Our first Cheltenham Festival 2015 preview kicked off with a bang with special guest Nick Scholfield and surprise special guest Sam Twiston-Davies who joined us very briefly to preview the four Championship races that take place next month.
Thank you for all the contributions to the show, we shall be back as usual on Friday covering the BetBright Chase from Kempton and we shall continue our Festival previews next week. We shall let you know which races on Twitter and on the blog so you can get your questions to us.
What a three days of racing. The type of weekend where once you’ve gone through it all you need a good lie down. Both sides of the Irish Sea held some top quality action with Super Saturday at Newbury and Leopardstown’s Irish Hennessy card being the main attractions, upheld by some solid meetings elsewhere.
It’s rare that a Friday afternoon would get such a mention but with the quality of racing on show at both Kempton and Bangor, I felt it was worth covering those cards as well as there were notable horses at both venues.
Kempton’s card attracted some fascinating contenders for its two mile and five furlong novice hurdle, none more so than West Wizard who has been beaten twice in the same novice hurdle at the track two years running. On this occasion he was running over further but the odds on favourite again found one too good for him in Minella Rocco, an expensive purchase for JP McManus who looked to win with a fair amount in hand for Tony McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill.
Both horses travelled by far the best throughout the contest but when it mattered most, Minella Rocco had too much class for West Wizard who didn’t find again like has promised to do before. The winner doesn’t hold any fancy entries indicating that he is very much a long term prospect; one for chasing next season. It’s hard to suggest a target for West Wizard as he clearly hasn’t lived up to the hype of what his stable have expected of him. He does have a handicap mark of 136 so connections may consider going down that route with him but he isn’t one to trust.
Scorpiancer has ran respectably back in third and could be one to benefit from a wind operation as he didn’t look to see out the race. Flying Bandit will be interesting once he goes back into handicap company having shown enough here to suggest he can win one. Pyrshan was runner up to a Graded winner in Ordo Ab Chao on hurdling debut and will definitely make his mark in handicaps. Two that caught the eye further back were Rock On Oscar and The Last Euro. The former pulled away his chance and looked a horse that will need a fair bit of time to mature whilst the latter shaped with promise and is another long term project.
The Graduation Chase looked a good opportunity for Josses Hill to gain more experience of chasing after looking sketchy on his first two attempts at Ascot and Doncaster but yet again, his jumping left an awful lot to be desired and had to settle for second behind Third Intention who made most of the running for man of the moment Daryl Jacob.
On his third start over fences, Josses Hill was still guessy at a couple, including the ditch going away from the stands where he gave his supporters heart failure by standing off too far. His technique hasn’t improved much either with him lingering in the air which currently holds him back from being a top chaser. The Arkle was confirmed as the plan post-race but he hasn’t had an appropriate test. The Kingmaker would potentially have been an ideal place to go with the five fences down the back straight providing a true test for a novice. He is one to avoid at the Festival; even for each way purposes.
Take nothing away from Third Intention though who was giving the runner up eleven pounds and bounced back from a fall last time at Haydock. He did something that hasn’t been known of him completely in the past and battled all the way to the line. His slick jumping was his main asset and with his main competitor losing ground in the air, he was gaining, in particular at the final fence. The Topham was nominated as a target by Joe Tizzard, son of trainer Colin and he would be an exciting ride over those fences.
Caesar Milan wasn’t given the best of rides by Sam Twiston-Davies as he decided to kick for home too early although it did look a race winning move for the early part of the home straight. He has clearly turned a corner in cheekpieces and is definitely worth a chance depending on where he turns up next whilst Thomas Crapper had a good blow out with the novice handicap chase at the Festival firmly in mind for him.
The first division of the bumper provided some compensation for Nicky Henderson when Newsworthy made a winning debut for owners Michael Buckley and Rich Ricci. At one stage up the straight, it looked as though Midnight Cowboy would get the upper hand with the winner showing signs of greenness but he eventually put the race to bed. Of the front pair, the runner up looked a more long term prospect whilst the third horse Bilzic did too much in the middle part of the race and was a sitting duck for the minor honours close home.
