A good day for the tips on the opening day of Cheltenham’s International Meeting, with a win for Robinsfirth in good style despite idling, and a decent second for Remiluc amongst our selections. He was part of a double for the Tizzards, who announced the retreatment of Cue Card after three runs next year, with Tizzard telling the Racing Post; “I think we’ll give him three runs in the spring and then retire him. I’ll have him as my hunter after that. He could go to the Ascot Chase, then the Gold Cup or Ryanair Chase, and then Aintree.”
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One of the most taking performances of the day came from Western Ryder, who found relentlessly for pressure to take what looked like a strong novice hurdle off a farcical pace, reversing the form of the Aintree bumper with the second Lawlor – the two coming well clear of Summerville Boy having given plenty of weight away. The winner was cut to 16/1 foe the Supreme nut connections suggested a step up in trip would be ideal for him, with the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon nominated as a target in the future, and he would be interesting over any trip from 2m to 2m4f; He coped well with no gallop today.
Sizing Tennessee’s jumping held together to take the novice chase, but he will need to jump better if he’s to step up in class for all that he stayed well to get the better of Duel At Dawn. Bless The Wings was terrific over the Cross Country fences and has to be respected coming back in March, whilst Arthur’s Gift and Ms Parfait were both good winners and can go further, especially the latter.
Today’s racing has a something for everybody approach, with the International Hurdle (3.05) alongside the Bristol (2.30) and the betting feature, the Caspian Caviar Handicap (1.55), the rematch of the Bet Victor Gold Cup that took place 29 days ago.
Had Clan Des Obeaux run in that race, he may well have won, given that he held a mark of 148 at the time, and off that same rating he finished a close second to the Ladbrokes Trophy second Whisper, before then winning a Haydock Graduating Chase by seven lengths. The form of his second at Newbury to Whisper has already been underlined – indeed Whisper was a Grade 1 horse beforehand but is now rated 161 – and his victory at Haydock was perhaps just as impressive.
He was always travelling best but when push came to shove he poured it on to leave very useful rivals behind in Vintage Clouds (an 18-length handicap winner last time out) and Born Survivor, a previous winner. He was giving 8lbs to both that day and had them well beaten; All things said, a mark of 155 looks fair even if up against capable rivals, and all ground comes alike to him.
Seven horses reopposes from the Bet Victor Gold Cup, where Splash of Ginge beat Starchitect, Le Prezien, Ballyalton, Romain De Senam, Foxtail Hill and Guitar Pete. They are not easy to separate here, with Le Preizen perhaps being the best of them at the weights, although his jumping needs to improve still.
It’s interesting to note there’s a lot less pace on in a smaller field for Foxtail Hill than he had in the Bet Victor, and he’s a winner over this course and distance too on testing ground. In running might be the way to play him, but perhaps the form of last year’s contest is stronger and King’s Odyssey looked like he would surely have gone very close had he stood up there. Jumping is an issue for Ewan Williams’s eight year old but he warmed up with a nice pipe opener at Carlisle over 2 miles, and is now 7lbs lower than he was when running in this last year.
That’s just 1lb higher than his last winning mark – for a well contested Novice’s Handicap over this C&D – and this has to have been the plan for a long time.
The market has the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle (2.30) between Count Meribel and Eqqus Secretus. It is very hard to split the pair, with Nigel Twiston Davies’s charge a deserved favourite on the basis of his three wins since returning from a summer break. Easily the most impressive of these was a nine-length win at Ascot, when giving a penalty away to Perfect Harmony, the bumper winner who had finished fourth behind On The Blind Side at Aintree on his hurdling debut beforehand. This is a step up to three miles, but he was not stopping at Ascot over 2m5f and he ought to go very close.
His form ties in closely with Equus Secretus, who ground his way to victory from the front over the Another Stowaway, who was a close second in that Aintree race. At the weights Equus Secretus is the better treated of the pair, although this will be his first time running on ground this soft; If he handles it, he will take the beating.
Global Stage got off the mark at Ayr last time and it could be that after one too many trips to the well last season after a gruelling debut effort in the Tolworth), he’s coming back to his best now and this trip looks a good idea. Fergal O’Brien’s great run of form is another plus and he might still have more to give, especially up in trip.
Aye Aye Charlie was fourth behind On The Blind Side in that very good novice hurdle and he was going to get closer to him when he fell here three out in a Grade 2 over C&D that On The Blind Side ended up winning. He can’t be underestimated and those two make more appeal than Kilbricken Storm, who badly needs this step up in trip but must step up on the book as well.
The International Hurdle (3.05) brings together one of the most unexposed – or perhaps the most unexposed – horse in the Champion Hurdle market in the shape of Melon, who was second in the Supreme Novices’ last year. Beaten at Punchestown when getting locked into a pace duel, he made a decent return in the WKD Hurdle despite a couple of sloppy leaps when he didn’t need them, but was having only his fourth start and should come on plenty for that reappearance. He will need to, however – he has a penalty for that success which puts him level pegging with established 2-mile hurdlers.
