Golden shot is a long way off
Jury is still out on Run after a workmanlike win in Denman
Top-class racing on a Friday, like we had from yesterday's rearranged Newbury card, gives us a sort of long weekend feel as today Ascot and Gowran Park are far from shabby and tomorrow Navan hosts three Grade Twos.
Newbury had the wow factor of Sprinter Sacre, the workmanlike efforts of Long Run and the very impressive seasonal debut for Champion Hurdle candidate Zarkandar, as well as proof that Tony McCoy is made of different stuff to the rest of us.
We'll start with Long Run, who claimed his first victory since winning last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, but in doing so was put to the pin of his collar by stable companion Burton Port.
Burton Port is no bad yardstick having finished in front of Long Run when second in the RSA Chase of 2010, and the following season he finished second to Diamond Harry in the Hennessy at Newbury.
This was his first run since then, however, and although in the receipt of 10lbs from Long Run, it was something of a surprise that he got within half a length of the current Gold Cup favourite.
Credit to Long Run for repelling the challenge to claim the Grade Two Denman Chase and also jockey Sam Waley-Cohen's first win since that famous day last March.
He remains the Gold Cup favourite, although Ladbrokes were notably not as impressed as others and pushed him out to 5/2 for the race, while cutting Kauto Star into the same price.
Boylesports and William Hill both stayed unchanged at 2/1 Long Run and 4/1 Kauto Star, but that is a third tough race this season for Long Run and although he came out the right side of yesterday, he now has just four weeks to recover and get primed for another showdown with Kauto.
It'll be very interesting to see what way the papers will be reporting the Gold Cup on this day in four weeks.
While opinion was slightly divided on Long Run, it was clearly unanimous regarding Sprinter Sacre who broke the track record on his way to a facile success in Newbury's opener.
Nicky Henderson's really exciting novice simply toyed with his rivals in the hands of Barry Geraghty up the run-in and cruised to a six-length win in a time of 3:57.70, which broke the record held by Barnbrook Again since 1989.
There is nothing bigger than 6/4 around about Sprinter Sacre to win the Arkle, try and get that price by lunchtime today and you may well struggle as he is evens in most places and 11/8 in a few.
The speed and fluency that Sprinter Sacre jumps, and to do it against more experienced and hardened rivals like he did yesterday, makes him look like a real future star and in truth he wouldn't look out of place skipping the novice route and lining up in the Champion Chase.
Ruby Walsh wouldn't be drawn on his Champion Hurdle thoughts immediately after winning on Zarkandar in the Betfair Hurdle, simply stating: "The more irons you have in the fire, the better chance you have of riding a winner."
Walsh won't be getting off Hurricane Fly once he turns up 100pc on the day, but there is no doubt that he probably won on the horse who is going to give him most to do.
Zarkandar hadn't raced since Aintree last April and was undoubtedly the most progressive hurdler in the field. However, taking on a daunting 20-runner field and trying to demolish the statistic that no horse had won the Betfair Hurdle without a prep run for 40 years, he did it all quite nicely indeed.
Last year's Triumph Hurdle hero undoubtedly booked his place for a tilt at another of Cheltenham's championship races, and the manner in which he brought himself back into the race when looking beat -- and doing so when clearly not fully wound up by Paul Nicholls -- was extremely impressive and it was also no surprise to see him clipped in the betting.
Now, Zarkandar is a 5/1, best-priced 6/1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
Also in the Betfair Hurdle came the crashing fall of Tony McCoy's mount Darlan at the second-last flight.
The kicking and trampling McCoy got from those coming behind looked nothing short of scary, but the sight of him getting to his feet and riding in the last race was just remarkable.
Not only did he ride in the last but he went on to win it by a short head with a power-packed ride on Shutthefrontdoor, who is now just 10/1 for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.