The second division looked to have more substance in the entries but again, it went to Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty with Ok Corral who fought off the favourite High Bridge despite being slightly green in the closing stages. The winner looked to have more to give compared to the runner up and may have handled the softer ground better. Both Henderson bumper winners weren’t mentioned post-race for the Champion Bumper which seems fair, as both would be too inexperienced. High Bridge should be better on a more sounder surface being out of a 1,000 Guineas winner but he isn’t one to get excited about.
The Unit travelled well but went round the inside where the ground wasn’t as nice compared to going out wide whilst Antartica De Thaix was keen early on but travelled nicely before lacking a turn of foot. Both him and Baraza, a full brother to Nacarat, both look stayers and should be kept on side.
Great Try got off the mark at the third attempt over hurdles at Bangor, doing so in a professional manner under Nick Scholfield in what looks a fair enough race. With this being an EBF novice hurdle, this qualifies him for the Final at Sandown over two and a half miles which should suit him well. The runner up Hedley Lamarr ran a race full of promise on his debut in the familar colours of the Hitchens, famous for horses like Toby Tobias and Golden Freeze. If allowed to, he will certainly make his mark somewhere later in the season. L’Aigle Royal would probably appreciate going back up in trip after being put in his place here by the front two whilst Bringithomeminty was a disappointment, his jumping lacking fluency.
The three mile novice hurdle looked a match between Mendip Express and Beast Of Burden which went the way of the latter who won easily under Paul Townend. He made the majority of the running and relished the step up in distance, even with a slight error at the last. He is certainly worth a place at the Cheltenham Festival but I would be inclined to see him in the Neptune at this stage of his career rather than the Albert Bartlett as three miles on a more galloping track may just find him out at this stage of his career.
Mendip Express certainly wasn’t disgraced back in second, especially with his slickness over hurdles and was able to keep up with the winner for a fair way. He wasn’t beaten that far in the end and that should have put him spot on for the Festival Handicap Chase on the first day where he would have a big chance.
The Hunter Chase that ended the card wouldn’t have looked out of place at any of the major spring meetings and even though eight were pulled out due to various reasons, it still looked a strong contest for the sphere. As readers from last year may remember, Teaforthree was a horse that I had convinced myself that defeat was out of the question in the Grand National so you can imagine my shock when he unseated Nick Scholfield right under my nose at the Chair. Having watched the race back on numerous occasions, he wasn’t travelling with his usual enthusiasm and excuses emerged with an injury suffered during the race.
For today’s run, there was enough evidence to oppose him with. He usually needs a couple of runs before he reaches his peak and the drop back in distance looked to be an inconvenience. However, class prevailed with him travelling and jumping in the manner in which we have become accustomed to over the last few seasons, gaining his first win since his National Hunt Chase win at Cheltenham in 2012. The plan is to go to Cheltenham for the Foxhunters but he needs another win to qualify for the race. The Walrus Hunter Chase at Haydock could be a target; especially with the £10k bonus if you win that and the Cheltenham Foxhunters before a third crack at the Grand National.
Pacha Du Polder chased the winner throughout and whilst he was a useful performer at his best, giving eight pounds to Teaforthree proved too much. He only needs a win or another second to qualify for Cheltenham or Aintree with the latter looking a more preferable option over a trip that would suit him more. The other class horse Calgary Bay travelled up omniously going to three out before getting very tired. The market beforehand suggested he may need this outing and that was proven. He will no doubt be competitive in hunter chases over the coming months.
The main UK action of the weekend came in the form of Super Saturday with Newbury firmly in the limelight with a high quality card with some taking performances and some shocks along the way from both equines and human.
The opening race on the card was the two mile novice hurdle in which Qewy built upon his hurdles debut in Graded company behind Aso at Haydock when winning for John Ferguson and Tony McCoy, the first of two winner for him on the card. He jumped slickly throughout and used his tactical speed from the flat decisively against some fair opposition. He would need to improve again if he were to feature in the Supreme but with the improvement he has showed here, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he did.
