On Thursday we were given the news that dual Gold Cup winner Kauto Star had taken a heavy fall in schooling last Friday and is a doubt for Cheltenham.
However, having spoken to Paul Nicholls on Sky Sports News on Friday morning I am optimistic that he may still line-up on the Friday of the festival. Nicholls told me that the horse hasn't missed any cantering and is having regular physiotherapy.
His work next weekend will be the crunch time and we will know much more in just over a weeks' time. Sky Bet have him at 4/1 to win his third Gold Cup and I hope we see him.
Last weekend the Triumph Hurdle picture became slightly clearer. There were significant trials at Kempton and in Ireland at Fairyhouse causing a shake-up in the ante-post market.
Jockey Choc Thornton was very pleased with the feel Grumeti gave him and compared him to Penzance, who won the Triumph for the same trainer/jockey a few years ago.
Quotes of the week
The star of the show was undoubtedly Grumeti who took the easy option of running in the Dovecote rather than the Adonis on the same card at Kempton.
It was a decision that paid off for his trainer Alan King, who holds a strong hand in the Cheltenham race as he is also responsible for Balder Succes (9/1 for the Triumph).
Grumeti is now 5/1 joint favourite along with Baby Mix with Sky Bet after his Dovecote win and winning jockey Choc Thornton was very pleased with the feel the horse gave him and compared him to Penzance, who won the Triumph for the same trainer/jockey a few years ago. He also thinks he could improve again.
King feels of his two runners Grumeti will be better suited to the sort of ground they are likely to encounter at Prestbury Park. Clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, says it is good all round at the moment and he plans to water to ensure the meeting starts on good to soft. Tom George and Paddy Brennan had a superb day and it was kicked off with Baby Mix in the Adonis. This was a return to form for the grey who had disappointed the time before. He has been shortened joint favourite for the Triumph after that impressive display.
Sadler's Mix finished second and he is 7/1 for the Triumph and the stiffer track is expected to suit him better at Cheltenham. Unfortunately, Minsk didn't win on his debut over hurdles at Fairyhouse. Dessie Hughes' highly-touted juvenile was just touched off on his first appearance over obstacles and it transpires the Irish Cesarewitch winner has a throat infection and misses the Triumph Hurdle for which he had been well supported.
The Willie Mullins-trained, Graham Wylie-owned Prince de Beauchene advertised his Grand National claims in the 3mile, 1furlong Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. He is now 9/1 favourite for the National with Sky Bet after his comfortable win and continues to attract support. He was having just his second start for Mullins who took over the training of this horse from Howard Johnson and he is progressing nicely. He has a very attractive weight in the National, just 10 stone 6lbs and couldn't be with a better trainer for the big race.
Back to Kempton and Nacarat kept up his superb record in the Racing Plus Chase by winning it for the second time (he has also been placed twice). He is also likely to be heading to Aintree, but for the Grade One Totesport Bowl at the Grand National meeting, a race he won last year. However, trainer Tom George says the ground is crucial for him and he will only run if he gets his favourable conditions.
There is just over a week to go before the Cheltenham festival gets underway, but there is plenty of competitive racing this weekend. The feature race at Newbury is the Greatwood Gold Cup, a Grade Three handicap chase over two-and-a-half miles.
National winner Ballabriggs was entered in this race, but he will line up in the same race he was second in at Kelso last year before his Aintree triumph, the two and 3/4 mile Premier Chase. AP McCoy travels up to the Borders track to ride three, two for Nicky Henderson and one for boss JP McManus. He rides Master of the Hall in the Premier Chase. However, I think Ballabriggs can win this year.
Back to the Greatwood Gold Cup. Woolcombe Folly is top weight in Newbury's feature race for Paul Nicholls who has 'jocked up' a 7lb conditional jockey to alleviate the burden; Aerial (the pick of Ruby Walsh) and Daryl Jacob's mount Pasco represent him.
Pasco goes well here and has been given a bit of help by the handicapper. But he is the second string behind Aerial who has also been dropped slightly in the weights and is feeling the benefit of a breathing operation during the off season. Alan King saddles Araldur who was a very smart novice chaser before fracturing his pelvis. He came back after a layoff and did well in novice hurdles, but still looks harshly handicapped over fences.
Dave's Dream has some smart form for Nicky Henderson. Blinkers replace cheek-pieces here and Barry Geraghty rides, but he is still 7lbs higher in the handicap than when he was last successful. Fine Parchment is starting to look well handicapped for Charlie Mann who also takes another 10lbs off the horse's back with a claiming jockey on board. He won the race 12 months ago and Mann feels the contest is winnable this term, too.
Fix The Rib has got just 10 stone 2lbs for Gary and Jamie Moore and although he would prefer to run on a right handed track he has form here and can't be ignored. If Mad Max could recapture his best form he would be in with a shout for Neil Mulholland. He made a promising debut for the stable at Haydock and will have improved for that run. He has had breathing problems and the better ground here should help.
Pickamus represents Henry Daly who is better off at the weights than when finishing sixth from 9lb out of the handicap behind Calgary Bay at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Passato has the assistance of last weekend's in-form jockey Paddy Brennan and can run well for Jo Davies. Rileyev runs from 3lbs out of the handicap for Venetia Williams.
It's quite an open race and I'm going to side with Fine Parchment who can win this again if back to his best.
One to beat
Some old favourites line up in the Veterans' Handicap Chase. Niche Market represents Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh, he has his first run since finishing secnd to West End Rocker in the Becher Chase in December. He looks the one to beat here. Marufo is the pick of Richard Johnson from the Philip Hobbs yard who also run Fair Along.
There is also some decent action at Doncaster with their feature the 3mile 2furlong Grimthorpe Handicap Chase, a recognised National trial. Just seven horses have been declared with Benny Be Good top weight for Keith Reveley and the trip will be ideal for him on Saturday. He is a stone higher in the weights than when he last ran, though, which means he has to run the best race of his career to win this.
Junior has his first run over fences since winning the Kim Muir last March for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore. He had his first run since Royal Ascot in a handicap hurdle at Newbury two weeks ago and the leading Grand National contender is expected to put up a much better effort here. Obviously all roads lead to Aintree with this horse but he could pick up some decent prize money en-route to the National. Do bear in mind, though, that this isn't his National.
Amongst his rivals is West End Rocker who may not be ideally suited to this faster ground, but it will be informative for Aintree punters as it's unlikely to be a bog at Aintree in April. He has won a couple of lesser races on good ground and I might take a chance that he handles it again. Ikorodu Road is marginally out of the handicap but trip and track suit, although he isn't always to be trusted. Mac Aeda is an improving horse for Malcolm Jefferson and he stays very well.
Fine Parchment in the Greatwood Gold Cup
Niche Market in the Veterans' Handicap Chase
West End Rocker in the Grimthorpe Chase
Ballabriggs in the Premier Chase
Click here for Sky Bet's odds.