This is the time of year where the ante-post betting markets for Cheltenham really start to solidify and on Thursday Billaway for trainer Willie Mullins cemented himself as the one to beat in the Foxhunters Chase in March.
Billaway has been the leading chance for the great trainer in the Foxhunters division for the last few seasons and after being beaten into second in the event at Cheltenham last time out, this year he will be looking for revenge.
The eight year old has been a model of consistency for the yard since going over obstacles, racing nine times and going on to place in eight of those races, including winning in three of those events.
Having only one run before the festival last season at Navan and winning, it seemed to work really well only being beaten by the big priced It Came To Pass in the Cheltenham event.
Mullins has decided to race him more frequently ahead of his return to Prestbury Park this term and he was first seen at Fairyhouse in November when finishing a good second behind the smart Stand Up And Fight.
That was a nice event to blow the cobwebs away and at Down Royal on Thursday he looked back to full fitness when reversing the form and coming out a smart winner of the Hunters Chase in Northern Ireland.
The Foxhunters Chase is a very tough race to punt on, with Billaway being the 11/4 favourite for the event last year and coming up short but his connections will be hoping he can go one better this term.
From his two performances this season he looks the big contender for the race this season and the betting market also backs that up going from 8/1 to 4/1 with some bookmakers.
(Credit ATR) His rider Patrick Mullins said: “Again today he seemed to hit a flat spot and then came back on it.
“His jumping is getting much quicker. In Cheltenham last year we weren’t losing ground, but we weren’t making any ground at every fence whereas the winner was.
“I think the extra experience he has this year will shorten the gap, hopefully.
“I think he is still improving and I think he is a better horse this year than last year. I think his jumping is getting slicker. That’s what he needed to do, so he is doing it.
“There’s no Leopardstown, so he’ll go to Thurles at the end of January.”