Doncaster winner Cardinal Walter loomed up dangerously having travelled strongly but was firmly put in his place by Qewy and made to look one paced; he will no doubt find a decent handicap hurdle in the spring. Royal Vacation has ran well on his hurdles debut and has performed to a fair level, suggesting that he will win a couple of novice hurdles before embarking on his chasing career.
Bouveril didn’t particularly look the strongest of finishers and could just need a summer at grass to grow up mentally and physically. Cloonacool could be used as the marker for the race, having beaten the Betfair Hurdle winner Violet Dancer on his last start at Kempton which gives this race a solid look whilst Risk A Fine was far too free for his own good and faded away tamely.
The Denman Chase looked an ideal opportunity for one of the top staying novice chasers Coneygree to cement his Cheltenham Festival position against seasoned chasers and he put in a performance similar to the Feltham where he put his rivals to the sword and one by one, they fell by the wayside, albeit this time down to jumping errors as opposed to falling.
A seven length success over Hennessy runner up Houblon Des Obeaux who looks to have ran to his mark suggests he isn’t far off Gold Cup class this season and his style of racing is just an absolute joy to watch with fast accurate jumping and the ability to get his rivals into trouble, something very few horses possess.
The performance was similar to Gloria Victis, like Coneygree, a novice who had both the RSA and the Gold Cup as potential targets after routing a field in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. He was also ridden by Richard Johnson who deserves plenty of credit for the ride he gave Coneygree as he allowed the horse to do what he pleased but when asked up the home straight, he responded superbly.
The million dollar question – Do connections opt for the RSA or the Gold Cup? I’m now convinced that if he goes down the novice route then he will be extremely hard to beat, even with his running style and if they decide to go for the blue riband, he would certainly have a strong chance of winning. Whilst a lack of experience would be the concern, his jumping has been faultless so far and his relentless galloping have made him so endearing to the public.
Houblon Des Obeaux has been a model of consistency this season and deserves a big race win with this being his third second place finish this campaign. This was his Gold Cup and he was comprehensively put in his place by Coneygree which underlines how much talent the winner has. He may go to Cheltenham but his record isn’t the best. He could go to Sandown for the Bet365 Gold Cup again where hopefully he’d get further than the first fence unlike last year. Unioniste was outpaced here before staying on stoutly up the home straight, showcasing his attributes for the Grand National. Paul Nicholls did also mention the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris which is another race that could suit him very well.
Both Taquin Du Seuil and Harry Topper’s jumping were exposed by Coneygree. The former did look a danger going to three out before fading away, suggesting that the distance stretched him. He would probably head towards the Ryanair now with him showing more positive signs compared to Haydock whilst the latter wants softer ground and a similar galloping track. Double Ross showed more here than at both Haydock and Kempton but wants to go back in trip.
The Game Spirit Chase marked the return of last season’s Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy but the centre of attention shifted elsewhere as soon as the race finished with the shock announcement from nineteen times champion jockey Tony McCoy of his retirement at the end of this National Hunt season after gaining his 200th winner of the season on Mr Mole. McCoy’s retirement will get talked about more in due course on the videos and in written form closer to the end of the season.
To the race itself, the performance from Mr Mole was staggering. He gave about fifteen lengths away at the start when whipping round and almost looking reluctant to race. He got himself back into it early with the lack of a true gallop from Uxizandre but to make up that ground early on and to win in that manner was pretty impressive. A notoriously difficult horse in the past, this is yet another complete turnaround from Paul Nicholls who yet again has revelled in the challenge of making the horse a complete package. The Champion Chase now looks a realistic target and this is the exact same route Nicholls plotted out with a certain Master Minded in the 2007/08 season. With most of his main rivals having question marks hanging above them, the case is looking fairly strong for him and he could provide Tony McCoy a farewell present; a Champion Chase victory.
Both Upsilon Bleu and Karinga Dancer were here for prize money and have been rewarded but they were both outclassed. Uxizandre went out to make the running but was left behind quite easily by Mr Mole before his spectacular unseat at the final fence. It’s hard to know where to go next as he didn’t do anything here to enhance his Festival credentials.
