Dude has Tindall dreaming of National
THERE was no Irish winner on the opening day of Cheltenham's December meeting, but there was a pointer to the Aintree Grand National as Monbeg Dude returned to form with a vengeance.
Owned by a syndicate which includes Zara Phillips' husband, former England rugby captain Mike Tindall, last season's Welsh National hero was striking for the first time since that occasion in the staying handicap chase.
Tom Scudamore, clearly thrilled to steer home a major winner for his trainer-brother Michael, rode the 6/1 shot rather like Paul Carberry did in the Chepstow marathon as he collared the strong-travelling 7/2 favourite Theatre Guide at the last to score by just over a length.
"I've been very lucky to ride for some very nice people and ride some very good horses, but this is up there with everything. I can't describe it," said Tom Scudamore. "To ride a winner at Cheltenham, to repay my brother, there's nothing else like it."
Tindall added: "Aintree would be the dream, but we'll need to sit down with 'Scu' and have a proper discussion about it."
Another possible National contender is the Paul Nicholls-trained Sire Collonges (7/1), which came from the clouds to land the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase under Ryan Mahon. Enda Bolger's Keep On Track started favourite but faded into sixth after leading with four to jump.
"I suppose he'll have to come back here for the Festival race," said Nicholls. "I'll have to persuade the owner to let me enter him in the National, as it could be right up his street."
Jonjo O'Neill's Sunnyhillboy (10/1), beaten a whisker by Neptune Collonges in 2012, could return for a third tilt over the big fences in Liverpool after a game success success under Tony McCoy in the Citipost Handicap Hurdle. "I probably will give him another run over fences after the National weights come out. We have to be thinking about it," said O'Neill.
McCoy went on to complete a double on the Ian Williams-trained Ballyalton (11/4), which stayed on strongly after the last to edge out 7/4 favourite Garde La Victoire in concluding novice hurdle. "He continues to excite us and has to prove himself in Grade One company, either in the Challow or Tolworth," Williams said.
The closest the Irish raiders came to a winner was in the Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Chase in which the Gordon Elliott-trained Hit The Headlines looked sure to score after hitting the front at the last. However, the well-backed 9/2 favourite -- given a fine ride by Keith Donoghue -- couldn't shake off main market rival King Massini (5/1), which rallied on the run-in to claim victory by a nose.
Nicky Henderson will start directing Oscar Whisky towards the Jewson Novices' Chase after seeing Barry Geraghty's mount get off the mark over fences in the opening novice chase.
The 4/5 favourite suffered defeat to Taquin Du Seuil in a tactical event last month and although he jumped right throughout, he had just too much pace for Wonderful Charm, which struggled to concede 8lb.
Philip Hobbs has a very promising novice hurdler in The Skyfarmer (4/1), which belied his inexperience under Richard Johnson to preserve his unbeaten record over timber in the two-mile handicap hurdle.
Closer to home, Flemenstar is set to have a scan next week as connections seek to discover the extent of the problem that ruled him out of the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.
The eight-year-old suffered a knock on his off-fore leg two days before last Sunday's big race and his trainer Tony Martin has been giving the injury time to settle down.
"He is good. We will have more news with him when we get him scanned next week, so we will know a lot more then," said the Co Meath handler.
"He got a bang last week, and we are just giving it plenty of time and cooling it out before we do any tests on him. The longer we give it, the better it will be for him."