturday’s Ascot Chase which Shishkin won last year.
Edwardstone ran no sort of race when sent off at 15/8 for last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase but heads for that race again in good heart in a bid to atone for that effort, albeit against top-class younger rivals El Fabiolo and Jonbon. Quickly back to form after failing to settle over further last time, Edwardstone (167 from 163) made all the running in the Game Spirit Chase, going with plenty of enthusiasm in front in a change of tactics to come home a long way clear of the only other finisher Funambule Sivola, winner for the last two years, as the race rather fell apart behind him. While Edwardstone probably wouldn’t have enjoyed such a soft lead if non-runner Editeur du Gite had stood his ground, there was a lot to like about his performance, even if it was hard to pin down exactly what he achieved.
Shishkin was Nico de Boinville’s first winner since returning from injury and he soon had a double for Nicky Henderson after Iberico Lord (145p from 137p) added the Betfair Hurdle to the Greatwood which he had won at Cheltenham earlier in the season. A field of 21 made it the biggest for nearly 20 years. Iberico Lord still had most of them ahead of him when going well three out before picking his way past rivals on the inner, clawing back the three-length lead which L’Eau du Sud (135 from 129) held jumping the last and going on to beat that rival by two and a quarter lengths as they pulled clear of the rest. Both the first two are lightly-raced six-year-olds with more to offer, the runner-up having his first start since shaping as if amiss in the Greatwood.
Newbury’s card ended with the listed bumper but the most significant performance in that sphere of the weekend in Britain came at Exeter on Sunday where Paul Nicholls’ newcomer Teeshan (108p), a wide-margin winner of his Irish point, made light of the testing conditions and didn’t need to come off the bridle to win impressively by seven lengths. That makes him the pick of the home team and up to troubling the best of the Irish in the Champion Bumper.
The other race of note at Exeter was the listed mares’ chase, though neither of the smart pair in the line-up Malina Girl nor Galia des Liteaux showed their form, with victory going instead to novice Carole’s Pass (140 from 126p) who jumped superbly and proved better than ever stepping up to three miles for the first time.
The similar event at Naas on Saturday looked a deeper contest with Allegorie de Vassy (153 from 150) right back in the Mares’ Chase picture at the Festival after bouncing back to her best with a four-length win over Riviere d’Etel (144 from 149) and comprehensively turning the form round from their meeting at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day.
The other race at Naas that could have a bearing on Cheltenham was the hunter chase won by Its On The Line (remains 137), runner-up at last year’s Festival, who dug deep to hold off the late challenge of Billaway (remains 134x) who was going for a fifth win in this race and is a past winner of the Hunters’ Chase at Cheltenham himself.
Navan’s meeting on Sunday provided some Cheltenham clues too. Gordon Elliott might have lost Caldwell Potter from his yard for a record sum the previous week but his half-sister Brighterdaysahead (139p from 136p) continues to look an exciting prospect herself, giving 7 lb away all round but keeping her unbeaten record after being eased to a 12-length win in the listed Apple’s Jade Mares Novice Hurdle. That looked a better performance than what was required from Willie Mullins’ mare Fun Fun Fun (remains 130p) to win a listed novice against a couple of male rivals at Exeter.
Elliott ran last year’s Festival winners Delta Work and Sire du Berlais in the Boyne Hurdle in preparation for defending their Stayers’ Hurdle and Cross-Country titles at Cheltenham but they trailed home behind Henry de Bromhead’s lightly-raced Hiddenvalley Lake (150 from 140+) who was strong in the betting back over hurdles after falling on his chasing debut and showed improved form.
There were some smart types in the Ten Up Novice Chase in which American Mike (149 from 144) and Nick Rockett (remains 148p), for Elliott and Mullins respectively, pulled clear of the rest with both trying three miles for the first time. American Mike, whose Festival entries are at shorter trips, hasn’t always seen his races out but did so here, while Nick Rockett, beaten just over a length, only has stablemate Embassy Gardens ahead of him in some lists for the National Hunt Novices’ Chase.
Finally, Mullins unleashed another Champion Bumper contender at Navan with Cantico (108 from 98) looking a smart prospect in the Galopin des Champs colours of Audrey Turley, getting off the mark in bumpers at the second attempt and winning easily by six lengths after making all.