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Weekend review: What caught our eye

Article 24th February 2019

By Graham Dench

Angels? We're loving Fusil Raffles instead

Champion trainer Nicky Henderson went to Kempton Park on Saturday with high hopes for one of the most talked about horses destined for this year’s Cheltenham Festival™, Presented by Magners.

Despite having only jumped four hurdles in his career before the weekend, Angels Breath was a short price for the Festival’s curtain-raiser, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in little over two weeks’ time.

However, his odds have drifted to 12-1 now after proving no match in the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle for Paul Nicholls’ Southfield Stone.

While there will doubtless have been some disappointment back at Henderson’s Seven Barrows HQ, there will be some Festival optimism about another of the yard’s Kempton runners.

Fusil Raffles won the 888Sport Take ‘Em On Adonis Juvenile Hurdle in the most convincing fashion and by nine lengths, prompting bookmakers to immediately slash his odds for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

He can’t be confirmed for Cheltenham just yet, as he returned to the paddock with a cut leg and later required stitches. But there is no doubt he will be a serious player if he lines up for owners Isaac Souede and Simon Munir next month.

As for Angels Breath, who was conceding 5lbs on Saturday, it sounds like he still heads for the Supreme, with Henderson insisting that he will come on considerably for the run.

WHATSWRONGWITHYOU BOOKS HIS FESTIVAL TICKET

Henderson may still been reflecting on his mixed Kempton bag but he’ll be delighted with the performance of Whatswrongwithyou on Sunday, a horse who now has the potential to win a race at The Festival named after the trainer’s own father.

Timing is everything in sport, and Henderson has it down to a fine art judging from the preparation he gave to Whatswrongwithyou, who secured his place in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual at the last possible opportunity.

If Whatswrongwithyou had failed to win the Josh Gifford Memorial at Fontwell he would almost certainly have missed the cut for the race at Cheltenham, the weights for which are revealed this Wednesday.

For obvious sentimental and family reasons Henderson likes to aim one or two at the Grand Annual every year, and he has won it twice before.

He has Theinval entered again, hoping to make it third time lucky after finishing fourth last year and third the year before, but Whatswrongwithyou looks a much more interesting candidate, and the Grand Annual’s big field and fierce pace ought to be right up his street.

WALT DELIVERS THE FEELGOOD FACTOR FOR HIS OWNER

The 888Sport Chase did not deliver the result that TV host Jeremy Kyle was hoping for as his Glen Rocco could never get competitive. Nevertheless it did deliver a proper story with a feelgood factor.

Software developer Peter Simmonds has had a 30-year love affair with racing but almost walked away from it last year when his much loved bumper horse Burns Cross tragically broke his neck in a freak accident, when coming round from anaesthetic at the end of a minor operation.

Fortunately trainer Neil Mulholland persuaded him to stick with it, and it paid off handsomely when their unheralded outsider Walt took Kempton’s £100,000 prize under a really positive ride from Sam Twiston-Davies.

It made for emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure, and the fun might only just be starting.

Next stop is likely to be the Ultima Chase at Cheltenham in just over two weeks’ time.

WHY RATHVINDEN CAN BE MULLINS’ NATIONAL TREASURE

A week can be a long time in racing.

At the start of last week Fairyhouse’s Bobbyjo Chase was all about Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy and his long-awaited return to fences.

So there was a collective groan on Friday when connections opted to sidestep the race and head straight to The Festival.

A Bobbyjo without Presenting Percy lost much of its interest, and when last year’s Randox Health Grand National second placed horse, Pleasant Company, was withdrawn on account of unsuitable ground it was reduced to six runners.

However, we were reckoning without the winner of last year’s National Hunt Challenge Cup at the Festival, Rathvinden.

Making light of a 10-month absence, the 11-year-old won in great style from Alpha Des Obeaux, and he’s now second favourite for this year’s Randox Health Grand National, behind Tiger Roll.

The Bobbyjo is named after the 1999 Aintree hero and is one of Ireland’s foremost Grand National trials. Willie Mullins has won it nine times now, and his Hedgehunter went on to complete the double in 2005.

Plenty of good judges fancy Rathvinden to follow suit.

POTTERS CORNER FAILS TO MATCH OWNER DAVIES’ HEROICS

Wales rugby star Jonathan Davies barely put a foot wrong at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday as his side came back from 10-3 down at half time to crush England 21-13 in the Six Nations Championship.

But just as a single mistake can prove costly in rugby, the same is true in racing, and Davies found that out to his cost when Potters Corner, in whom he has a share, ran at Newcastle two hours before kick-off on Saturday in the Vertem Eider Handicap Chase.

Potters Corner, who is trained by another proud Welshman in Christian Williams and ridden by yet another in James Bowen, was clearly very much up for the challenge right from the off.

But, having been right in the thick of it and still only half a length or so off the lead jumping the second-last fence, he landed badly and left Crosspark and Mysteree to fight out the finish.

The good news is that Potters Corner appeared to trot away in good health. He may even recover quicker than his owner, for Saturday’s game looked a bruising affair from start to finish.

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