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Flightline lived up to his billing as the highest-rated horse in the world
  1. Horse Racing

Horse Racing: Weekend review

The November Meeting at Cheltenham provided the main backdrop for a stunning weekend of National Hunt racing, while some star Irish names made their seasonal reappearances - for better or worse!

There was a lot to take in and we've picked out some of the key goings on from the action in our weekend review.

Banbridge stamps class on Arkle Trial

Banbridge was a Festival winner at Cheltenham in March, scooping the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, and he enjoyed a winning Cotswolds return for trainer Joseph O'Brien as he took out the Arkle Challenge Trophy Trial Novices' Chase on Saturday imperiously.

He won his chase bow at Gowran Park last month and some might have queried how he'd handle the drop to two miles, but an exemplary round of fencing left him in pole position and he accelerated clear of Tommy's Oscar for a six-length win.

Banbridge is now 12/1 for the Arkle itself on 14th March and his trainer felt Saturday's display opened that up as a real option.

"He's already gone a step ahead from his hurdles campaign and there's a long way to go until the next step but you couldn't be more impressed with what he's done there. He's a hugely exciting horse going forwards," said O'Brien.

"I think we learned today that two miles is another option going forwards - his jumping was what you wanted to see from a two-miler."

Nicholls hails 'hugely talented' Hermes Allen

Facing down a Willie Mullins runner at Cheltenham isn't always the easiest task but Hermes Allen made light work of that in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle on day one in the Cotswolds.

The £350,000 purchase had dominated on hurdles bow at Stratford previously but this was expected to be much more of a challenge.

In the end it was all very straightforward as Hermes Allen led everywhere and quickened nine lengths clear of Gordon Elliott's Music Drive in second, with Mullins' Hubrisko - sent off favourite - back in fourth.

Hermes Allen is now 8/1 to win the Ballymore-backed Festival race on 15th March and Nicholls was purring after the dominant win.

"That was class. I'm astonished as before he went to Stratford he showed us absolutely nothing at home. He didn't jump great there but was brilliant today and he's improved bundles," said the champion trainer.

"He's taken such a big step forward in his work, it's like looking at two different horses when comparing him from before Stratford to now. You can hardly stop him at the end of the gallop now and he's hugely talented."

Nube Negra does what's required

Sunday's Shloer Chase was robbed of its intrigue when Arkle winner Edwardstone was pulled out on account of fast ground, leaving Nube Negra long odds-on to retain his mantle for Dan and Harry Skelton.

He duly jumped around in front and won convincingly. It was pleasing for his connections and the 2021 Champion Chase runner-up will be aimed back at that target on 15th March - where he's 25/1 to score - having missed out in March after the ground turned soft on raceday.

"We were second and then didn't run in it - it's a very itchy scratch, very itchy," said owner Terry Spraggett. "We came close and the weather in March was just unfortunate.

"He's good enough for it and he was ready to ping last season against Energumene and the rest of them."

Bob Olinger flatters to deceive

The Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on Sunday was billed as a three-way go between two-time Stayers' Hurdle winner Flooring Porter, Champion Hurdle third Zanahiyr and Bob Olinger - the last-named hoping to rebuild his reputation after some sketchy efforts last season as a novice over fences that failed to convince despite a Cheltenham Festival win.

Rachael Blackmore appeared to have everything covered as Bob Olinger ranged up to challenge and overtake Flooring Porter and Zanahiyr, coming to the second last seemingly with the race at their mercy.

But Home By The Lee, trained by Joseph O'Brien, emerged as a very unlikely threat having been cajoled along by rider JJ Slevin with a full circuit to run just to keep in touch with the field.

They jumped the last better than Bob Olinger and got the verdict to the surprise of most onlookers.

Though he admitted to being disappointed, De Bromhead wasn't too downbeat and looked for the positives in Bob Olinger's first run of the season.

"If Home By The Lee had not been in the race, he would be a ten-length winner from Flooring Porter and we would all have been doing backflips," said the handler.

"I thought he hurdled well and I loved the way he travelled, so there were probably a lot more positives about him than negatives. We lacked a run and he will definitely improve for fitness."

Bob Olinger is now 10/1 to win the Stayers' Hurdle in Cheltenham on 16th March, with Flooring Porter 9/2 to complete a hat-trick in that contest after his Navan defeat.

Scriptwriter puts down Triumph Hurdle marker

Milton Harris enjoyed quite a season last time around with Knight Salute, the juvenile eventually giving his trainer a first Grade 1 success at Aintree in the spring.

It could be more of the same after Scriptwriter emulated his stablemate in following a Stratford hurdles win with success in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham's November Meeting.

Travelling ominously well entering the home straight, the son of Churchill was delivered perfectly by Paddy Brennan to come up the hill for an impressive win.

He's in the Triumph Hurdle market at 16/1 and Harris says it was pleasing to see the ex-Aidan O'Brien-trained Flat performer excelling himself.

"They are different (Scriptwriter and Knight Salute). The other horse is a bonny little horse rated 75 on the Flat and this horse is rated 102 in that sphere," said the trainer.

"He would have had a tough time as a young horse working with Group horses. It is good to see them win. I'm so pleased for the horse."

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