Cheltenham's Open meeting announced the start of the jumps season proper and we saw some cracking performances.
David Pipe has taken over his father Martin's mantle as a trainer to follow at that meeting and there was much for him to be excited about following the wins of Grands Crus and Great Endeavour amongst others.
Great Endeavour has always been a good work horse at Pipe's Pond House Stables and he showed that ability on the track in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Despite the concern that overnight rain had detracted from his chance he travelled very well under Timmy Murphy and won convincingly. The Hennessy at Newbury this month is now under consideration for which he is 7/1 joint favourite with Sky Bet.
However, it's worth bearing in mind that the 3¼ mile trip may just stretch him and in the past his form would suggest it is just out of his range.
Grands Crus made a winning start to his chasing career and the manner of the success was very encouraging. Despite making a mistake at the final fence he powered away from the field, settling well for Tom Scudamore over the 2½ mile trip.
It was unfortunate his main market rival Cue Card unseated Joe Tizzard but I think on that performance he would have beaten him anyway had he not got rid of his jockey.
Denman, Imperial Commander, Weird Al and Time For Rupert have all won this Novice chase in the past and there is no reason he shouldn't continue the fine record of winners of that race. He is now 4/1 favourite with Sky Bet for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March. Don't write off Cue Card, that was just a novicey mistake and hopefully he will put that behind him.
Dual Gold Cup winner to prove no fading Star at Haydock
This weekend's feature race takes place at Haydock and Pipe momentarily considered Grands Crus for the Betfair Chase. However, he doesn't run although Pipe hopes he will line up in the race in 12 months' time.
The three-mile Grade 1 has attracted its usual quality field. Long Run heads the market at 8/11 with Sky Bet for his first run since winning the Gold Cup in March. Although he is a horse I love, I think this could be the time to take him on. His season will be geared towards defending his Gold Cup crown and it's unlikely he will be fully wound up for this.
Diamond Harry travelled up to Wetherby for the Charlie Hall but had to miss the race after banging his leg in the racecourse stables overnight - he is the 11/2 second favourite. He hasn't run for almost a year, his last outing saw him win the Hennessy at Newbury in November 2010, but that isn't a concern as he has a record of going well when fresh. His trainer Nick Williams is hoping there is still improvement to come with him and he will have to be at the top of his game to win this.
Weird Al (13/2) won at Wetherby on his first start for Donald McCain. He is a horse who has had problems and is still lightly raced, but is an exciting addition to the McCain string - Timmy Murphy rides again. He is an exciting horse with lots of potential and comes here in preference to the Hennessy. Ruby Walsh thinks Kauto Star is over-priced - he is 7/1. I would be inclined to agree and think he is my each-way selection in the race.
With only six runners that means he has to finish in the first two, but I think he is a better bet than the favourite at the prices. Time for Rupert has been working well and has apparently come on leaps and bounds for his seasonal reappearance in the Charlie Hall - he is 8/1 if you fancy him. He seems to excel at Cheltenham though and Haydock may not play to his strengths as he needs a decent test of stamina. So, it's Kauto Star each-way for me.
Jacob an able deputy for Master repeat bid in Amlin Chase
There is some decent racing at Ascot too with the Amlin Chase one of the highlights. Master Minded is the likely favourite here for Paul Nicholls and Daryl Jacob takes the ride as Ruby is up at Haydock.
He ran badly on his reappearance at Aintree finishing last of three in the Old Roan Chase, but he won this race 12 months ago beating another of today's rivals Imsingingtheblues.
Nicholls blamed himself for the Aintree defeat wishing he had come straight to this race instead and I'm sure he will have got him back to his best now.
Captain Chris is a horse I love and hope can run a big race this weekend for Philip Hobbs. He was desperately unlucky when unseating Richard Johnson in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his first run of the season and I hope he can get compensation here. It's a tough ask for last year's Arkle winner against some seasoned professionals but he is an improving horse with lots to look forward to this season.
The step up to this two mile, three furlongs will also suit and I think he can run a big race. The Haldon Gold Cup winner Medermit is also amongst the entries for Alan King. He had an up-and-down season over fences last season but started off well and is another who should appreciate a step up in trip.
Somersby has run well at this track in the past and was second to Master Minded in the Victor Chandler in January.
Kalahari King is on a retrieval mission after bursting a blood vessel on his reappearance at Kelso earlier this month. He has since worked in a tongue tie which should help keep his airways clear and will most likely have one fitted on Saturday according to trainer Ferdy Murphy. He is a smart performer on his day being placed in the Arkle, Champion Chase and the Ryanair and the latter race is his main target again this season. Conditions suit him well in this race. It's wide open, but I'm going to side with Captain Chris to put in a clear round as he's a horse I love that will appreciate the conditions on Saturday.
McCain raider fancied to overturn Ascot Hurdle favourite
The Coral Hurdle (registered as the Ascot Hurdle) is another race to get stuck into at Ascot Oscar Whisky is the highest rated and Sky Bet's 11/10 favourite. His season went from strength to strength last term culminating with a Grade 1 win at the Grand National meeting at Aintree. He has only been beaten twice in a nine-race career and it seems he has always been a bit overlooked by some of his more high profile stablemates. He should take all the beating here at his best.
Donald McCain's stable jockey Jason Maguire is back from injury this week and he comes to Ascot to ride Overturn in this race. The horse is the 11/4 second favourite and gets 8lbs from the favourite. He hasn't had as long off as some of these as he won the Summer Champion Hurdle at Perth in August and he has been an absolute star for his connections - he won the Chester Cup in May and is a big player here.
The Paul Nicholls-trained King Of The Night (4/1) is stepping up from handicap company and looks like a potential improver and Any Given Day (10/1) is a horse who has been tried at the highest level and also hails from the McCain yard. Nicholls has also entered Celestial Halo (6/1) who was the fortunate winner of the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton two weeks ago. It won't be straightforward for the favourite and given the weight he gives to Overturn he may be vulnerable so I'm going to hope for a bit of value with the second favourite.
Hurricane blows out of planned Morgiana comeback
It was disappointing to hear this week that Hurricane Run is out of Sunday's Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. Willie Mullins wasn't happy with the reigning Champion Hurdler after a piece of work on Wednesday and he may not reappear now until Christmas - he is now 7/4 with Sky Bet for a repeat win in the Champion Hurdle in March. That leaves Pittoni as the new favourite for Sunday's race for Charles Byrnes who is bidding for his fifth win in succession.
Oscars Well is a horse I like and Jessie Harrington's charge should be better for his recent outing at Down Royal. Although he has yet to prove himself at two miles connections say he has a decent turn of foot so the trip doesn't worry me on Sunday.
He was a top Novice Hurdler last season and I fancy his chances here now Hurricane Run is out (incidentally he is 12/1 with Sky Bet for the Champion Hurdle in March). In the absence of the ante-post favourite Willie Mullins runs Thousand Stars and So Young with the former holding the most obvious chance. He won the French Champion Hurdle on his last run in June. I'm going to go with Oscars Well to prove himself over the trip.
Also look out for one of my horse's to follow, First Lieutenant in the Grade 2 Novice Chase at Punchestown - I hope he can win again for Mouse Morris.
Kauto Star, Betfair Chase, Haydock @ 7/1 with Sky Bet (each-way)
Captain Chris, Amlin Chase, Ascot
Overturn, Coral Hurdle, Ascot @ 11/4 with Sky Bet
Oscars Well, Morgiana Hurdle, Punchestown
First Lieutenant, Grade 2 Novice Chase, Punchestown