The weather played havoc with the opening day of the Cheltenham November meeting but the climate elsewhere has created the perfect storm for National Hunt horseracing as the first round of major tests loom for the jumps season.
The weekend horseracing threw up plenty of clues about future targets for winners and losers at Cheltenham, Punchestown and even Fontwell.
It's two years almost to the day since Dessie Scahill's "the machine is back in perfect working order" commentary on Faugheen's Morgiana win at Punchestown. Unfortunately, that wasn't accurate, but on only his ninth start since the eleven-year-old former Champion Hurdler took to fences for the first time in public since his point-to-point days with aplomb. There was one howler, but he did it well and his engine looked intact.
Great to see! 😍
Despite a bad mistake early on, 2015 Champion Hurdle winner and nine-time Grade One winner Faugheen makes a successful chasing debut @punchestownrace at the age of 11! 👏 @WillieMullinsNH @PTownend pic.twitter.com/xBW5XIUDY0
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 16, 2019
There was plenty of social media hand wringing about Faugheen going chasing as he rises 12, but connections will have viewed this a shot to nothing. Any conditions races Faugheen could take in over hurdles would have him facing upcoming rivals or stablemates who are potential Champion Hurdle and Staying Hurdle contenders, i.e. proper Grade One opposition.
At the weekend Faugheen had the pleasure of opposition unfit to lace his boots, and he won accordingly. The next step will be important with the newly upgraded Grade one at Limerick on the cards. It should be a softer race than attempting a run at the top level at Leopardstown over Christmas or the Drinmore next week and facing Samcro.
The Morgaiana Hurdle has been a Willie Mullins benefit for the last decade and while Saturday was no different, the lowering of Klassical Dream's colours by unfancied stablemate Saldier was a moderate shock.
The pace shown between the last two hurdles was the most impressive aspect of Saldier's win. The favourite was obviously a little undercooked but even at peak conditioning, he has never shown the kind of toe the winner used to dismiss him.
The undercooked excuse applies to Saldier as much as Klassical Dream, the winner while looking sharp, was having his first run in 12 months.
When last seen, Saldier fell at the last while disputing the lead in the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas. That was won by subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D'Allen. not bad form.
The Morgiana has shaken up the ante-post Cheltenham Champion Hurdle market with the two Willie Mullins horses disputing favouritism with Buveur D'Air for the big race on Tuesday of the festival.
Barry Geraghty has been associated with some of the best two-mile chasers in recent history of horseracing and given Saturday's evidence, Defi du Seuil could be another. A horse he described as a "joy to ride" post-race.
Ok, he's no Moscow flyer or Sprinter Sacre, but he zipped past Politilogue up the hill in the Schloer Chase on Sunday and was cut from 14/1 into 10/1 for the Champion Chase. A feat achieved by Sprinter Sacre in 2015.
Philip Hobbs was effusive in his praise for this horse in the pre-season stable tour and suggested he is flexible trip-wise. After Sunday's race, the next step will be the Grade One Tingle Creek at Sandown, where Un de Sceaux could also appear.
Long term targets for Defi du Seuil are unclear but for now, he will stick to the minimum trip over fences, setting up a mouthwatering clash at Sandown on December 7th.
Gordon Elliot's toughest job over the next few months is keeping his star novices apart. While Samcro will always catch the headlines, Battleoverdoyen has been foot perfect in his chasing career so far.
The giant son of Doyen readily dispatched Cheltenham festival winner Any Second Now in the Florida Pearl at Punchestown, booking a Grade one trip to Leopardstown at Christmas next. The three fences being omitted didn't help the winner, who seems to relish a jumping and galloping test.
Elliott suggested Batteloverdoyen was always a staying chaser in the making and another step up in trip awaits before an inevitable tilt at the RSA at Cheltenham.
While it was good to see Battleoverdoyen, eh, battle, the best part was the renewal of the Davy Russell Gigginstown axis. There has recently been a meeting between Russell, Elliott and the O'Leary brothers to clear the air. The Giggintown air now seems clear, momentarily at least.
While it was always obvious what career path lay in wait for a horse like Battleoverdoyen, not so much for Yanworth. The 2016 Christmas Hurdle winner looked destined for greatness as several points in his career, but Sunday's win over the banks at Punchestown was his first win since the 2018 Dipper Chase.
Anyone who suggested this trajectory for Yanworth's future in his Grade One winning hurdling days would have been sectioned, but JP McManus often finds a way for his talented horses to thrive.
Enda Bolger is the king of the Cross Country sphere with Risk of Thunder, Josies Orders and On the Fringe amongst his previous stable stars. Perhaps the Limerick trainer is a little miffed with Tiger Roll parking his tank on the lawn.
Yanworth can be a rather unlikely successor to some of JP's previous Cross Country heroes, he's as short as 6/1 to depose Tiger Roll.
Fontwell really well
Fontwell is not the most obvious location for future turf stars, but due to the generally low quality of the racing, if a trainer has a better horse, they tend to get the benefit of lesser opposition.
My Way de Solzen won the Spirit Hurdle there before taking the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2006. Goshen won the juvenile hurdle at the track on Sunday by 23 lengths.
Despite jumping right, he was one of the most impressive winners of the whole weekend.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) November 17, 2019
Fontwell don't have to start saving for a Goshen horseracing statue just yet, but the manner of the win means pattern company will be next for this flat recruit to hurdling.
Goshen was continuing a winning sequence from the level and the juvenile hurdle at trainer Gary Moore's local track, Sandown on Tingle Creek day will be next.
Stormy Ireland blitzed the field for the second year in a row in the mares' listed hurdle at Punchestown, a performance that saw her price cut for the Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Punter should tread with caution here, as Willie Mullins identified her as "being ready to go chasing" in his stable tour, so may not even line up. Stablemate Benie des Deux is already favourite to avenge last years final flight fall in the Mares' Hurdle.
While one mare that is definitely going for more graded novice chases from now on is the Henry de Bromhead trained Put The Kettle On. She made all at Prestbury Park and accounted for the much-vaunted pair of Al Dancer and Getaway Trump on Sunday.
— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) November 17, 2019
I was a first outing over fences at two miles for the mare, and a first time in graded company against the boys. Her graduation on both fronts was impressive and she has her ecstatic connections dreaming of Arkle glory after that weekend.
She would be the first mare to do so this century.
The talented novices on track at Cheltenham were not just equine. Eddie Vaughan is the son of trainer Tim and he won the GB Pony Racing final at Cheltenham on Sunday.
Vaughan junior also won the Dingle Derby earlier in the year, for bloodstock agent Tom Malone (no relation).
There has been a wealth of riding talent graduating to horseracing from the pony racing ranks over the past few seasons. Vaughn looks like he could be the latest, even if he's unsure who he is pictured with here.
— Tim Vaughan Racing (@TVaughanRacing) November 17, 2019
The jumps season is well underway now that the November Meeting is wrapped up at Cheltenham. Every week from now until February there will be clashes to savour.
Altior and Cyrname, the two highest-rated horses in training, are next up at Ascot on Saturday.