Alex Hammond: Melon looks juicy

Sky Sports presenter Alex Hammond reflects on a tough weekend in racing while offering her view on the new Sky Bet Supreme favourite.

Ruby Walsh and Melon survive a blunder at the last flight to win

Reflections on the life and career of Many Clouds, please, and what you made of Thistlecrack's performance in a heartbreaking Cotswold Chase.

Oh my, talk about the tough side of the sport. I was out and about on Saturday and had recorded the racing with the intention of catching up on the action 'as live' later in the day. However, my mum text me to tell me what had happened, which was unusual as we don't normally give anything away when we know that one or other of us is recording the racing.

I've been involved with racehorses for many years and occasionally lost one that I have become attached to or seen a horse killed in action on the track and it shakes you to your core. We all know it can happen, but it's not as common as some think, and what happened to 'Clouds' was so incredibly rare. I remember a similar thing happening to another old warrior, Persian Punch, in the 2004 Sagaro at Ascot and I was devastated; this evoked the same emotions. It was particularly poignant because I know some of the team that were involved with the 2015 National winner and had had the privilege of going to meet him at Oliver Sherwood's yard just a couple of weeks ago.

So well cared for was that gentle giant, that the apples that we had brought for him had the stalks removed before they could be offered to him. He was adored and wanted for nothing and this freak occurrence has robbed the horse of a happy retirement at Trevor Hemmings' stud where he would have been so well cared for, too.

He will be missed by racing fans, but more importantly by the people who knew him best at Rhonehurst and they did not deserve to lose him in such sad circumstances. As for Thistlecrack, I can only echo the words of Oliver Sherwood who said he hopes the King George winner goes on to win the Gold Cup now to show everyone how good Many Clouds was.

Alex on Many Clouds "So well cared for was that gentle giant, that the apples that we had brought for him had the stalks removed before they could be offered to him. He was adored and wanted for nothing."
Alex on Many Clouds

After all, Many Clouds bowed out at the very top as we learned this week he would have been the highest rated chaser in training had he still been alive. He will be sorely missed by all.

The Champion Hurdle has taken another series of twists with Annie Power out, Buveur D'Air in and Petit Mouchoir emerging- what do you make of the state of play and if you had to back one today, where would your money be going?

I think I'll be keeping my powder dry for the timing being as much depends on the participation of Faugheen, although the switch back to hurdles for last year's Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle third Buveur D'Air is a fascinating move by Nicky Henderson and his team after his fledgling chasing career was put on hold.

Petit Mouchoir couldn't make an impact in that Cheltenham contest last March, but he hasn't done much wrong lately having won his last two starts in Grade One company in Ireland. I don't think any of them are capable of beating a fully fit Faugheen though, which is where my dilemma lies.

It also transpired this week that Yanworth has met with a slight setback and won't be able to run this weekend, although Alan King's charge has other options before Cheltenham, but either way it's not ideal.

Sky Bet go non-runner no bet for the Champion Hurdle, so the 11/8 about Faugheen could be an option, although who knows if he'll make the line up on March 14? Obviously there's nothing to lose in some respects with the NRNB concession, but I'd be keen to know when Willie Mullins plans to get this horse on track, or if there is a more serious issue, before backing him.

The only thing that is certain is that the picture is still pretty murky and something may yet emerge that looks capable of making a serious impact in the race.

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You're a Cole Harden fan. Is he back to his best after his second in the Cleeve and can he – or any other horse for that matter – end Unowhatimeanharry's winning run in the Stayers' Hurdle?

Ahh, you know me too well! I love Cole Harden and was delighted to see him finish runner up in the Cleeve at the weekend. He's now 10/1 with Sky Bet and on better ground at the festival in March there's no reason he can't run into a place in the race he won in 2015.

I'm not sure anything can beat the hot favourite though if he turns up in the sort of form that has seen him win eight from eight since joining Harry Fry. Having said that, he's a very short price and there remain some fascinating potential contenders.

There is sure to be an interesting challenge over from Ireland, although as the favourite is owned by JP McManus that may rule out his Jezki who I'd love to see line up over three miles again. It was great to see him back at Navan last month and he could be a real threat to Unowhatimeanharry given his class and Festival form.

Jezki is 6/1 to the favourite's 6/4 and I'm happy to back him in the non-runner, no bet market with Sky Bet in case he runs in the Champion. If Jessica Harrington's stable star does line-up in this race he must be a massive threat to all.

I think the only horse I love more than Cole Harden is Vroum Vroum Mag and whilst she wasn't particularly impressive when winning at Doncaster on Saturday, I'd be mad keen on her if she runs in this race and at the same price as Jezki I wouldn't be put off backing her, as she is a class act.

Of course, it's very hard to know which race this versatile mare will run in but a race involving her and the two aforementioned McManus horses would be one of the highlights of the Festival. Here's hoping.

Melon is favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme after living up to the hype on his hurdling debut. Would you rather be a backer or a layer at 9/2 with the sponsors?

Well thank goodness something has emerged to liven up the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle market!

Melon is slightly unusual in that he was bred in the UK and then sold to race in France. Often horses are headhunted from France to make the trip west, but you don't often hear of it the other way round.

Having said that after his 100,000 Euro yearling purchase and four runs on the Flat in France which yielded one win, he headed back in this direction to join Willie Mullins where he's quickly earned a tall reputation through his work at home.

The hype appears to be justified as he hacked up at Leopardstown and this well-bred five-year-old will hopefully get a bit more experience before the Festival, as that's the only thing that appears to be lacking.

I wouldn't want to be a layer that's for sure, so I'll back him to continue the Mullins stronghold in this race, in which he will be bidding to join Ebaziyan, Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan who have all won the contest for the yard.

Alex is backing Jezki for the Stayers "Jezki is 6/1 to the favourite's 6/4 and I'm happy to back him in the non-runner, no bet market with Sky Bet in case he runs in the Champion. If Jessica Harrington's stable star does line-up in this race he must be a massive threat to all."
Alex is backing Jezki for the Stayers

No Buveur D'Air, but the Grade One Scilly Isles still looks a fascinating race – who are you backing to come out on top? Any other weekend fancies?

His absence has made the race more interesting and one I'll be looking forward to watching on Saturday either at Sandown or Wetherby is Calett Mad for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

He's not done much wrong since coming over from France with a win, a second place and another win. He also in the Towton at Wetherby on the same day over three miles, rather than two and a half at Sandown, which I'd imagine is his more likely port of call as Top Notch (in the same ownership) is entered in the Scilly Isles.

Calett Mad is entered in the RSA Chase and the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham so is clearly thought of as a staying chaser and he's done little wrong so far.

Brain Power is a horse I'm looking forward to watching at Sandown in the Contenders Hurdle with an eye to championship races. He's clearly a horse that needs kid-gloves handling and has been quirky in the past, but he looks to be pulling it all together now as his impressive Ascot win showed last time out. We won't get rich backing him now though in the absence of Yanworth.

Charli Parcs will also be one to watch at Musselburgh in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial on Saturday having bypassed Cheltenham last week on account of the ground. Fascinatingly, he's been quite well backed for the Sky Bet Supreme and it may be that winning the Scottish Triumph Trial doesn't automatically precede a run in the Cheltenham equivalent, where Defi Du Seuil is one of several from the same ownership towards the top of the betting.

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