With the action from Cheltenham taking centre-stage, here are five things we loved this weekend...
FRODON AND FROST – THE DREAM COMBO
Cheese and pickle, Torvill and Dean, Santa and Rudolph. As perfect combinations go, feel free to add Frodon and Bryony Frost to that list whenever you like.
As ITV Racing’s Ed Chamberlin said at the weekend, it feels like the Paul Nicholls-trained jumper has been around for years. But, aged just six, he wrote himself into the history books on Saturday as only the second horse to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham twice.
Jockey Club Racecourses ambassador Bryony could barely contain her joy after the pair completed a Jumps masterclass off top weight - a full 1st 8lb more than he carried when winning in 2016.
Nicholls admitted after the race he is now considering the Ryanair Chase at The Festival™ next year.
Frodon clearly loves the New Course and with the Ryanair being run over 2m 5f bookmakers have him at 12-1 to win the race in March. However, bookies are also offering 33-1 that Frodon can land the biggest prize of them all, should Nicholls opt to send him out in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Watch this space…
TRAINERS PROVE OWNERS SHOULD BE SEEN AND HEARD
No-one could accuse leading trainers Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson of thinking they know best and ignoring the wishes of their owners.
Champion Jumps trainer Henderson wanted to run Brain Power in the Tattersalls Ireland Edredon Bleu Chase (Peterborough Chase) at Huntingdon earlier this month.
However, he was persuaded by owner Michael Buckley to send the horse back over hurdles after some mediocre attempts over fences. That call certainly paid dividends at Cheltenham on Saturday, as the seven-year-old – with Nico de Boinville in the saddle - took advantage of the absence of Laurina to win the Unibet International Hurdle.
Meanwhile Colin Tizzard was talked into entering Rockpoint for Saturday’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on the day entries closed. Owner John Snook’s persuasive nature was rewarded when 11-2 shot stayed on under pressure to win the Grade 2 race.
Mr Snook – who also owns Thistlecrack – and Mr Buckley could be forgiven for feeling pretty pleased with themselves on Saturday night.
Who said owners should be seen and not heard?
SPOILER ALERT - ALTIOR CLIFFHANGER REVEALED
So, Nicky Henderson has finally revealed the truth behind what was looking like the most shocking Christmas storyline since Dirty Den served divorce papers on Ange in EastEnders 22 years ago.
Altior WILL be attempting to win the 32Red King George VI Chase on Boxing Day – but not until 2019.
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase-winning superstar was being talked about as a contender for this year’s race after his comfortable victory in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase this month. Bookies even still have him as an 18-1 shot to win the race, despite it being over a distance which is a mile further than his preference.
However, Henderson has revealed he and jockey Nico de Boinville are less than enthusiastic about the idea – for this year at least.
The Seven Barrows trainer said: “I’m sure Altior will run in the King George next year, so long as everything goes well this season.”
THE NEW ONE - A GREAT AND MUCH LOVED ONE
Sometimes a horse comes along who touches not just a small and dedicated band of followers but the whole jump racing community.
Take a bow The New One who, after being pulled up towards the end of Saturday’s Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday, was immediately retired.
A proud and emotional Nigel Twiston-Davies announced the news on ITV Racing just minutes later, citing son and jockey Sam’s assertion that the 10-year-old “just doesn’t have it in him anymore”.
It can never be said that a horse owes anyone anything. But, after 20 wins from 40 outings and more than £1 million in prize money, there cannot be a single follower of the sport who could wish The New One anything but the longest and happiest of retirements.
There were tears from connections in the unsaddling enclosure as his jockey summed it up best. “I didn’t think I’d feel as sad as I felt coming in but you start thinking of every happy memory you’ve had with him. But he’s safe and sound.”
HEY NICKY, YOU’RE SO FINE…
How many trainers can boast they had seven winners from just 12 runners last week?
Let’s all take our Fedoras off then to northern jumps trainer Nicky Richards whose strike rate for the second week in December was as extraordinary as it was impressive.
Having started with two winners at Kelso last Sunday, Richards was delighted to see Isaacstown Lad round off an incredible seven days by winning the £20,000 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Carlisle yesterday at 6-1.
Richards, whose stable star Guitar Pete also stayed on well to finish third in Saturday’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham, puts his yard’s form down to a team effort.
He said: “The ground has come right for the last three weeks and my horses have hit form since then… The staff have done a great job.”