The four most important festival developments over the last week
Gold Cup looks a tougher race
In the last few weeks the Gold Cup has become a much harder race to win. Native River entered contention last week and on Saturday Our Duke put a poor season behind him to show the sort of class that resulted in him running away with the Irish Grand National last season.
Giving 7lb and a beating to a horse as talented as Presenting Percy, on ground far from ideal and over a trip more than a mile shorter than that famous Fairyhouse success, proves he has some engine.
The Jessica Harrington-trained eight-year-old made a bad mistake four out – similar to the sort of blunders that have hampered his recent performances – and he will have to put in an error-free round to feature at the festival.
However there are few better men suited to that challenge than Noel Fehily – who has been booked for the festival – and the presence of Our Duke also means Might Bite is unlikely to get his own way in front.
Cue Card too reminded everyone the fire still burns within and proved Colin Tizzard was correct to ignore the masses calling for his retirement. He would add further depth to the Gold Cup but perhaps would have a better chance of a glorious finale if going down the Ryanair route – especially if his Ascot Chase conqueror Waiting Patiently does indeed skip the festival.
RSA market may have overreacted
It is possible to argue bookmakers have underrated both of this weekend's RSA hopes.
On the one hand you have Black Corton, who seems to be viewed as a lesser horse because he was on the go all through the summer and was only a handicapper over hurdles.
However, if Paul Nicholls had brought him out in October, won two races at Cheltenham by a combined 14 lengths, then added the Grade 1 Kauto Star and Grade 2 Reynoldstown – two of Britain's premier RSA trials – he would likely be a shorter price. Yet those five summer starts give him an experience edge and prove his fondness for a better surface. Coupled with his course form, that makes him a potent threat for the ten-time champion trainer in a race he remains available to back at 16-1.
Then you have Presenting Percy, who was pushed out to 100-30 after getting within a length of a major Gold Cup contender as a novice. Yes he was getting 7lb for his length beating, but there is not a horse in the RSA that has proven itself already within touching distance of Gold Cup class and, given the step up in trip and return to better ground will both aide Presenting Percy, he arguably enhanced his already tall reputation in the Red Mills Chase.
Elgin emerges as a Champion Hurdle contender
Elgin's Kingwell win was exactly the sort of performance you would expect from a hardy, improving horse, but one just shy of top class.
It would be easy to conclude he would run gamely in the Champion but ultimately fall short, but when you look at the race, odds of 25-1 look cracking each-way value.
Yes Buveur D'Air is very good, but Faugheen does not look the force of old, My Tent Or Yours is 11, Yorkhill has been dreadful all year, Melon has struggled in elite company, while Min is not going to run in the race.
Elgin's only six, comfortably accounted for a decent yardstick in Ch'Tibello, has course form having made light work of winning the Greatwood off a mark of 145 and is exactly the sort of horse who could pick up the pieces in a bitty Champion Hurdle.
Big spring festivals give trainers so many options
With the riches also on offer at the likes of Fairyhouse, Aintree and Punchestown it is perhaps unsurprising that several trainers are taking the view that skipping Cheltenham will give them the best chance of picking up such sizeable pots.
Forge Meadow emerged as a bonafide contender for the Mares' Hurdle when brushing aside Identity Thief in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle, except a bad experience at Prestbury Park last year has put connections off returning and they will instead look closer to home.
Ascot Chase winner Waiting Patiently could also miss Cheltenham, despite being the 4-1 second favourite for the Ryanair after his impressive defeat of Cue Card, with connections favouring soft ground and a flatter track, while Blaklion went to Haydock at the weekend rather than next month's Gold Cup to prepare for the Grand National.
His conqueror Yala Enki was the only horse in the Haydock field not to be entered in the Aintree marathon, so pushing out Blaklion to 14-1 for a rematch with horses he has already proved he can beat on these terms is intriguing.
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