Doing something different is trending at racecourses, it seems. It was good to see Kauto Star strutting his new stuff under event rider Laura Collett in the parade ring at Newbury on Saturday, even if his so-called dressage display – a few basic flatwork moves at walk, trot and canter – has as much to do with top-level grand prix work as the Shetland pony grand national franchise that does the rounds of summer horse shows has to events at Aintree. The 13-year-old, though, apparently enjoyed being the focus of adulation as much as he ever did when with Paul Nicholls.
Of those still plying their trade at the sharp end it is Overturn – who has won a Chester Cup and a Northumberland Plate, finished second in last year's Champion Hurdle and tomorrow week goes for novice-chasing glory in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham – who has defined versatility this season.
And over the weekend Aaim To Prosper and Darley Sun, who have won three of the last four Cesarewitches, picked up his baton. The first-named did best and he, at least, has jumping's showcase occasion on his radar.
After 38 outings on the Flat, the nine-year-old – winner of the historic Newmarket marathon in 2010 and again last year – got off the mark over obstacles at the fourth time of asking at Doncaster on Saturday, demonstrating all his reserves of stamina and determination as he outbattled Cockney Trucker by a neck. Now part of Nicholls' team, he is a 20-1 shot for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, the longest of next week's novice contests.
The hopes that Darley Sun would develop into a top-class stayer for Godolphin after he ran away with his Cesarewitch four years ago never materialised and he transferred from Saeed bin Suroor to John Ferguson earlier this year. But he followed a most promising hurdling debut with a rather disappointing odds-on second at Huntingdon yesterday, and for him a tilt at the Festival is now unlikely.
There might once have been even higher Flat aspirations for the regally bred Aidan O'Brien-trained pair who contested the bumper at Leopardstown. Egyptian Warrior, by Galileo, is a brother to the Derby favourite, his stablemate Kingsbarns, while Shield is a son of Dylan Thomas from a family replete with Group One talent.
O'Brien is no stranger to success at Cheltenham; he honed his skills with jumpers. Shield, who edged out the hot favourite Grecian Tiger yesterday, is a 25-1 shot for the Cheltenham bumper and will now be O'Brien's first runner there since his glory days with the triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq. Kate Harrington was in the saddle yesterday; next week the four-year-old will be a first Festival experience for O'Brien's son Joseph.
Egyptian Warrior, nearer last than first, could not live up to his fine pedigree, but O'Brien did confirm that Kingsbarns, along with other high-profile Ballydoyle inmates Cristoforo Colombo and Camelot, has wintered particularly well.
Donald McCain reported Ballabriggs, winner of the Grand National two years ago, in fine fettle yesterday after his excellent third in his customary Aintree prep at Kelso on Saturday. "He travelled well, jumped great and had, as we expected, a good blow after the race," he said. "I think he ran better this time than he did last year." Ballabriggs followed up his effort 12 months ago with a sixth place at Aintree and is around 25-1 to become the fifth horse to regain his crown, the most recent being Red Rum 36 years ago.
Harry Topper, who unseated his rider as odds-on favourite in the Kelso contest, had been one of the market leaders for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham but will now miss that engagement.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Whisky Yankee (2.15 Ffos Las)
Has been a little keen and green this term, but showed enough to suggest he is now poised to launch his career proper at his owner's course.
Next best: Open Day (4.00 Ffos Las)
Where the Money's Going: Savello was cut from 20-1 to 14-1 for next week's Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Chase after a comfortable success at Leopardstown yesterday.