Seven things we learned from the festive action

Tom Scudamore and Thistlecrack winning the King George

PICTURE: Getty Images Seven things we learned from the festive action By Keith Melrose 7:00PM 29 DEC 2016

After a feast of racing over the Christmas period, we look at what we learned and where the story goes from here for the rest of the season.

1 British path looks clear for Thistlecrack
Thistlecrack's stunning King George victory may have been at the expense of just four rivals, but he already looks to have all moves covered as far as the British Gold Cup challenge is concerned.

Cue Card had shown just how much depth the division lacks when winning the Betfair Chase and even that effort now looks not all it was cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of Coneygree either not turning up, or arriving blunted by a lack of race fitness as in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, increases by the week. Thistlecrack may turn up in the Gold Cup as a novice without an awful lot to prove.

2 The River flows on
The last man standing against Thistlecrack in Britain is possibly stablemate and Welsh National winner Native River, a resolutely old-fashioned chaser who has evoked the likes of Carvill's Hill and Denman in the style, if perhaps not the substance, of his handicap successes.

On talent and potential, Native River has plenty to find with Thistlecrack, having done his winning from marks in the mid-150s. What his backers will be relying upon are his jumping, toughness and stamina, all undoubted strengths augmented in the hands of champion jockey Richard Johnson.

He is in that sense almost diametrically opposed to the stylish Thistlecrack, which should make for good viewing come March.

Native River (Richard Johnson)

Native River and Richard Johnson lead the Welsh National field

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (

3 Don Cossack still rules Ireland
The dimmer side of a thrilling race like the Lexus is that it tends to mean that the division is not all that strong. It is unlikely that this will prove to be one of the exceptions.

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Djakadam and Don Poli were both placed in last year's Gold Cup but the impression on Wednesday was that the positively ridden Don Poli, beaten nearly 15 lengths in March, ran his race rather than Djakadam.

Put another way, there is nothing in Ireland that a fully-recovered Don Cossack need worry about, and he in turn would be the only Irish challenger likely to cause Thistlecrack much discomfort.
4 We could have an Arkle for the ages
Champion Chase odds of 1-2 and as short as 2-7 paint a fairly accurate picture of how far ahead of the other top two-mile chasers Douvan looks to be. The question of how much he finds for pressure, meanwhile, might not need to be answered this March.

Next season will be different, judging by the developing Arkle market. Most autumns, the dream Arkle appears on the horizon but soon turns out to be a mirage. Unusually, we are still on for a cracker at the turn of the year.

That said, even in the company of Min, Yorkhill, Identity Thief and Buveur D'Air, Altior has looked a cut above. It isn't taking too much of a liberty to suggest that Altior might already be the second-best two-mile chaser in training.


Altior looks set for the very top over fences

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (

5 McManus has Triumph trumps

Winners of the Finale at Chepstow often provide fertile ground for future 'where are they now?' columns, but Defi Du Seuil added to the evidence that he is the real deal with a thumping success in the race on Tuesday. A well-forward three-year-old with plenty of stamina, he is the ideal Triumph Hurdle type.

He is not alone this year. Charli Parcs and Landofhopeandglory, both also in the green and gold of JP McManus, would be favourite at this stage in most years, while the fact there are a couple between them in the betting points to an excellent renewal in March.

Most would have expected Joseph O'Brien, with the wealth of Coolmore cast-offs to call upon, to dominate the Triumph, but with Landofhopeandglory (12-1) his best hope it is instead McManus who has the tough decision to make.

High up among his choices might be switching the sharp-looking Charlie Parcs to the Supreme, which has been opened up by former favourite Jenkins' defeat on Boxing Day.

Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins had an excellent Christmas festival at Leopardstown

PICTURE: Patrick McCann (

6 Mullins still holds a formidable hand

If you were to play Willie Mullins at poker you would expect him to hit a royal flush. Little more than three months ago Gigginstown House Stud took 60 horses from his yard, including the Lexus winner Outlander, yet still he farmed Leopardstown's Christmas festival with a scarcely believable 14 winners. Five of them only made their debuts for the yard in the last three months. Most assumed that Mullins would fill the empty boxes pretty quickly, but he has exceeded even the most hopeful forecasts in terms of getting the newcomers winning.

Gordon Elliott, who landed fewer-but-heavier blows including a helpful one-two in the Lexus, still has a chance of winning the trainers' championship, but it seems that Mullins is preparing to do to Elliott what Paul Nicholls did to him in Britain last season.
7 Champion challengers falling into place
Mullins does not yet know how his Champion Hurdle squad will line up and, on form, the final decision might well not be made until March. Now he at least knows the enemy.

Yanworth did largely what was expected of him in the Christmas Hurdle, emerging as Britain's main Champion Hurdle hope while showing Kempton's sharp two miles to be quick enough for him.

The surprise package was Petit Mouchoir, who was full value for his seven-length victory over last year's Champion Hurdle third Nichols Canyon at Leopardstown on Thursday. With his progressive profile and more evident speed for two miles, he will be at least as big a threat to Faugheen or Annie Power as Yanworth.

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