Strangely, that’s my way of thinking with Sire De Grugy as well. His fencing was far from fluent and he had threatened to get rid of Jamie Moore on more than one occasion before the final open ditch. With the ease Mr Mole won, I doubt he would have beaten him and whilst he’s entitled to come on plenty for the outing, this performance raises yet more questions about the Champion Chase rather than answer those before this contest.
As usual, the Betfair Hurdle was hugely competitive affair but it gave trainer Gary Moore a welcome tonic after the reversal of Sire De Grugy when he took the race for the third time with Violet Dancer who joined Heathcote and Wingman on the roll of honour for the Moore stable.
He was given a fantastic ride from the front by Gary’s son Josh who used the horse perfectly in first time cheekpieces and was never out of the first two. Left in the lead when Chieftain’s Choice fell at the last flight in the back straight, he built up an advantage that just wasn’t pegged back by the chasing pack. His jumping was much sharper than it has been in the past and these tactics looked to suit him well and he will no doubtedly head to the Festival for either the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle but unlike here, it will be harder to make most of the running and have something in reserve.
Cheltenian improved on his effort in this race a year ago when he was fourth by going two places better. He was another to be ridden handy and would have benefitted from that. It will be interesting to see where he goes next as he has plenty of options including going back chasing as he did jump well on chase debut behind the ponderous Josses Hill at Doncaster. Activial has ran another strong race after getting outpaced on the turn for home. He will be suited by going up in distance but the Coral Cup on normal Festival ground may prove too much for him as he did disappoint at Aintree on good ground.
Calipto was patiently ridden and travelled strongly throughout the race but once off the bridle, he looked fairly one paced. The suspicion is that he isn’t as well handicapped over hurdles as thought by connections and he will probably step up in trip before the season is out. Jolly’s Cracked It looked to be thrown in at the deep end and was given a perfect confidence boosting ride in rear by Nick Scholfield. This looks the race that may make a man of him and whilst a Festival novice hurdle is probably out the question, he will almost certainly win another race or two before the season finishes.
The eyecatcher of the whole race was Arzal as plenty went wrong throughout the race. Normally a front runner, he was inconvienienced by the standing start and was further back than ideal. He then was caught on heels passing the winning post with a circuit to go before getting badly impeded by the fall of Chieftain’s Choice which knocked him back to last place. For a couple of strides, it looked as though he wasn’t travelling at all well but he then picked up the bridle again and was allowed some time to recover. He was nursed onto the back of the main group before somehow finishing sixth. Without those problems endured in running, he would definitely have been in the frame and he has done incredibly well to be only beaten fifteen lengths.
Forced Family Fun would have finished closer having not made a blunder at the second last whilst On Tour was given a strange ride by Paul Moloney. On a horse that gets further than the minimum two miles, instead of sitting more handy, they held him up. Once he realised he was too far back, he made a mid-race move that used up too much energy and left him vulnerable after the last flight. Balgarry just wasn’t good enough on the day and may benefit with a confidence booster in a smaller contest whilst Wicklow Brave was a huge disappointment considering the amount of money that came for him. Ballybolley was beaten at the time when hampered two out but keep an eye on him if he goes to Aintree as the conditional jockeys handicap hurdle would suit him really well.
Of the non-finishers, Fascino Rustico had travelled kindly for Harry Skelton and hadn’t gone for his full effort when making a mistake and falling at the second last, bringing down Ebony Express and hampering Vasco Du Ronceray who was well beaten at the time. Fascino Rustico may well have placed and may well be a type for something like the Swinton at Haydock. It was a relief to see Ebony Express get up ok after a horrific looking tumble but he didn’t look to be going anywhere at the time. Chieftain’s Choice had jumped well up until departing whilst Goodwood Mirage barely took off at the first and gave Tony McCoy a pretty nasty fall. He then galloped off and decided to take on the open ditch in the back straight and from that evidence, I doubt he’ll ever make a natural chaser!
