Cheltenham Saturday

CHANTRY House (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) justified skinny odd of 5/6 in the Grade 2 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.

But the horse who disappointed when favourite for the King George did not entirely redeem his reputation in victory, and a two-and-a-half-length defeat of former stablemate Santini (Polly Gundry/Nick Scholfield) failed to cause a stir in the Gold Cup market.

Wearing cheekpieces for the first time, Chantry House jumped moderately, and although he looked like winning by a clear margin when taking over from the front-running Aye Right between the last two fences, he was all out at the finish.

In his defence, Henderson pointed out that it was his first ‘proper’ race since April, having won a match on his return at Sandown, and failed to complete at Kempton on St Stephen’s day.

While Henderson reckons he can get Chantry House fitter, both Polly Gundry and Harriet Graham, trainer of Aye Right, are not afraid of crossing swords again in the Gold Cup, and Gundry in particular reckons that Santini can step forward from this, having carried plenty of condition when beaten 41 lengths here on his seasonal return here in December.

Gundry had Santini as a youngster before he went to Seven Barrows, so knows where she stands with the 10-year-old.

‘Proper Paisley’ pulls it out of the fire

THAT Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle/Aidan Coleman) should beat 8/15 favourite Champ (Nicky Henderson/Jonjo O’Neill Jr) in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle is a minor surprise given he had no excuse when only third to that rival in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

But that the 5/1 shot should reverse Ascot form despite threatening to refuse at the tape was nothing short of a sensation, and one which delighted the Cheltenham faithful.

The 10-year-old was winning the Cleeve for a third time (the race was twice lost to the weather in 2021), and he scotched talk of retirement with a thrilling win, overcoming the ground he lost at the start to head Champ and Lisnagar Oscar (Rebecca Curtis/Adam Wedge) at the last.

He looked back to his best in storming up the hill to win by three and a quarter lengths and six lengths, and is now right back in the picture for the Stayers’ Hurdle, which he won in 2019. The pair who dominated the market for that at the turn of the year have both suffered shock reverses of late, and the Stayers’ is typically looking the most open of all the championships.

“We didn’t think it was going to be soft enough, but it was still stamina-sapping; he got his head down and that really was proper Paisley.” said Emma Lavelle, adding, “the first run at Wetherby wasn’t ideal, at Newbury with the cheekpieces on he didn’t get home. Ascot was a big step in the right direction and today a big step again. Hopefully, he can keep going.”

Piper’s merry dance

THE most visually arresting sight at Cheltenham on Saturday was that of Gordon Elliott’s Pied Piper winning the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle under a motionless Davy Russell. As the others scampered hopelessly in his wake, Davy’s old preview-night dismissal of the Triumph Hurdle as “only for flat rats” seemed particularly apposite.

Late support for Pied Piper saw him go off favourite at 11/8, was a 225,000gns purchase late last year having won in the colours of Queen Elizabeth for John and Thady Gosden at Leicester in October, and has made a remarkably good start over timber given he only arrived at Cullentra at the end of that month.

A winner at Punchestown at the end of December, Pied Piper progressed as expected to score again, but the manner of his win was deeply impressive, even if his rivals may prove to be a sub-par bunch, as seems likely. The winning margin was nine lengths over Moka De Vassy (Jane Williams/Johnny Burke) and Forever William (Alan King/Tom Cannon), but could easily have been 20 had Russell exercised his arms a little more.

The overall race time was moderate, but that is not something to crab the winner for, and he’s unsurprisingly been catapulted to the head of the market for the Triumph Hurdle, joining the same connections’ Fil Dor there. The latter runs in the Spring Juvenile this weekend, and another victory will give owners Andrew and Gemma Brown the kind of headache most of us would dream about.

North Lodge outstays the field

Alan King grabbed a Grade 2 winner as North Lodge outstayed Balco Coast in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but it was a case of what might have been for odds-on favourite Hillcrest, who was hampered by a faller early in the race, and lost rider Richard Patrick in the process.

North Lodge, a 7/1 chance, hung right under pressure on the run-in, causing some interference to the runner-up, but he was clearly getting the better of the argument at the time, and with the margin two and a half lengths at the line, there was little chance of a stewards’ enquiry resulting in an amended result. The loss of the favourite and the fact that three of the hurdles had to be bypassed means this is messy form to evaluate.

Alan King reports that North Lodge will go to Kelso for the Premier Novices’ Hurdle, and then to Aintree, a route taken successfully by My Drogo last season.

Torn at best

The Grade 3 handicap chase, sponsored by Paddy Power, was won by Torn And Frayed (Nigel/Sam Twiston-Davies), who was heavily supported and duly returned to his best to put himself in the picture for the Paddy Power Plate here in March.

Imperial Alcazar was an impressive winner of the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase, and was also pencilled in for that race by trainer Fergal O’Brien after rider Paddy Brennan said he was suited by dropping back from three miles.

The listed mares’ bumper carried over from Market Rasen’s recently abandoned fixture saw an impressive winner in Mullenbeg who sprinted clear to win by five and a half lengths for Milton Harris and Mitch Bastyan, who celebrated in style as he rode out his claim.