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Cheltenham update: Thurles cracker raises more questions than answers

The weekend went by without any jumps action in Britain as frosty conditions held sway, but Ireland got the go-ahead for action on Saturday and Sunday and one race in particular was incident-packed.

The Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles on Sunday provided talking points aplenty with a view to Cheltenham in March.

Here's our review of the weekend just gone and how it impacted the Cheltenham Festival markets.

Fakir D'oudairies wins after final-fence drama

Fakir D'oudairies eventually seized the opportunity to go one better than last season and claim an incident-packed renewal of Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles, but the story of how he got there was quite something.

Joseph O'Brien's runner is a proven two-and-a-half-mile specialist, winning at Ascot last spring before skipping Cheltenham and going on to land a second Melling Chase at Aintree instead.

Sunday's race at Thurles - in which he'd been second to Allaho a year ago - was presented as something of a duel with Chacun Pour Soi, as that Willie Mullins contender attempted this new trip for the first time in his career.

As the race played out, Chacun Pour Soi and Paul Townend moved with menace for a long way despite not managing the best round of jumping. It looked with a half-mile to run as though they were going as well as anything, but their challenge folded tamely thereafter.

Up front the other Mullins runner Haut En Couleurs was defying the trainer's pre-race assessment that he'd no right to be challenging on ratings, seemingly in a battle with French Dynamite from the Mouse Morris team, as Fakir D'oudairies came under pressure.

To his credit, Fakir D'oudairies was responding and rallying, but Haut En Couleurs looked the likely winner going to the final jump. Bryan Cooper's mount knuckled on landing and catapulted his rider to the floor, while French Dynamite scattered the birch with a shuddering error, leaving Fakir D'oudairies to inherit the lead and the win.

As dramatic race-changing moments go, it was quite something.

The fallout in terms of the Cheltenham markets is hard enough to assess. Fakir D'oudairies is now 10/1 to win the Ryanair Chase. The way he was rallying at Thurles suggests that 2m5f test could be his optimal assignment, especially should old foe Allaho - yet to race this season - miss out.

Haut En Couleurs, meanwhile, is 25/1 for the Stayers' Hurdle and as a 2m2f heavy-ground hurdles winner in France in his youth, that could be a good spot for him given he hasn't really fulfilled expectations over fences.

French Dynamite would have gone close and maybe even won bar clattering the final fence. He's got the Ryanair Chase as an option at 33/1, while connections might consider the handicap route as he's 12/1 for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Plate on 16th March at Cheltenham.

Amid all the drama, spare a though for Chacun Pour Soi. He went close in the Champion Chase in 2021 and unseated in the same race last year when going well.

He's now 50/1 to make it third time lucky in the two-mile Championship contest, while he's the same price in the Ryanair Chase, but surely that's off the agenda as he looked a non-stayer at Thurles.

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Easy Allegorie win that nearly didn't happen

If all the drama in that Thurles contest unfolded at the final fence, then it was the polar opposite half an hour earlier when Allegorie De Vassy won the Coolmore N.H. Sires Mogul Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase for Mullins and Townend.

She made it 2-2 over fences and won by 19 lengths, making all and never giving her rivals much of a look-in.

She's now 7/4 for the Mares' Chase at Cheltenham on 17th March, just behind Impervious at 6/4 in the betting.

A wide-margin win from the front, unbeaten over fences, it all sounds straight forward, but it was so nearly over for Allegorie De Vassy on Sunday before it had really begun.

She veered right approaching the first fence, throwing Townend left as he lost his irons and balance and so very nearly went out the side door on the landing site.

Sheer core strength was all that kept Ireland's champion jockey from a rapid descent to the floor off the favourite and it's another one of those racing moments that is worth looking up if you didn't see it first time around - it was a truly miraculous recovery.

Afterwards, the mare jumped perfectly well and her connections firmly believe she'll be much better in a stronger race where she isn't forced to make the running. She's clearly talented, as is the man on her back.

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