The three mile novice chase was a match between long odds on favourite Kings Palace and Vivaldi Collonges with David Pipe’s charge looking to regain his position at the top of the RSA Chase market after Coneygree’s sucess earlier on the card. Whilst he maintained his unbeaten record, he did give his backers a scare or two on the way round, esepecially at the three open ditches jumped. With showing that accuracy we have become used to, we did see his first real error at the third last when standing off too far and almost landing on top of the fence, doing extremely well to stay on his feet. Although he won a shade cosily, it did give Vivaldi Collonges a chance at victory as he did look vulnerable for a couple of strides.
Bookmakers were unimpressed and he actually drifted with a couple of firms. Even then, he doesn’t tempt me for the Festival at all. If Coneygree turns up in the RSA then he has competition for the lead and he would be vulnerable not just to that rival but to the whole field behind him that would stalk and pounce. Even without Coneygree, I would hold the same concerns that just like in the Albert Bartlett, he would set the race up for a stronger stayer. Vivaldi Collonges jumped better than he did on debut behind Kings Palace but it could be worth keeping his novice status for next season where he could gain plenty more experience.
The Listed Bumper that ended the card looked strong on paper and again went to an all the way winner in Barters Hill who remains unbeaten after three starts for Ben Pauling and defied all comers in tenacious style. There was a moment of concern passing the stands where his mind wandered towards the paddock exit and up the straight when taken on first by Final Nudge and secondly by the four year old Buveur D’air but he wasn’t for passing. The Champion Bumper could easily be tempting for connections and he could fare well there but would need to make the race a true stamina test from the front.
Others to note from the race for the future include Final Nudge who shaped well for a long way, Duke Des Champs who probably needed the run and Present Man who disappointed although he wouldn’t be the first horse to disappoint in this race and bounce back; Thomas Brown being a prime example twelve months ago.
Warwick’s feature contest was the Kingmaker Novice Chase, which looked a match on paper between Vibrato Valtat and Top Gamble but it was turned into a procession with Paul Nicholls’ grey showing his class to dispose of an unbeaten novice whose jumping has impressed many. He was ridden with a huge amount of confidence by Sam Twiston-Davies but his jumping wasn’t as good as it has been in the past. He took a liberty at a couple along the side of the course but brushed those fiddly errors aside to beat Top Gamble comfortably giving him three pounds. He is now as short as 6/1 for the Arkle and whilst he looks Britain’s best chance of an Arkle winner, he comes up against a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux and I would expect him to be fighting out second with Clarcam, although he would need to iron out the errors made here.
Top Gamble jumped beautifully up until four out where he misjudged his takeoff and landed in a bit of a heap. He also made a slight error at the third last but was quickly back on the bridle however he was brushed aside by a smart novice. Although he has lost his unbeaten record over fences, he still emerges with plenty of credit but could be difficult to place.Turn Over Sivola has ran respectably back in third and will probably be one for the Red Rum at Aintree where he ran well last year behind Parsnip Pete whilst Kings Lad probably found the pace too hot down the side of the course. A step back up in distance would help his cause.
Leopardstown’s final main meeting before Cheltenham always throws up various clues and today was no exception. The Spring Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up the last two winners of the Triumph Hurdle and threw up a potential contender in Petite Parisienne who was impressive enough for her second hurdles start beating her stablemate Kalkir. She was in receipt of six pounds from the whole field (Bryan Cooper putting one overweight) and showed plenty of guts to battle all the way up the straight. Whilst her jumping was novicey in parts, she will surely improve for even better ground but she will need to considering the British juveniles.
Kalkir looked much happier than he did at Christmas on desperate ground but was beaten fair and square here. It’s hard seeing him reverse positions with the winner in the Triumph. Prussian Eagle appears to have shown improvement for slightly better ground after chasing home Fiscal Focus over Christmas and another Mullins juvenile hurdler in Dicosimo at Gowran. These three put twenty lengths between themselves and the fourth but it doesn’t look likely we saw the Triumph winner here. Vercingetorix made a bad mistake at the first and was a major disappointment, the first considerable one for owners Simon Munir & Issac Souede. That didn’t look his true running but that may sway the decision to keep him at home.
