Alex Hammond: Going Morgan

Sky Sports News' Alex Hammond reflects on last week's action and looks ahead to the Hennessy and more in her latest blog.

Apple's Jade: Can and the Fighting Fifth

There were shades of Kauto Star about Cue Card bringing the Haydock house down with his third Betfair Chase win on Saturday. Who could challenge him at Kempton on Boxing Day, and is this the year he goes on to land Cheltenham Gold Cup glory?

He was magnificent at Haydock that's for sure and there appears to be no sign of him slowing down as he rises 11 years old. We were told to expect better than we saw in the Charlie Hall and there was no comparison to his Wetherby effort at a rain-soaked Haydock on Saturday.

He wasn't completely perfect at his obstacles, but not far off and you can't crab him for that. Coneygree ran a very respectable race after his injured enforced layoff and should come on a bundle for it. It could be that he heads to Ireland over Christmas for the Lexus though which in my mind leaves the way clear for Cue Card to win the King George once again.

So that could be two legs of the £1m bonus in the bag once again for Colin Tizzard's evergreen star. However, come Cheltenham and it's a different story. He wasn't stopping at the end of Haydock's three miles, but three and a quarter up Cheltenham's unforgiving hill is a different matter.

There's no doubting he was still travelling well when he fell three out last March, but that still hadn't put his stamina to the test and whilst he will likely go there will a very good chance, I wouldn't want to think my life depended on him getting home in front.

There is time a plenty to make a final decision on what will win the Gold Cup and of course there is also the small matter of his youthful stablemate, Thistlecrack, who we can see further his chasing education at Newbury this weekend.

Yanworth and Sire De Grugy starred at Ascot over the weekend – what was your highlight and where next for this duo?

There's no doubt between the pair of them that Sire de Grugy was the horse that warmed the cockles of my heart at Ascot.

Gary Moore's 10 year-old was giving weight to all his rivals and he brushed them aside like the good horse he is. Jockey Jamie Moore said in an interview afterwards that he has proven himself at every level. He can win the graded races and also give lumps of weight away to beat them all in handicaps.

It looks likely that a step back up to grade one company could be next for him in the Tingle Creek and whilst I'm a big fan of the up and coming Fox Norton, back at Sandown, which suits Sire de Grugy so well, he will be a leading contender to win the race for a third time.

As for Yanworth, he was less visually impressive, but trainer Alan King expects him to improve significantly for the outing. In Lil Rockerfeller he faced a generous and tenatious rival and he is no slouch himself.

King will step Yanworth up in trip for the Long Walk Hurdle and it's there that I'd expect to see a bit more improvement. The staying hurdling division could be one of the most fascinating this season as it's so open and I look forward to seeing how he fares over three miles.

Could Friday's Long Distance Hurdle throw up another major World Hurdle player as it has in recent seasons with Big Buck's and Thistlecrack?

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Sticking with the staying hurdling theme then and this looks like a fascinating race. In Ballyoptic you have the young pretender, but Nigel Twiston-Davies' six-year-old needs to put a heavy last flight fall in the West Yorkshire Hurdle behind him.

We have old stager Reve De Sivola, still competitive given the right conditions at the age of 11. The Paul Nicholls trained Ptit Zig won the French Champion Hurdle in the summer and seems to have been revitalised by the fitting of blinkers.

Nicholls also has an exciting young horse entered called El Bandit. He steps up to three miles for the first time, but it looks like that's what he wants and he is dangerous to discount.

Unowhatimeanharry comes here having won his last five including the Albert Bartlett at the Festival on his final run back in March. He's done really well since joining Harry Fry who sorted out a breathing issue and is as tough as old boots.

So all the ingredients are there for a cracking race. There's a chance there could be a smart stayer amongst them, but if there's a Big Buck's or Thistlecrack I'd be surprised as they don't come along that often.

At this moment in time I'm favouring the youngsters Ballyoptic and El Bandit. If Ballyoptic's Wetherby tumble hasn't left a mark he can get back on track and El Bandit is very much on the up. Both horses have time on their side and Ballyoptic is already a grade one winner.

What's the most enticing wager at this stage ahead of Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup?

It looks very hard to leave Sky Bet's 6/1 antepost favourite Native River out of it given the exceptional form of Colin Tizzard's stable at the moment.

He has smart form as a novice last season including finishing runner up in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, so this stamina test will be right up his street.

You can make a case for a fair few of the runners including the likes of last year's winner Smad Place (11lb higher this year) and Un Temps Pour Tout, Outlander could also be an interesting runner if turned out again after last week's fall in the Clonmel Oil Chase.

However, I think Henri Parry Morgan is interesting off a mark of 150 and is closely matched with Native River who beat him three lengths in the Mildmay Chase at Aintree's Grand National meeting. He gets 5lb off the favourite in this handicap.

Peter Bowen trains him and his horses have been running well over the past couple of weeks. At 10/1 with Sky Bet he appeals more at the prices than the antepost favourite. He unseated Sean Bowen at the Railway fences in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on his last start back in April and was going dangerously well at the time.

He is only 1lb higher in the weights for this and that puts him right in there with a shout.

Newcastle stages the weekend's Grade One feature in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle – what wins and will it have a bearing on the Champion Hurdle picture?

Recent Elite Hurdle winner Sceau Royal is clear favourite for Saturday's race for Alan King. He seems to have improved for another summer on his back and comes here in tip top form after an impressive seasonal reappearance win at Cheltenham too.

Irving won this race two years ago, but was well beaten 12 months ago and starts back for the season here. Gigginstown Stud have a strong entry with two former Willie Mullins trained horses; the Henry de Bromhead trained Petit Mouchoir and Gordon Elliott's Apple's Jade.

This will be an interesting fact-finding mission for Gordon Elliott with the recently acquired Apple's Jade. She was beaten on her debut for her new trainer when odds on favourite for a two-mile Grade Two hurdle at Down Royal. That was a shocking first run for Elliott having left Willie Mullins when Gigginstown took their horses away and you would like to hope we will see more of her old self at Newcastle on Saturday.

After that run Elliott felt she looked slow, so it's interesting to see her back over two miles again and maybe she badly needed that outing? She barely put a foot wrong as a juvenile hurdler, finishing runner up in the Triumph and winning at Aintree and Punchestown.

This will let Elliott know if she is back on track and up to Champion Hurdle class or whether they decide to go down the mares route. I can't believe she isn't as good as we thought and she will have improved for her reappearance run.

An impressive performance from the winner might cause a few ripples in the Champion Hurdle market but they are unlikely to threaten the protagonists. I think this is a hard one to call, but I'm inclined to give Apple's Jade another chance here for her in-form stable.

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