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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 6 December, 2019

Woods Well on track for Cheltenham success, while Harrington weighs up options ahead of April's Gold Cup

With Cheltenham looming, Donn McClean assesses the challengers after a busy weekend of racing action.

Woods Well ridden by Mark Enright on his way to winning the TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase on Sunday.
Woods Well ridden by Mark Enright on his way to winning the TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase on Sunday.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THERE WERE NOT that many Cheltenham Festival pointers around at the weekend.

It’s starting to get very close now.

Jetz made all under Paul Townend to win the Grade 3 Flyingbolt Novices’ Chase in Navan on Saturday, but it looks like the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse this Easter could be the target for Jessica Harrington’s horse – not the JLT Chase at Cheltenham.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Crooks Peak battled on well for Barry Geraghty to win the two-mile handicap hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, and a 5lb penalty takes him up to an effective mark of 138. This could be enough to see him get into the County Hurdle, if connections allow him go there.

There are just 13 days between Saturday and County Hurdle Day.

Newbury Races Crooks Peak ridden by Barry Geraghty on their way to victory in the In Memory of the Late Michael Yeadon Handicap Hurdle at Newbury. Source: David Davies

Huntsman Son was impressive in landing the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ chase later on that day at Newbury for Alex Hales and Kielan Woods, and a 5lb penalty takes him up to an effective handicap rating of 140, which should be high enough to see him get into the Close Brothers Chase at Cheltenham.

The Close Brothers Chase is next Tuesday, just 10 days after Saturday’s performance.

Woods Well ran out a game winner of the TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

The Fleetwood gelding may have been just third best in the betting of the three Gordon Elliott-trained, Gigginstown House Stud-owned horses in the race. This, despite the fact that his rider wore the maroon cap with the white star and he may have been just eighth best in the betting of the eight horses in the race.

But he was quickly into a nice racing rhythm for Mark Enright, settling nicely in third place behind habitual front-runners Capture The Drama and Kylecrue.

He moved into second place as they started down the back straight as Kylecrue dropped back and, after going toe-to-toe with Capture The Drama for four fences, he moved on into the lead as they left the back straight and faced up to the second last fence.

After seeing off his stable companion Dakota Moirette as they rounded the home turn, he was challenged on either side by Ask Nile and Jett on the run to the last.

There was no real stride at the last – he was too long to go long and he was too tight to go short.

Mark Enright just sat tight and left it up to the horse. The rider had to sit tight too, as Woods Well hit the top of the fence with his chest and almost hit the ground with his head.

The horse did well to find a leg, and his rider did really well to keep their partnership intact.

Enright lost his right iron but, as it turned out, he didn’t really need it. His horsemanship skills kicked in and he was able to coax his horse home without it.

His right foot found his right iron again after he had crossed the winning line three parts of a length in front of Ask Nile, so that he could pull his horse up before he ran all the way around to Foxrock village.

Gordon Elliott said afterwards that Woods Well could take his chance in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. A 5lb penalty means that he would have an effective handicap mark of 140 in the Kim Muir, and that should get him into the race all right.

Woods Well ridden by Mark Enright on his way to winning the TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase Woods Well en route to victory on Sunday at Leopardstown. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Elliott’s Options

Elliott could have a very strong hand in the Kim Muir. Its All Guesswork has been sitting at the top of the market for a while. Philip Reynolds’ horse stayed on well last time to finish third behind Cap York and Mormon in a Pertemps qualifier run over three miles at Punchestown.

He is a lightly-raced, progressive and versatile young stayer – and has options at Cheltenham.

He holds entries in the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle as well as in the Kim Muir.

The pick of Elliott’s other entries in the Kim Muir could be Measureofmydreams. The Shantou gelding shaped really encouragingly in a three-mile chase behind Snugsborough Benny and Call It Magic at Fairyhouse last month.

That was his first run for Elliott and his first run for anyone since he finished ninth in the Irish Grand National in 2017.

His handicap rating of 137 is 10lb lower than his peak, and he proved that he could operate at the Cheltenham Festival when he finished third behind Minella Rocco and last year’s Gold Cup hero Native River in the National Hunt Chase in 2016.

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss the backlash to World Rugby’s league proposal, captaincy styles, sports psychology and more in The42 Rugby Weekly.

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Donn McClean

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