The Deloitte Novice Hurdle had yet another from the Willie Mullins stable sent off a short price favourite in the enormous grey Alvisio Ville who had attracted significant support not just for this race but for the Neptune at the Festival. But the bubble surrounding him burst when he was beaten into third by yet again, another Mullins stablemate in Nichols Canyon who shrugged off his unseat at Christmas in taking fashion, using the exact same tactics used to full effect on Vautour and Champagne Fever.
He was able from the home turn to use his flat speed to full effect and win by a comfortable three and a half lengths. Whilst the form of his Royal Bond win looked questionable, he was a class above them and the same comments apply for this performance here with much stronger opposition. With that potent flat speed, it may suit best going down the Supreme route and using the same tactics like the previous two winners listed above. Windsor Park improved on his effort two weeks ago when not given the best of rides. He was always going to come off second best to the winner and shaped like the Neptune would suit him but his jumping again would need to improve.
The hype surrounding Alvisio Ville has been pretty scary and he was well backed considering he had only won a maiden hurdle on Boxing Day. He jumped a lot better than on debut but was keen enough early on. That and the lack of experience probably told in the closing stages but he was beaten by a better horse on the day. With plenty of time on his side, he doesn’t need to go to the Festival this year when he has been brought for the purpose of going chasing. Silver Concorde shaped with more promise than on hurdling debut but the enthusiasm on my Supreme antepost bet has dwindled whilst Sempre Medici remains interesting if given a feasible handicap mark.
The Flogas Novice Chase looked an ideal target for Valseur Lido to remain unbeaten and book his ticket to the Festival in either the JLT or the RSA but the form of his Drinmore win was reversed by Apache Stronghold who was given an incredible ride by Paul Carberry considering he didn’t jump as well as he has done in the past. He paid a huge compliment to Don Poli who beat him over Christmas in the Topaz and was certainly suited by this intermediate trip under a patient ride. Trainer Noel Meade confirmed the JLT was his Festival target and he goes there with a definite chance as the end to end gallop should really play to his strengths.
Valseur Lido lost nothing in defeat but was just beaten by a slightly better horse on the day. He jumped and travelled like he did in the Drinmore and handled going the other way round. If he goes over to the Festival, you’d hope he would turn up in the JLT as he doesn’t shape yet like three miles would be right up his street. If he didn’t go, the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse could potentially be easy pickings. Adriana Des Mottes showed no ill-effects of her bad mistake at Limerick and has ran to a similar form level shown on that occasion as she would have finished a clear second behind Gilgamboa. She could easily drop back into her own company and win some decent prizes.
The Tullow Tank put in a much better effort than of recent times having travelled omniously well before getting outpaced after the second last. He is worth another go over three miles and this effort may have convinced his connections to ponder going to the Festival for the RSA. Jarry D’Honneur’s jumping was sketchy out in front and he unseated of his own accord at the last. A confidence booster in a lower grade will help.
The sad part of the race was the demise of Le Vent D’Antan who had jumped beautifully before overjumping at the last and injuring a shoulder. It’s a part of the sport no one wants to happen but for a small stable like Liz Doyle to lose their stable star, it’s heartbreaking. A one time favourite for the Champion Bumper in 2013, he had shown plenty of promise so far over fences to suggest he was above average. RIP.
The Irish Hennessy provided the fairytale with Tony McCoy, fresh from announcing his retirement at Newbury, gaining his first (and only) success in the race under a never say die effort on Carlingford Lough to repel the improver in the pack Foxrock with last season’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere running an eyecatching race back in third. The scenes that greeted the winner post-race were reminiscent of what Hurricane Fly received last month when winning his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle.
Carlingford Lough built upon his effort in the Lexus Chase where he travelled well before looking in need of the run. He did well here to recover from a mistake at the second last to run down Foxrock after the last to win going away. After this performance, he merits consideration for the Gold Cup but the concerns are based on the way he jumped around Cheltenham in last season’s RSA. It will be interesting to see whether McCoy chooses him or Shutthefrontdoor.
Foxrock continues to prove me wrong and this was by far a career best effort. He came off the bridle after the third last and found plenty for pressure, leading over the last fence before being caught on the run in by the winner. Connections may be tempted to supplement him for the Gold Cup but it could just pay to wait for the Punchestown Gold Cup this season with him.
