After Cheltenham, all roads now lead towards Aintree, Fairyhouse, Sandown and finally Punchestown, as far as the National Hunt is concerned, bringing the 2013/14 season to a close writes BETDAQ’s JOHN SHERIDAN.

This year, Cheltenham had everything. From the highest heights to the lowest of lows and on so many occasions. From the jubilation of winning, to the despair of injury, especially on Friday, nearly every range of emotion was witnessed.

Almost immediately after Cheltenham, several trainers were outlining plans for their charges, for either winners at Prestbury Park or those that were unlucky in defeat. Some trainers need to go straight back to the drawing board and find out what went wrong and why their horses underperformed but aside from that, there are four really good meetings left to go and another chance to see some of the top National Hunt horses on either side of the Irish Sea.

The majority of the top horses will be aimed predominantly at either Aintree or Punchestown as these are the Festivals with the most suitable races for the top level campaigners. The Irish Grand National and a couple of really good Graded races at Sandown, along with, what used to be called, the Whitbread Gold Cup are also the big targets for some of the remainder. While there are several that will not be seen again until next winter.

The Champion Hurdle last Tuesday was arguably the race of the Festival and the winner Jezki is likely to be seen again at either Aintree or Punchestown but connections are in no hurry to make any decision on his target.

“We haven’t made any decisions about the rest of the season. I haven’t had a serious talk (with connections) yet, so we’ll see what they want to do. Punchestown is just down the road, so we’ll see”, commented Jessica Harrington.

mytentoryoursRunner up, My Tent Or Yours (pictured), is likely to run at Punchestown with Nicky Henderson likely to have another strong assault on the Irish National Hunt Festival.

Racing Manager for owner JP McManus, Frank Berry said: “Both horses (Jezki and My Tent Or Yours) came out of the race good and they are both having an easy week.

“We’ll probably decide on plans early next week.”

The New One, who was regarded as the most unlucky runner in the race having been hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor, will be going straight for the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree while Hurricane Fly, who disappointed in the Champion Hurdle has his plans on hold, however, it is likely he could return again at Punchestown.

Champion Chaser, Sire De Grugy is one that connections have said will be skipping the main Festivals at Aintree and Punchestown, and will instead have a crack at the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown on the last day of the British National Hunt season. His trainer, Gary Moore said; “One thing I can promise you is he won’t be going to Aintree or Punchestown.

“If he goes anywhere, it will be Sandown for the Celebration Chase, and that will only be if the horse is telling me he wants to run again and the ground is suitable.’’
Thursday’s World Hurdle saw Annie Power suffer her first career defeat to the very unexposed More Of That who gave Barry Geraghty a second Championship race win of the win, on another JP McManus second string.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Paul Nicholls confirmed that Big Buck’s, who finished fifth, was to be retired following a glittering career which saw him win four World Hurdle titles.

For the winner, More Of That, plans remain fluid as Jonjo O’Neill decides whether to remain over hurdles or go over fences next season. It is not clear yet either, if he will run again this season or not but he certainly looks like he has a bright future.

Runner up, Annie Power looks set to run once more this season at Punchestown however, she is likely to also get an entry for Aintree’s Liverpool Hurdle with Willie Mullins saying; “We have been at every trip this year and we will see how she comes out of that and see what race to go for. She might go to Liverpool [for the Aintree Hurdle in early April] but that would have been a hugely hard race and time-wise, Punchestown [in late April] might be a bit better.”

onhisowngoldcupJim Culloty, who is now a four time Gold Cup winner having won the race three times as Jockey, will wait and see what the ground is like before committing Gold Cup hero, Lord Windermere (pictured) to any specific target before the end of the season.

Lord Windermere is likely to have an entry made for Punchestown but Culloty is tempted to wait with the gelding and prepare for a possible defence of his title in 12 months time as he said: “My gut instinct is to leave him off and get him ready for Cheltenham next year.

“But having said all that, we’ll discuss it with the owner and he’ll probably get a few entries at Punchestown and suchlike. He might just go straight out into the field, though.”

Connections of runner up, On His Own (pictured) ruled out an appeal as they stated they would not like to win the race in those circumstances and the gelding is now set to swerve another tilt at the Aintree Grand National and will instead run in the Punchestown Gold Cup at the end of April.

His trainer, Willie Mullins told the Irish Times: “He had a very hard race in the Gold Cup and I think Punchestown is the place to go with him.

“And the owner could have another string to his bow in that race (the Grand National) with Boston Bob after his performance on Thursday (sixth in the Ryanair Chase).”

nickyhendersonBeaten favourites in Friday’s Gold Cup, Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti are both unlikely to run again this season, however, Paul Nicholls intimated that Silvianco Conti may get an entry for Punchestown but plans are not certain him either. Nicky Henderson’s other beaten Gold Cup contender, Triolo D’Alene on the other hand, is firmly on course for a tilt at the Aintree Grand National on April 5th.

The Aintree Grand National Meeting is the next big Festival with just a short time period between it and Cheltenham. Aintree kicks on Thursday 3rd April with the Aintree Grand National being the highlight of the three days on April 5th.

The Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse runs slightly later than usual this year as Easter falls later this year and takes place over two days on April 20th and 21st. The Scottish equivalent separates the Irish and English Nationals on April 12th at Ayr.

The National Hunt season concludes in the UK at Sandown on Saturday April 26th with some newly upgrade races while in Ireland, the Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown takes place from Tuesday April 29th to Saturday May 3rd.

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