We get this week's Road To Cheltenham underway with the action at the course itself on Saturday. Defi Du Seuil cemented his favouritism for Triumph Hurdle with a win at a price of [1.25] in the opener. It was hoped that we would get a better indication of his chances lining up against fellow Triumph Hurdle fancy Charli Parcs. Unfortunately, due to a late withdrawal of that horse it was an easy win for the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding and we didn't get a proper indication of how good he could be.
Defi Du Seuil has been backed at prices as high as [16.5] for the Triupmh earlier in the season, but Saturday's effort saw him cut from [7.4] in to [5.5] and punters feel enough to justify favouritism.
Royal Vacation made a bold bid for his chances in the RSA Chase with an impressive eight length win in Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase. The seven-year-old has been going from strength to strength and after following up his win in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton at Christmas he has now gained some traction in the RSA Chase market.
Royal Vacation was available at a high of [95.0] earlier in the season but was readily available to back on Saturday morning at [70.0]. This price has been slashed by punters with his mark now hovering around [19.0] at the moment. Interestingly enough, the Colin Tizzard-trained chaser further enhanced the odds of Might Bite in the same race. Might Bite was roughly 10 lengths clear of Royal Vacation when he fell at the last at Christmas, Royal Vacation's win at the weekend has seen Might Bite's price for the RSA Chase cut from [12.0] to [8.6].
Another horse who left a lasting impression at the weekend was the ever improving Harry Fry-trained Unowhatimeanharry, who continued his winning ways by seeing of a large field of challengers in Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle.
That's the ninth race he has won on the trot and connections will be bullish that he can continue this trend by taking the spoils at this year's World Hurdle. Having been backed at as a high of [60.0] much earlier in the season his price had been cut in to under [4.0]. Following his latest exploits however his price cut yet again in to [2.82], as he has confirmed himself as clear favourite.
Cole Harden and West Approach followed Unowhatimeanharry home in second and third on Saturday. This has seen the former's price cut from [50.0] in to [18.5] and the latter's crash from [190.0] in to his current price of [42.0].
One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack getting beaten by former Grand National winner Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase. The Tizzard-trained favourite went off at [1.48] and was matched in-running at as low as [1.02] before getting pipped in the final furlong by Many Clouds.
The result of the race was overshadowed by the sad news that Many Clouds collapsed and died just minutes after the race. Our thoughts are with connections of what was such a great horse after such devastating news.
The loss for Thistlecrack didn't go unnoticed however and although he is still clear favourite for the Gold Cup it saw his price drift from [2.42] out to his current price of [3.1]. He looked a little bit worrisome over the bigger obstacles on Saturday and the market has reflected this, many of his competitors have been cut as a result of this drift and this leaves the Gold Cup as far less of a forgone conclusion as it was expected to shape up to be.
There were further festival hopefuls running out in Leopardstown on Sunday and it was the Willie Mullins-trained Melon who made the biggest impression of the bunch. He won his maiden hurdle race with some aplomb, seeing off his nearest rival by 10 lengths.
With the Supreme Novices' Hurdle having no standout favourite to date it was up to Melon to make a bold statement and that he did. The five-year-old gelding has seen significant support off the back of his win with his price being cut sharply from [10.0] pre-race to now hovering around [6.0]. This makes him favourite for the race and judging by his performance this weekend he just might be the Willie Mullins winner of the Supreme that people have been looking for.
Let's Dance, another Mullins hurdler followed up Melon with a victory in the next race at Leopardstown. She won the competitive Grade 2 Novice Hurdle by six lengths and punters have reacted by backing her for the Mare's Hurdle at the festival, her odds have been cut from [40.0] in to [19.5] to take the tough hurdle race at the festival.
Defi Du Seuil in the Triupmh Hurdle [7.4] in to [5.5]
Royal Vacation in the RSA Chase [70.0] in to [19.5]
Might Bite in the RSA Chase [12.0] in to [8.6]
Unowhatimeanharry in the World Hurdle [4.0] in to [2.82]
Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup [2.42] out to [3.1]
Melon in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle [10.0] in to [6.0]
Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California will play host to the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup on Sunday, April 3. A purse of $100,000 will be up for grabs for horses four years old and upward willing to go 1 1/2 miles on Santa Anita's dirt track.