Lord Windermere ran a much better race than he did in the Lexus. He was ridden more forward and unusually for him, he was probably in front plenty soon enough which has never been the case before. Considering he was only beaten eight and three quarter lengths, compared to last year when he was beaten twenty six lengths by Last Instalment, this was a Gold Cup preparation to be pleased with. Better ground here was a big positive compared to the testing ground he encountered over Christmas and he will now tick over until going back to defend his crown with as good a chance as any.
Boston Bob was never put in the race whatsoever having just hacked around at the back of the field. Bookmakers pushed his price out after this effort and whilst I wouldn’t be a backer of the horse, it seemed an unwise decision to let him drift. The concern for the Gold Cup would be if he gets himself out of position, whether that be by design or him getting outpaced. The other way to potentially look at this effort is that connections may have half an eye on the Grand National with the weights due to be published a week tomorrow.
Talking of Aintree, Home Farm ran a fair trial towards Aintree and would definitely be competitive there off a workable mark whilst First Lieutenant didn’t show very much for his National ambitions. Texas Jack put up a more competitive effort compared to recently but has never looked a true three miler. If kept in similar form, the Melling Chase could be his type of race having disappointed previously at the Festival whilst On His Own kept jumping out to his right and showed his inconsistency.
The Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter Chase featured some old faces including 2012 and 2013 Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Salsify making his return to action and Mossey Joe but it was left to Willie Mullins and son Patrick with one time Grand National favourite Prince De Beauchene who didn’t jump as well as he did at Thurles but battled thoroughly to deny On The Fringe who was given a very patient ride by Nina Carberry.
The review of Prince De Beauchene could be described as pointless due to the fact he won’t be eligible for either the Cheltenham or Aintree Foxhunters, although he may return for the Grand National where he would give Patrick a thrill of a lifetime before failing to see out the trip. On The Fringe would be interesting in the Aintree Foxhunters as he has failed to get up the hill twice at Cheltenham although his main aim is likely to be Punchestown. Salsify was far too fresh on his return but showed that he was still in good enough form to suggest a return to Cheltenham is possible.
Exeter staged a good quality card on Sunday and three races are worth a mention. It was great to see Native River back in the winners enclosure after his fall on Festival Trials Day when taking the Listed novice hurdle and taking a notable scalp in Emerging Talent who still frustrates his backers as he travels so strongly through his races before finding little for pressure.
Both the front two will have smart careers when they tackle fences in the future, especially the runner up who just needs to grow up physically and mentally. He is with the perfect trainer in Paul Nicholls who will bring the horse along steadily to peak at the right time. He will no doubt leave his hurdles form behind once he goes jumping fences in the autumn.
For a moment on Trials Day, it looked bad for Native River so to see him taking this prize was pleasing. That gives the impression he would have gone quite close on that occasion and this is a nice boost to the Challow Hurdle form. He is more than worth his place at the Festival but sadly only has the Albert Bartlett entry. He would be more than worth his place in a Neptune but unlike the big Grade Ones, I’m unsure whether you can supplement for novice events.
Kalane was firmly put in his place by two smart horses but there’s no reason to believe he isn’t fairly useful himself and should make a good chaser in the autumn. The disappointment of the contest was War Sound who pulled far too hard for his own good and was comprehensively beaten. He is far better than what he showed yet but he has plenty of learning to do.
The Pertemps Qualifier looked one of the strongest so far and finally Regal Encore put it all together over hurdles with a comfortable success. The step up in distance looked to suit him really well and if progressing from this, he would almost certainly be able to make his mark in a Festival handicap but he is still one I wouldn’t completely trust. Alavian made it a JP McManus one-two and he was another to benefit from going up in distance although he was looked after significantly in the closing stages. If he is to make the Pertemps cut, he needs his mark to go up several pounds and it will likely be touch and go whether he scrapes in. Similar comments apply to the The Tourard Man who is currently in the form of his life and is worth his go in the Final.
