Cheltenham’s Open meeting is now just days away, with the showpiece Paddy Power Gold Cup taking place on Saturday 15 November 2014. Though the Jump season is still in its early stages, these three days of top-class racing are sure to produce winners that will return as fancied contenders for The Festival in March.
Last year’s meeting saw the likes of Whisper, Balthazar King, Western Warhorse and Sire De Grugy all in attendance. Though plenty of attention will quite rightly be focused on the Paddy Power Gold Cup, along with the Greatwood Hurdle, I’ve decided to take a closer look at Friday’s Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase won last year by Taquin Du Seuil, who defeated Oscar Whisky in a thrilling finish, before going on to take the JLT at Cheltenham in March.
It’s a race that has gone to several top-class novice chasers in recent times. In 2011 the race was won by Grands Crus, who looked set to become a possible Gold Cup contender in years to come. He went on to beat Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth in that season’s Feltham at Kempton, before his career sadly tailed away.
In 2012’s renewal Dynaste was impressive in beating Fingal Bay. He also went on to win the Feltham in taking fashion, before coming back to Cheltenham and finishing second in what was then called the Jewson Novices’ Chase. In March he was back at the ‘home of jump racing’ confirming his status as a top chaser when winning the Ryanair Chase.
And so to this year’s race and our search for the next ‘big thing’ in the novice chase division. Clearly the Pipe team are worth a second look after their wins in 2011 and 2012. Their only entrant is Dell’ Arca, and although he is certain to go over fences at some stage in the future, there is every chance that the five-year-old will swerve this engagement, in favour of a run in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock the following week.
Deputy Dan and Virak look set to renew rivalry after Nicholls’ horse ran out the winner in their last meeting at Fontwell. Both are likely to improve for that run, and the forecast rain will surely suit both. It’s a tough call as to which will get the upper-hand on this occasion.
Philip Hobbs has had a terrific start to the season, and could run Champagne West in this. Another that will appreciate the softer ground, he was terrific in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on ground that would have been a little too lively. He’s certainly built to make a chaser and has a touch of class. Very closely matched with Deputy Dan over hurdles, they are both sons of Westerner, who is making quite an impact as a National Hunt sire.
Splash Of Ginge is a possible for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He won at the course in October, taking a big step forward from his opening chase effort at Perth. This race looks a lot tougher on paper, and I’m of the opinion that he will struggle over this trip on soft ground.
Urban Hymn will certainly find conditions to his liking if the rain continues to fall. He ran a cracker last time at Carlisle over two miles, which was much too short a trip. If anything, this 2m4f would be the very minimum he is likely to need, and there is just a chance that a horse with more gears will have too much for him. The famous hill will of course play to his strengths, and I’d expect a big run.
Willie Mullins could add further kudos to the race by running either Alelchi Inois or Indevan. The latter has travelled over to Cheltenham twice in the past, and disappointed on both occasions. Alelchi is five from five over fences, though this would be his toughest task to date.
With the final declarations still to be decided it’s pretty difficult to commit to one horse as a potential winner. One thing is for sure, whoever wins the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase, will be a horse to follow over the coming months, and may just become the top staying novice chaser of the season.