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Cheltenham Update: Impervious states Festival claims for Colm Murphy

Colm Murphy doesn't have the size and scope of days gone by in his string, but the Irish trainer will be dreaming of the Cheltenham Festival with his mare Impervious following her latest victory.

Impervious took out the Grade 3 Madigan Group Novice Chase at Punchestown on Sunday to maintain her perfect record over fences and surely now has the Cotswolds in March in her sights.

The Willie Mullins juggernaut rolled on as Impaire Et Passe strengthened his position in the novice hurdles division, while Dan Skelton's super Saturday included seeing Grey Dawning advertise his claims in the novice stayers' division.

Here's our look at the weekend eyecatchers, as well as some of the breaking news stories, and their impacts on the Cheltenham Festival markets.

Impervious showcases Festival credentials

The Grade 3 Madigan Group Novice Chase looked ultra-competitive on paper as Murphy's Impervious lined up alongside the well-backed Mullins runner Ha D'or and Henry De Bromhead's Journey With Me - that pair sharing favouritism at the off.

As the winner of a Mares' Grade 2 at Cork in December, Impervious was actually giving weight to those geldings but it mattered not.

Rachael Blackmore and Journey With Me served it up to Ha D'or and soon burned off that rival but Impervious loomed up as a danger and Brian Hayes' partner needed only hands and heels encouragement to come and claim the spoils a shade cosily.

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The step up in trip had clearly brought further improvement and Impervious is now 6/4 favourite for the Mares' Chase at Cheltenham on 17th March, while the Turners' Novices' Chase - where she would get weight from the boys - is also a serious option.

"She answered a lot of questions today. It was a tall order to give weight to those boys, but I'm so delighted with that as the heavy ground was a tiny worry. She gives everything. She seems to still be improving," said Murphy post-race.

"I'd imagine the Mares' race is the target but you wouldn't mind in one way taking on geldings as we'd be getting 7lb. We'll see how she comes out of [this]."

Mullins' judgement unlikely to Impaired

As always, Ireland's champion trainer is beginning to see his options grow in the novice hurdles sphere.

On Sunday, Impaire Et Passe made it 2-2 for Mullins when landing the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown over two miles on heavy going in the colours of Simon Munir & Isaac Souede.

He had plenty to spare over The Model Kingdom in second and looks an impressive sort. His debut win came over 2m3f at Naas in December and, with stablemate Facile Vega already 4/5 to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Mullins may look elsewhere.

Impaire Et Passe is trading at 6/1 for the 2m5f Ballymore Novices' Hurdle on 15th March at Cheltenham, a race his trainer has won a record five times already.

Rider Paul Townend hinted that the team at Closutton see him as more of a stayer, or at least had done prior to Sunday's win.

"I was very happy with him there, he jumped like a buck and the only hurdle he was slow at was the last when he was in front, but he picked up nicely at the back of it again," he said.

"The worry was coming back in trip but he showed pace [there]. I think he's very smart."

Grey Dawning shines on Skelton's superb Saturday

Saturday was a sizzler for trainer Dan Skelton as he saddled four winners across Britain from just seven runners.

Amongst those was Grey Dawning in the Grade 2 Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick. The six-year-old arrived into this race having landed a big gamble at Kempton on Boxing Day and he improved again to make it three wins on the trot.

It was a sizeable step up in class for Grey Dawning but he took it in his stride, produced between rivals late on by Harry Skelton before surging clear to win by more than six lengths, bagging a prize that has gone the way of the likes of Inglis Drever, Carruthers, The New One and Willoughby Court in the past.

Grey Dawning is a 16/1 chance for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle over three miles on the Friday of Cheltenham and that's the probable target for a horse the trainer clearly rates highly.

"This horse has got progressive now and he's just smart, he's very smart," said Dan Skelton.

"My immediate reaction is he should be going three miles rather than two-and-a-half. We'll enter him in the Albert Bartlett and if we weren't happy with that we would go to Aintree. We will see how he is and how the landscape looks for Cheltenham, but I would be highly surprised if he ran at Cheltenham if it was anything other than the Friday."

L'homme Presse to miss Gold Cup

Rated Britain's leading hope in the Cheltenham Gold Cup market, the Venetia Williams-trained L'homme Presse, will now miss that Festival target on 17th March.

L'homme Presse was a 6/1 shot for the Gold Cup before an announcement made by connections on Friday that he'll miss out, ensuring Galopin Des Champs is now a solid 6/4 favourite, with last season's Aintree National winner Noble Yeats his closest pursuer in the betting at 6/1.

L'homme Presse produced a high-class weight-carrying performance on his return in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and was giving Bravemansgame most cause for concern in the King George when he unseated Charlie Deutsch at the last in the King George on Boxing Day.

The ramifications of that run have led connections to rule him out of the Gold Cup, though the season isn't being written off just yet.

"We have given L'homme Presse some time to get over his exertions in the King George before carrying out some veterinary investigations, which have [now] concluded," said a statement.

"Unfortunately, these have revealed that he has a couple of issues that, although temporary, mean that he will not be able to run in this year's Gold Cup.

"He will be given time and patience to recover fully and we will monitor his rehabilitation over the next few weeks before making a decision on any future races in the spring."

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