Opening the Evening Standard on the Tube last week in London revealed a full-page advertisement for Royal Ascot. In the sports section at the back of the same paper the single item on racing spoke of a massive Guineas gamble on Aidan O'Brien's Gleneagles. One could be forgiven for thinking that Cheltenham had singularly signalled the end of the jumps season, but while caught in a momentary vortex on the underground, I was soon reassured that the Cotswolds cliff-hanger is only the first of the spring festivals over the sticks.
And while Cheltenham was all about the winners, there are a few that finished further back which are worthy of serious consideration at another festival before the season truly yields to its more glamorous summer sibling.
The Grand Annual is frequently a significant feeder into the Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree and this year it may pay to look no further than Turn Over Sivola. For a horse whose ideal conditions constitute a flat track on good ground he was granted neither by 5.15 on the Friday at Cheltenham and, not surprisingly, started an unflattering 33/1.
Yet in spite of the conditions, and at least two serious mistakes in probably the most competitive two-mile handicap chase on the calendar, he managed to stay on into fifth, beaten just over seven lengths. Desperately unlucky in the Red Rum last year, when the winner got first run, Alan King's charge will return to Liverpool with an irresistible chance for revenge off just a 5lbs higher mark.
Amongst a collection of stunning oil paintings circling the paddock for the Supreme Novices there weren't any looked as sumptuous as Tell Us More. Although only third selection from the Mullins quartet, the son of Scorpion was still quietly fancied by some. Somewhat keen in the preliminaries and requiring two handlers in the parade ring, Tell Us More was far too keen in the race itself to ever afford himself the chance to last home. Having jumped the second last in a joint lead the Gigginstown horse gradually faded as the needle closed on empty. His achievements over hurdles are simply a precursor to his ultimate purpose over fences, but in the meantime he could easily pop up in a decent race before the season's end.
It will be interesting to see what connections do next with Josses Hill. In spite of having the mould of a chaser his aptitude for fencing has been lacking all season. While jumping better in the Arkle, he is still far from the finished article. A decisive winner at Aintree last season, following a place behind Vautour at Cheltenham, he is certain to show up again this term. However, whether it is for the two-mile Maghull Novices or the half-mile longer Manifesto Chase is the open question. A step up in trip would be of great help at this stage to the Henderson horse and could just be the making of him finally over the large ones, but should Josses Hill remain at two miles then he is a favourite I would be very keen to oppose as the sharper track and stiffer fences at Aintree would likely be his undoing.
The horse I would be most interested in for the Maghull is Court Minstrel. The Evan Williams inmate struggled on the soft ground, yet finished just over 10 lengths behind Josses Hill at Cheltenham. Court Minstrel loves Aintree - he won a handicap hurdle there last year carrying top-weight off a mark of 147 and finished fourth in the championship bumper in 2012 - and is a stone better horse on fast ground. Williams does particularly well at Aintree, including his Grand National record for getting horses placed, and while he might have gone to Cheltenham merely with hope in his heart, he can visit Liverpool more in expectation.
It was an unusual move to see Jonjo O'Neill's €105,000 French import Matorico pitch up in the Triumph after just one run for the yard the previous month. At 33/1 the grey gelding never had any real pretensions to winning the four-year-old championship contest, especially off the back of just one quiet run at Huntingdon - quiet enough to have AP McCoy requested to explain the ride by the stewards. With McCoy on Hargam in the Triumph, it was left to the sympathetic hands of Paul Carberry to steer McManus' Matorico around Prestbury Park. The grey ran exceedingly well until beyond the home turn, after which Carberry was very kind once apparent his mount was not going to be a factor at the business end. There are certainly races to be won with this son of Mastercraftsman and it will be interesting to see what course the yard plots next.
Going into the RSA Chase, Wounded Warrior and Adriana Des Mottes could be seen to have very similar form against both Rule The World and Gilgamboa and very similar chance of winning (very little) and ran almost to the pound by finishing a head apart in third and fourth behind Don Poli.
At six and five years old respectively both still have lots more to give, but over contrasting distances in the future. Adriana Des Mottes jumped and travelled as well as any horse all week at the rear under masterful Ruby Walsh handling only to not quite see out the distance, whereas Wounded Warrior got outpaced before staying on strongly. Their best days are still to come.
Sunday Indo Sport