Big Easy deserves to win a big handicap hurdle and whilst he would run his usual honest race, I don’t think he would have more improvement in him to win a Pertemps however the next home Knight Of Noir could potentially have more to come and is on my shortlist of three I have currently for the race. The other two being Brother Brian who chased home Rock On Ruby back in December and Edeymi who caught everyone’s attention last week at Musselburgh behind Dawalan.
Morito Du Berlais wouldn’t get in the Final based on this effort but hasn’t finishing winning over hurdles this season. He should win a decent handicap on good ground before the season is out. Unowhatimeanharry ran respectably from out of the handicap and has definitely shown enough to suggest he can bang a staying handicap hurdle. Pineau De Re shaped with plenty more promise compared to his previous effort at Carlisle and just managed to qualify. With improvement likely, he will run well at the Festival before attempting to regain his Grand National crown back where he should give another good account of himself.
Aubusson just failed to qualify but that could be a blessing in disguise as he could now be put away for the remainder of this season and be brought back for a chasing campaign in the autumn. Southfield Royale didn’t show his true running at all and can be forgiven whilst Ambion Wood likely needed this outing after a fair amount of time off the track.
Southfield Theatre got back to winning ways in the novice chase under replacement jockey Noel Fehily after chasing Carraig Mor home at Newbury on unfavoured soft ground. Back on better ground and allowed to make his own running, it was the best he has jumped over fences so far but it would have been touch and go had chasing debutant Val De Law stood up at the final fence as he was mounting a serious challenge. He looks a smart recruit for Jamie Snowden and was outrunning his odds when taking a heavy tumble. Happily, he got to his feet and galloped away unharmed. Whilst he holds no obvious entries, a race that could suit him towards the end of the season is the Future Champions Novices Chase at Ayr over two and a half miles.
The pace throughout was a stop start affair and they have sprinted up the straight and for a horse who has got form over further in Southfield Theatre, this shows he has tactical pace as well. Although it was the best he has jumped over fences, at this stage in his career, missing Cheltenham wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world as the RSA can be a particularly brutal test for a horse. With the pace he showed here, the three mile Grade One at Aintree could suit him really well under a bold front running ride, as he could potentially get his opposition into trouble down the back straight.
Melodic Rendezvous was sticky at a couple of fences but this was a much better effort than on his chasing debut at Bangor when scraping home against Boondooma. He did look the likely winner until a mistake three out put him on the back foot. Considering the ground was probably as lively as he would have wanted it, this was a good effort and there is no doubt he will bag a few novice chases with more cut in the ground. The Pendil at Kempton has been mentioned as a target but he will bump into England’s leading JLT hope Ptit Zig.
Thank you for reading this bumper edition which I hope makes up for not doing a blog last week. Next week features the Ascot Chase and the Grand National Trial at Haydock which will be an attritional test and I’m sure the Cheltenham video previews will begin soon.
Caesar Milan – Was better than the result suggested.
Great Try/Hedley Lamaar – The winner has the capability to go well in the EBF Final whilst the runner up is worth keeping an eye on.
Arzal – No luck at all in running and should be backed next time out.
Lord Windermere/Boston Bob – That will have put the former spot on to defend his Gold Cup crown whilst the latter wasn’t given a chance to show anything.
Knight Of Noir – Looks interesting for the Pertemps Final.
Val De Law – Looks a smart horse for Jamie Snowden and if his confidence isn’t affected, he should win novice chases.
With a cracking weekend of racing upon us, here is our preview which focuses on the Channel Four action from Newbury and Warwick with the feature event being the Betfair Hurdle, formerly known as the Schweppes/Tote Gold Trophy which has thrown up Champion Hurdle winners Persian War and Make A Stand and various top class performers including more recently, Zarkandar and My Tent Or Yours. We also look at the Grade One action from Leopardstown on Sunday where Willie Mullins looks to have a strangehold on all the Grade Ones on the card.
On the video tonight we have @Lukeelder13 and @AdamWebb121 plus a guest appearance from @calummadell as he was doing work for Timeform. Our Cheltenham Festival previews will begin either next week or the week after and if you have any suggestions for potential realistic guests then please send them in.