If he can beat The New One, then he will have marked himself down as a Champion Hurdle contender and truly so; The hardy 10 year old won this in 2013, 2014 and last year, and has not failed to run a bad race for as long as one can remember. After another winning return at Kempton, he was topweight and very popular for the Greatwood, where he gave the now rated 151 Elgin 18lbs and was beaten less than 6 lengths.
It is tricky to think of another horse in the field that would have ran so well – Indeed Old Guard is a previous winner of this but he is also over a stone worse off with The New One for that run – and he has to be the one to beat on that basis here. My Tent Or Yours, second in tree Champion Hurdles last year, has to be given a serious chance on his best, but he is not likely to be at his sharpest and he was beaten into second in this race last year.
The one who appeals as being overpriced is Ch’Tibello, who was third in the Christmas Hurdle when 2 and a half lengths behind and is now 6lbs better off for that run. Extremely progressive last year, he ended up being second to Yanworth in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February when last seen, and whilst he had to miss the Champion, he goes very well fresh and can outrun his price.
Old Guard can run a consistent race and is a previous winner of this event, but he looks in between the rock and hard place of being a high-class handicapper. That could be a problem for John Constable, who won the Summer Hurdle in good style off 150, Dell’ Arca has a lot to find is a stayer nowadays.
The OLBG Mares’ Handicap Hurdle (3.40) is a really good race for the level where Momella’s second to On The Blind Side looks to be the best piece of form, although she must contend with the last time out winners Lady Karina, Brilliare Momentum, Molly Childrers and Lanmanver Odyssey.
Plenty hold decent chances in the Junior Jumpers Handicap Chase (1.20) although none quite persuasive enough to put forward here with Bun Doran and Gino Trail the two that stand out.
We have our second four runner novice chase in the shape of the Ryman Novices’ Chase (12.45), and it is an intriguing one although Movewiththetimes looks to be the pick. Paul Nicholls’ novice chaser needed the run a lot and shaped well considering in the Showcase meeting here, and he just found one too good when he ran into Finian’s Oscar here last time.
He’s well treated as a maiden over fences, getting 5lbs from Jameson, who ran very well in a well contested handicap at Newbury last time despite being rated 4lbs higher, and he also gets 5lbs from previous chase winner Kalondra. Coo Star Sivola was four lengths behind him and must improve if he’s to get closer although he can’t be discounted.
In the opener, Apple’s Shakira will be a money buying exercise for many following her completely destruction of a useful horse in Gumball over the Old Course on her British debut. Highly rated at home following her impressive win in the Prix Colonel Bidault, she was backed heavily to overturn Gumball and travelled well into the strong pace before being brought off the bridle by Barry Geraghty, but she was hacking after a few strides and up 17 lengths between her and a 144-rated hurdler.
We have only three rivals for her, and a decent yardstick in Nube Negra, a three-time Flat winner in Spain last month who made a big impression when coming nine lengths clear of the previously progressive Knight Destroyer (rated 130 at the time) on his Market Rasen debut. Tamayef is cannily placed for last place money.
There is a strong card at Doncaster which includes the Summit Juvenile Hurdle (2.45) where We Have A Dream and Act Of Valour face off after impressive wins last time, the December Novices’ Chase (2.10), and the fiercely contested bet365 Handicap Chase (3.25), but nothing made enough appeal to put up to subscribers here.
Sunday’s highlights come at Navan, with the Navan Novice Hurdle (12.45) a very strong Grade 2. We shall see the level of Samcro’s form – through the second, third and fourth from his Monksfield romp as Jetz, Delta Work and Half The Odds here.
They are unlikely to land a blow against the top three in the market, and of those three Next Destination makes the most appeal for future targets, namely the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham. The Champion Bumper fourth made a fine debut over hurdles at Navan when he turned on the taps after to gallop his field into the ground restlessly, winning by 13 lengths. The form of that race in behind hasn’t worked out that well since but Someday was running a big race when he fell next time out and Paloma Faith was just touched off next time. A step up in trip will bring more improvement but 3 miles ought to be his trip and the Champion Bumper is working out nicely
Cracking Smart, a really impressive winner of a winner of a 3m Listed hurdle at Cork last month, is just at home over this trip and will provide a serious test for him. It would be no surprise were he to go off favourite or win, but defeat in December is not a death knell for Albert Bartlett prospects – indeed only Unowhatimeanharry went through the season unbeaten to win the contest from the last five winners – and he if goes, he c
Poli Roi, who came on a ton for his reappearance when winning well at Galway, is another to come into the mix. Gigginstown will most likely take the “Future Champions” INH Flat Race (3.40) home with either Felix Desjy, who battled hard to win at Down Royal last time out, and the valuable Rapid Escape, who carried a penalty nicely to win at Punchestown.
1.55 Cheltenham – 1 pt win Clan Des Obeaux (7/2 general)
1.30 Cheltenham – 1 pt each/way King’s Odyssey (15/2 general)
2.30 Cheltenham – 1 pt win Equus Secretus (15/8 general)
3.05 Cheltenham – 2 pts win The New One (9/4 general)
1 pt each/way Next Sensation, 2018 Albert Bartlett (14/1 Bet Victor)
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