Festival fancies and top prospects: seven things we learned over Christmas | Horse Racing News

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Delta Work: a big Gold Cup contender following his Savills Chase win

Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)

James Stevens looks back on the festive action and picks out some key lessons learnt from a mammoth few days of top-class racing.

Epatante a major Champion Hurdle player

The award for top performance over the festive period would have to go to Epatante, who showcased her credentials as a top contender in the 2m hurdling division with an emphatic success in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle.

She did everything perfectly as she jumped and travelled with ease before putting the race to bed in a mature yet impressive fashion. It is almost frightening to think she put up a performance of that nature on just her fifth start over hurdles.

Epatante: a general 4-1 chance for the Champion Hurdle following her Kempton success

Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

She performed poorly at the festival last season so still has a point to prove, but she is certainly a serious Champion Hurdle contender.

Clan the man, but Gold Cup still a puzzle

The spotlight may have been on Cyrname going into the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase but it was his stablemate Clan Des Obeaux who ran out victorious, and in phenomenal fashion.

While Clan Des Obeaux was undoubtedly brilliant, there are still big doubts over whether he can go on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It says it all that he can win the King George by 21 lengths but still be as big as 8-1 for the Gold Cup.

Sam Twiston-Davies celebrates after winning the King George on Clan Des Obeaux

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

He has however now established himself as the leading British contender, taking that honour from Lostintranslation. Colin Tizzard’s mighty chaser was pulled up in the race and connections will now look at a potential wind problem. His Gold Cup prep run will reveal whether a line can be drawn through that Boxing Day disappointment.

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In the Savills Chase, Delta Work threw his name into the reckoning with success over Monalee, as Kemboy made a promising comeback in fourth. Meanwhile Presenting Percy can’t be ruled out, having finished fifth but only four lengths behind the winner.

Faugheen: the ageless machine

Initially it seemed merely a nice story. An 11-year-old former Champion Hurdle winner mixing it with his juniors in novice chases. 

But make no mistake, Faugheen is a real force over fences and he reinforced that point with a devastating ten-length victory over Samcro at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day.

Faugheen: defeated Samcro at Limerick

Alain Barr (racingpost.com/photos)

Almost a year to the day since a heavy fall at Leopardstown had many fearing the worst, Faugheen recorded a tenth Grade 1 success and made those who had questioned his Marsh Novices’ Chase (formerly the JLT) aspirations as fanciful re-evaluate their verdict. 

He is now as short as 6-1 to secure a third festival success and will likely be back at the Dublin Racing Festival in February to complete his Cheltenham preparations.

Brilliant Blackmore shines again

All eye were on the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi going into Thursday, but for all of the Champion Chase prospect’s mighty reputation and ability he was denied by another of Ireland’s rising stars in Rachael Blackmore.

Rachael Blackmore: masterminded a great ride to win on A Plus Tard at Leopardstown

Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)

Her ride aboard A Plus Tard was a tactical masterclass, something Jurgen Klopp would be proud of. The five-year-old delivered at the level we thought he could reach when winning the Close Brothers at last season’s festival. He has now supposedly beaten the best of the Irish so the sky is the limit now, especially with Blackmore in the saddle. 

By no means rule Chacun Pour Soi out of the Champion Chase. He clearly needed the run on his first start since comfortably dismissing of Defi Du Seuil in May, and the ability is certainly there.

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Skelton could have the flagship horse he’s been waiting for

For all of Dan Skelton’s rapid rise to fame he still hasn’t had a real standout top-level talent. His first career Grade 1 success with  Roksana in the Mares’ Hurdle was somewhat gifted, but at Chepstow on Friday Allmankind looked like the star he has been waiting for.

All smiles: Dan Skelton returns to the winner’s enclosure with his brother Harry on the victorious Allmankind

Edward Whitaker

Making it three from three over hurdles, the exuberant front-runner thrashed what looked a quality field in the Grade 1 Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle.

The Triumph Hurdle looks next for him and a clash with Goshen, another who has been unstoppable from the front, gives racing fans plenty to look forward to.

Flying the French flag

The happiest people in racing over the festive period must have been those in the French bloodstock industry who were, once again, rewarded with an excellent string of results.

Abacadabras: landed a first Grade 1 on Boxing Day

Patrick McCann

The first four in the King George were bred in France, as was Epatante (Christmas Hurdle), A Plus Tard (Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase), Abacadabras (Future Champions Novice), Apple’s Jade (Frank Ward Memorial) and Delta Work (Savills Chase), who all took Grade 1 prizes.

Brexit will not stop British bloodstock agents wanting to trade with their allies across the Channel.

Gigginstown closure will change winter landscape

When it was announced in July that Gigginstown House Stud will wind down their powerful operation over the next few years, it was clear there would be a seismic change in the power dynamic of Irish jumps racing.

It is a conclusion which looks all the more apparent following the last few days, with five of the seven Leopardstown Grade 1 races won by a runner sporting the famous maroon silks.

Notebook, Abacadabras, Apple’s Jade, Delta Work and Battleoverdoyen all claimed top-level honours, while 19 of Gigginstown’s 67 runners at Down Royal, Leopardstown and Limerick were successful. 

When Gigginstown are no more there will be a large winter void to fill, and the knock-on effect to the likes of Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead, Noel Meade, Jack Kennedy and Rachael Blackmore will be fascinating.

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