Red-hot favourites Silviniaco Conti and At Fishers Cross were turned over in the two feature races at Wetherby on Saturday as Menorah and Cole Harden set themselves up for bigger days later in the campaign.
Silviniaco Conti had won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and was the market leader with some bookmakers for this season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup prior to being left behind at the second-last in the Grade Two he won two years ago. Noel Fehily set out to make the running in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, but challengers were queuing up at the top of the straight and Double Ross took it up with three furlongs to run.
Richard Johnson was just getting ready to pounce on Philip Hobbs’ Menorah, however, and the 2010 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner stormed to a four-length success, with Taquin Du Seuil staying on to pip Double Ross for second.
Hobbs was at Ascot, where he said of the 8-1 winner: “I suppose you have to think about King Georges and races like that. I suppose we needed Silviniaco Conti to run below par for us to have a chance, which he has. Anyway, he’s run fantastic.”
Paul Nicholls was still satisfied with Silviniaco Conti, who faded into fifth. Nicholls said: “He is just getting a bit lazier, Noel said he got very tired. What he needs now is a real end-to-end gallop like he’ll get in the King George. He needed a race to tighten up and he should improve for the run. Basically, he has run OK. He’ll go Betfair, King George and Gold Cup.”
At Fishers Cross was sent off the 4-7 favourite in the bet365 (West Yorkshire) Hurdle but could only finish a dismal last of three behind Cole Harden (9-4), who might just be a young horse destined for big things. Second in the Sefton to Beat That at Aintree, he made every yard of the running under the impressive Gavin Sheehan, beating Medinas by eight lengths. Winning trainer Warren Greatrex said: “That was impressive and we’ll look at the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.”
Cole Harden was given a 12-1 quote for the World Hurdle by RaceBets. Rebecca Curtis floated the idea that At Fishers Cross may now go novice chasing. She said: “AP thinks he might be worth a go over fences and if JP (McManus) agrees that might be the way we go.”
McCoy did have his first winner since returning from injury on John Quinn’s ultra-impressive Aurore D’Estruval in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle and she may be stepped up into Grade One class, as stablemate Cockney Sparrow was after winning the corresponding race 12 months ago.
And Malcolm Jefferson hopes Secrete Stream could be a Cheltenham Festival contender after his smooth win in the Racing UK Handicap Hurdle. Jefferson said: “I hope he’ll be in a handicap at Cheltenham in March. I think he can win a nice race along the way.”