Seven older entries will take to the track in the Tokyo City Cup - race 8 on Santa Anita's Sunday schedule. Post time is 4:00 PM. Here is a peek into the past performances of all seven combatants for this Grade 3 stakes.
2016 Tokyo City Cup Race Preview
Big John B - was on fire last summer for trainer Phil D'Amato with three straight wins including the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap in July and the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap (a race he's now won two straight years) but has been inconsistent lately - a tenth in the Breeders' Cup Turf was followed by a respectable second to The Pizza Man in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in November, an eighth in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes here January 2, an OK third in the Grade 3 John B Connally Turf Cup January 30 and a disappointing seventh last time out in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes on this track March 13. Big John B now has 39 career starts with 14 wins, six seconds and five third place finishes - he won his only previous starts on dirt. He is a bit difficult to figure out ahead of this weekend, tries to snap a five game losing streak and departs from the rail with Rafael Bejarano in the reins of one of the likely favorites.
Blingo - John Sherreffs trained gelding enters off an eighth place finish in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes here February 6 which followed consecutive fifth place finishes - the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes on this track January 9 and an Allowance Optional Claiming November 21. Before that was a ninth in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker Stakes at Belmont Park October 10 and nearly 20 months away. Prior to the layoff were a third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March, 2014 and a good win in the 2014 San Antonio Stakes a month before that. He has failed to place in his only four starts in the last two years and has just four wins and a third place finish in 16 career starts. Alex Solis tries to change all of that on the only other graded stakes winner in the field - from gate 6.
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Class Leader - John Sadler trainee has three wins, two seconds and four third place finishes in 19 career starts. He won the minor Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico in May, 2014 but has failed to post victory since. Last time out was a sixth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap here March 12 after a fourth in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes here February 6, a third in an Allowance Optional Claiming on this track January 8 and a tenth in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in November. He also had a decent second in the minor King Pellinore Stakes at Santa Anita September 27 and a respectable third in the minor Michael G. Schaefer Memorial in July. He hasn't been all that impressive lately and hopes to snap a lengthy slump from the gate 2 Saturday. Victor Espinoza gets the call.
Ike Walker - Doug O'Neill trained gelding has 21 career starts with six wins, three seconds and two third place finishes. Last time out was a fifth in an Allowance Optional Claiming here March 6 which followed a third in a similar race on this track February 5 and a nice three race win streak - all Starter Allowance races at different tracks in California. He has placed in seven of his last nine races ahead of this and hopes for his first stakes score Saturday. Edwin Maldonado has been tabbed to ride from post 3.
Lieutenant Colonel - Jerry Hollendorfer trained gelding has three wins in six career starts. He enters on the heels of a two race win streak - both Allowance Optional Claiming races on this track. He didn't look great before that however - a seventh in an Allowance Optional Claiming in January followed a seventh in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial last April and a tenth in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in March, 2015. Lieutenant Colonel arrives in career best form as he chases his first stakes win from the outside post 7. Mike Smith rides.
China Girl Lover - Dan Hendricks trained gelding has five wins, two seconds and two third place finishes in 19 career starts. He makes his graded stakes debut off a third in an Allowance Optional Claiming here March 3 and two straight wins, including a Starter Stakes on this track February 7. China Girl Lover has placed in six of his last seven starts overall and steps in decent form. Drayden Van Dyke has the mount from post 5.
John's Success - Phil D'Amato trainee makes his stakes debut Saturday having posted two wins, a second and four third place finishes in 10 career starts. Last time out was a fourth in an Allowance Optional Claiming here March 5 after a win in a Starter Allowance February 4, a second in a similar race January 9 and consecutive thirds in Claiming races to end his 2015 campaign. John's Success steps up in so-so form from gate 4 with Tyler Baze aboard.