Andy Gibson's racing analysis: Plenty of time for Banbridge to shine again

Andy Gibson has been studying the recent form of last year's winner of the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham, to assess what his connections might have in mind for him at the 2023 Festival in March.

Aside from a minor blemish down the far side, Banbridge put up a near perfect round of jumping on his second start over fences in the Grade Two Arkle Challenge Trophy Trial Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in November.

He was fast and fluent over his obstacles which was a real achievement for a horse dropping back half a mile in trip, and the post-race reactions from pundits were extremely positive. 

However, while it would be hard not to be taken by his performance, at the same time, I doubt very much that beating Tommy's Oscar by six lengths off level weights would prove to be good enough to win an average Arkle Chase.

I noted at the time that one would have to hold some concerns regarding his ability to act on a soft surface, and consequently, I did not see him as an ante-post prospect for March. 

With any ground-related doubts cast aside, he was immediately prominent in the market for the second race on the opening day of the festival in March.

A struggle on soft ground

His subsequent outing was very telling, as he struggled home in third place around 20 lengths behind Mighty Potter, the winner of the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in early December.

This was a very interesting performance from Banbridge, and one that had a few fascinating repercussions in the markets for March. 

His profile strongly suggests he is not at his best on a soft surface, so this third-place finish and apparently disappointing effort at Fairyhouse is easily forgiven.

He drifted in the markets for Cheltenham and for very little reason if we believe this softer ground was not for him. His success at Cheltenham in November still points to him being a player in March, and his subsequent defeat does not detract from that earlier performance on more suitable ground.

However, his odds in the ante-post markets are now that bit more attractive, as he is around a 20/1 shot for the Arkle and a little bit shorter for the Turners Novices' Chase. 

He won over an intermediate trip to claim the Martin Pipe Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, so perhaps the longer race might be a more likely target at this stage of the season.

I assume it would be a case of the softer the ground the less likely he would be asked to step back up in trip. Moreover, if the ground became too soft, I hope we would see Banbridge avoid Cheltenham in March and wait for another day.

The handicap route is not out of the question

Banbridge has yet to receive his opening mark as a chaser, so it will be fascinating to see what the handicapper does with him after his next outing. 

If his 143 hurdles rating is anything to go by, we could easily see him being rerouted to the Grand Annual on day two of the Cheltenham Festival or the Plate Handicap Chase on the third day of the meeting.

He is entered for the Arkle Trial at the Dublin Racing Festival on February 4, so hopefully we will know more after his next race.

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