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Plenty of Festival Clues and Market Moves Following the International Meeting 17/12/12

There were plenty of clues on offer at Prestbury Park over the weekend for anybody looking to untangle the antepost markets ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in March as the two day International Meeting took centre stage at the Gloucestershire track.

Zarkandar
© Racehorse Photos

Zarkandar

On the back of 14 races, there were a number of significant market movers in the Cheltenham Festival's key races, none more so than in the Champion Hurdle, where Zarkandar was made the clear second favourite for the first of the four Championship races following his two length victory in stanjames.com International Hurdle. The Paul Nicholls trained five year old saw off two classy opponents in the form of Grandouet and winner of this year's Champion Hurdle, Rock on Ruby, to earn a quote of 6/1 (from 8/1) to win the 2013 renewal. Ironically, it was Grandouet, who finished second who was the bigger mover in the antepost market, cut from 12/1 to 6/1 with Bet365. The Nicky Henderson runner was making his first start since winning this race 12 months ago and although unable to get up, there was enough to like about the performance and with more improvement sure to come, he will be one to watch next time out.

Oscar Whisky
© Racehorse Photos

Oscar Whisky
Also staking a claim in the Champion Hurdle picture was Oscar Whisky, who won easily when the 1/5 favourite in the Grade Two, Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle. However, it is undecided whether the Nicky Henderson trained seven year old will drop back to two miles for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle, for which he is currently a 14/1 chance, or have another shot at taking on Big Buck's over three miles in the World Hurdle, where he can be backed at 25/1 after finishing fifth, some 13 lengths behind the Paul Nicholls stable star in this year's race.

Given Oscar Whisky's performances over two and a half miles, there's no doubting that is his preferred trip and there's certainly no questioning that he's a Grade One performer, however, it would seem pointless to step back up to three miles. Equally, dropping to two miles could prove a risk up against rivals with more pace. With no Grade One Hurdle over two and half miles for older horses at the Festival, there's little appeal in backing Oscar Whisky antepost.

In the Triumph Hurdle picture, Far West confirmed his positioned as the favourite after making it a hat-trick of wins this season since joining the Paul Nicholls yard from France in the Summer. It is difficult to assess an easy 19 length win over just two rivals on Saturday but the way he jumped and ease of the victory suggests he is worthy of the 10/1 quote to win the Triumph and follow in the footsteps of stablemate, Zarkandar, who won the race in 2011.

It was certainly Paul Nicholls day on Saturday, training four of the seven winners on the day and it was Unioniste that was probably the best training performance of the quartet. Running for just the third time in England, Nicholls decided to take the four year old novice out of his comfort zone and try his luck in handicap company. Running off just 9-9, with jockey, Harry Derham, takign a further 5lbs off his back, Unioniste was considered to be well in at the weights, particularly when judged on the course and distance form when third behind Dynaste last month. Despite being a negative in the market, drifting from 5/1 in the morning to an sp of 15/2, the Ditcheat runner was given a confident ride before being produced three from home where he went on to win by a comfortable 11 lengths from 7/2 favourite, Walkon.

Coneygree
© Racehorse Photos

Coneygree
Where Unioniste heads to at the Festival remains to be seen but it has to be thought that there are better Novices in the division but in a handicap, he'd have to rate a danger and that is why he is currently the 10/1 co-favourite to win the Festival Handicap Chase on the opening day of the 2013 meeting.

It is also worth mentioning the Mark Bradstock trained, Coneygree, who won the Grade Two, Bristol Novices Hurdle, over three miles in impressive fashion by six lengths, to remain unbeaten over obstacles. An exciting prospect for sure, the five year old's options include the Neptune Novices Hurdle, for which he is rated a 16/1 chance right now and the Albert Bartlett for which he is best priced 12/1 with Ladbrokes, but Paddy Power were taking no risks, slashing the 20/1 before the race to 8/1.

News and odds taken from the weekly Road to Cheltenham column at Cheltenham-festival.co.uk.


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