AS schools adapt to their new conditions under Covid restrictions, many teachers are opting to give their students regular exams in case they might need to implement calculated or predicted grades for next year’s end-of-term assessments.
Such circumstances are far from ideal but no doubt effective in a time when nothing is certain. Alas, the racetrack has seen some weekly tests of its own.
Just last week, The Big Breakaway impressed on his chasing debut at Cheltenham, as did Asterion Forlonge at Punchestown.
Put The Kettle On made a winning reappearance in the Schloer Chase at the scene of her Arkle triumph while in the same race, Defi Du Seuil failed to land a punch on his seasonal bow.
Saint Roi endured a nightmare in the Morgiana Hurdle but emerged with credit despite not catching the strong travelling Abacadabras who deservedly scored his first success at Grade 1 level.
Trained by Gordon Elliott, the decision to keep Abacadabras over hurdles this season has already paid dividends having been narrowly denied by Shishkin in the Supreme Novice last March.
So what of the action this weekend? Well, the quality starts early this afternoon as Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow debuts over hurdles at Gowran Park (12.15pm) for Champion trainer Willie Mullins.
A terror for his jockeys, Ferny Hollow won a point to point before his exploits in bumpers last term and despite possessing a serious level of ability, he will have to be on his best behaviour to beat Henry de Bromhead’s exciting youngster Bob Olinger. Will he play by the rules for Paul Townend?
Across the Irish Sea, Haydock highlights a busy Saturday programme. The Betfair Chase has established itself as one of the key tests for Gold Cup standard chasers and another despite a small field renewal, tomorrow’s race still holds serious intrigue as Gold Cup third Lostintranslation meets multiple King George winner Clan Des Obeaux and Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai.
Twice a winner of this race, Bristol De Mai hasn’t actually managed to win since galloping Native River and Thistlecrack into submission in this very race back in 2018.
Since then, Clan Des Obeaux has won a pair of King George’s at Kempton and Lostintranslation has established himself as a top-notch staying chasing having taken the scalp of Bristol De Mai in last year’s renewal.
Considering there were only four runners a year ago when Colin Tizzard’s charge had the measure of the evergreen grey, it’s fair to assume that this year’s renewal could be something similar in terms of tactics and ability. Nicholls is a dab hand at these type of events but something about Lostintranslation suggests the best could be yet to come.
At the same venue, some Irish connections bid to get in on the action in the Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle. Ronan McNally and Maxine O’Sullivan have provided one of the best feel good stories of the season so far by combining to excellent effect with the ever-improving Dreal Deal and the pair team up once again with recent Troytown Chase winner The Jam Man.
O’Sullivan completed a hat-trick of wins on this horse in 2018 when he went from a rating of 80 to 103.
Fast forward two years and the seven-year-old gelding is set to compete in the sternest test of his life off a career high hurdles mark of 143.
That’s a staggering rise but considering he is now rated 150 over fences following his Navan win, it’s not beyond the realms of possibilities that this guy could still be a step ahead of the handicapper.
Closer to home, I’m on duty at Naas tomorrow to see the return of last year’s Irish Arkle winner Notebook in the Poplar Chase. Awesome last year when winning four chases in a row before disappointing at Cheltenham, Notebook had a tendency to jump marginally to his right when beating Fakir d’Oudaries in the Racing Post Novice at Leopardstown, and when toughing it out against Cash Back at the same venue.
All eyes will be drawn to his technique tomorrow and whether he will be another string to add to Henry de Bromhead’s Champion Chase bow.