Haydock Park hosted an excellent seven-race card on Saturday which gave punters plenty of clues ahead of the impending Cheltenham Festival, which runs from Tuesday, March 10 to Friday, March 13.
https://www.racingpost.com/ spoke to connections of the weekend winners and their potential targets for the four-day extravaganza.
Vintage Clouds took out the feature contest of the day, the £75,000 Peter Marsh Chase. Trained by Sue Smith and ridden by Danny Cook, the 10-year-old son of Cloudings was a joy to watch at his fences, jumping with aplomb and coming readily clear to win by an eased down seven lengths.
The talented grey had been threatening to win a big pot like this, but had struggled to put a convincing jumping performance together of late. However, this was Vintage Clouds at his very best.
He is now set to run in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, a race in which he finished a fine second last year.
Yorkshire trainer Smith is operating at a 33% strike-rate in the last fortnight and this was another big victory for Grand National winning owner Trevor Hemmings.
His racing manager Mick Meagher, said: “Vintage Clouds deserve that - he’s run so well in so many races. It’s great to win a good one with him. He often kicks one fence out, but he jumped great today. We might go back to Cheltenham for the race he was second in last year and there’s the Scottish National as well.”
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup runner Definitly Red ran a fine race to finish second and he is firmly on the Grand National trail. He is set to have one more start, before lining up in the Aintree showpiece in April.
His trainer Brian Ellison remarked: “The ground was a bit tacky, which doesn’t suit him, but we’re happy with the performance with that weight. He’s been running well this year, but he has raced a bit lazily.
"The plan is to go to Kelso next month and then Aintree. We’re going to put some cheekpieces on him at Kelso to see if they sharpen him up, and if they do we might run him in them in the National.”
The other £75,000 contest, The New One Unibet Hurdle, saw Ballyandy advertise his Champion Hurdle claims with a game success in the two-mile event.
Given a superb ride by Sam Twiston-Davies for his father Nigel, the nine-year-old son of Kayf Tara recorded a nose success over the Nicky Henderson-trained Pentland Hills. A former Champion Bumper winner and a Betfair Hurdle hero, the Champion Hurdle is the logical next step for the winner.
Twiston-Davies, who trained The New One, the horse after which the race was named, trains down the road from Cheltenham at Naunton.
He said: “The New One was superb and Ballyandy probably won’t be as good but he’s a good one to follow him. We’ll have a crack at the Champion Hurdle – what else can we do. Until they have this fifth day at Cheltenham and a two-and-a-half-mile hurdle, the two-mile hurdle is his race.”
Ballyandy was cut to 20/1 from 33/1 for the two-mile hurdling championship, whilst Pentland Hill was eased to 8/1 from 71 across the board.
Fighting Fifth winner Cornerstone Lad finished a fine third shouldering top-weight and the Champion Hurdle is his target with trainer Micky Hammond commenting: “There isn’t a lot else to go for other than the Champion Hurdle and I’d imagine he’ll go straight there.”
Elsewhere on a thrilling day of action, the unexposed Sam Brown advertised his RSA Chase claims with an all-the-way success in the G2 Novices’ Chase for Anthony Honeyball, whilst Nigel Twiston-Davies enjoyed another Graded winner with Stolen Silver snatching victory on the line in the G2 Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle, a trial for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Saturday’s winners at Haydock Park:
12.55pm Jockey Club Haydock Park Racing Club Handicap Hurdle (Northern Lights 2m Hurdle Qualifier) – Le Ligerien 1/2 (Trainer: Philip Hobbs & Jockey: Ben Jones)
1.30pm Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase – Sam Brown 9/4 (Trainer: Anthony Honeyball & Jockey: Aidan Coleman)
2.05pm Grade Two Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle – Stolen Silver 9/2 (Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies & Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies)
2.40pm Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase – Vintage Clouds 7/1 (Trainer: Sue Smith & Jockey: Danny Cook)
3.15pm Grade Two The New One Unibet Hurdle – Ballyandy 5/2 (Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies & Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies)
3.45pm Cheltenham Preview Here In March Handicap Chase – Billingsley 5/2f (Trainer: Alistair Ralph & Jockey: Liam Treadwell)
4.15pm Old Boston Handicap Hurdle – Silva Eclipse 4/1 (Trainer: Sue Smith & Jockey: Danny Cook)