Treble puts Elliott in the driving seat
It was a much lower-key weekend after the bells and whistles of the Dublin Racing Festival a week earlier, but still we witnessed the odds-on favourite for the Champion Chase, a worthy second favourite for the Gold Cup and another significant twist in the Irish trainers championship.
Newbury was responsible for the Cheltenham trials on Saturday where Altior and Native River impressed but at Punchestown yesterday Folsom Blue's desire to win the BoyleSports Grand National Trial emulated his handlers desire to win a first trainers championship.
Gordon Elliott's latest winner of a valuable €100,000 handicap wasn't washed down and back in the comfort of his racecourse stable when bookmakers were in touch with their updated odds for the Irish trainers championship as Elliott recorded yet another domestic treble.
Elliott is now 10/11 favourite in a race that will end at the Kildare track in late April and looks likely to enthral us as much as last season. The odds will flip-flop plenty in the next few months
The BoyleSports Irish Grand National, for which Folsom Blue was inserted as a 20/1 shot, will have a big say given it's prize money of €250,000 to the winner but connections of Folsom Blue are in bonus territory now with the 11-year-old who was a £21,000 purchase suggested by syndicate member Gary O'Brien of At The Races.
Hardline in the novice hurdle and Getaway John in the concluding bumper gave Elliott his treble as Willie Mullins drew a blank.
Altior and Native River both passed their respective tests on Saturday and their trainers were pleased that the issues that delayed the start of their seasons hadn't reared up again.
Colin Tizzard sounds convinced that Native River's freshness will be a trump card when the Gold Cup comes around next month and his son and assistant trainer Joe commented: "He was absolutely fine (yesterday morning) we'll have our fingers crossed for a couple days.
"His injury was something of nothing and it's all about the Gold Cup with him this year.
"Last season it was all about the Hennessy and we wanted to get one run into him and Saturday couldn't have gone any better.
"Anything could have gone wrong but it just went very smoothly, he jumped brilliant, picked up nicely and hasn't had too hard a race.
"We were really pleased with yesterday and excited about March now."
Henderson was equally impressed with his own stable star Altior who came back from a minor wind operation to maintain his winning record over fences and the Arkle winner is now odds on to win the Champion Chase.
Henderson had a similarly upbeat assessment of the weekend.
"Altior is 100 per cent and he pulled out great this morning.
"It was very important yesterday and you have to say it could not have gone any more spectacular.
"The whole thing impressed me yesterday. He relaxed, put his head down and jumped beautifully. Everything was good.
"I didn't dare to dream he would win as well as that. It is nice that he is still unbeaten," he added.
"It's a shame that he has missed good races but if everything goes right he has still got plenty of big races to go for.
Altior's opposition is still a bit unknown in the Champion Chase as Un De Sceaux would look more likely to pitch up in the Ryanai but Douvan remains in the mix and Min bounced back to win at Leopardstown but Henderson was just glad that there was no issues with Altior on the tough ground on Saturday.
"The wind wasn't a problem. If anything was going to test his wind it was that ground on Saturday.
"That was great and it (wind) was never going to be a worry."
Altior went from being a shade of odds-against to odds-on for Cheltenham's Wednesday feature, while Native River, third in the Gold Cup to Sizing John last year, is now joint second favourite with the 2017 hero as Might Bite remains the market leader for racing's blue riband which takes place four weeks from this coming Friday.