Saturday, 14 November 2020

November Meeting Day Three: Sunday 15th November 2020 - West to Double-Up in Big Handicap

We have more quality action on the last of three fantastic days during the November meeting, with potential Cheltenham Festival clues on offer too.

The Greatwood Hurdle may yet prove to be a genuine Champion Hurdle Trial, while at 3.35 some of those being pointed at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle are taking their first serious steps towards the Festival.

1.15 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – SOLDIER OF LOVE

Not that this is in any way considered a match race, but in Soldier Of Love and The Big Breakaway we have two contenders here who look to be a little way clear of the rest on the form book.

The latter, a five-year-old trained by Colin Tizzard, is set to be favourite but he is making his chasing debut and has been off the track for a little while now.

He may well be a talented type, but he may also need this run and so in being rated the same as his main rival he doesn’t look like an even-money shot to us.

Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, although beaten last time, is on a terrific run and there is no way we’ve got to the bottom of him yet. Another step forward here if it is forthcoming makes him pretty tough to beat and so at the odds, he is the call.

1.50 (Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – WEST APPROACH

We spend so much time looking for the next big thing, the horse we believe is improving and will reach a new level.

Sometimes though, in a near three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase around this track, it pays to go back to basics and so in ten-year-old West Approach we have the ideal candidate.

While it’s true Colin Tizzard’s runner is not getting any younger, he won this race last year in great fashion, albeit off 6lbs lower, and returned last month with another solid run to sharpen him up. He is no certainty of course, but West Approach may take some pegging back up the hill and is the one to be on.

In terms of his nearest rivals; Captain Drake, Discorama and Yala Enki are all of interest for each-way money and should be watched in the betting.

2.25 (Cheltenham Chase – Grade 2) – PUT THE KETTLE ON

The form of Al Dancer is appealing to us, hence we fancied him for Saturday’s feature event, and another horse who has ties with him is Henry De Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On.

Set to go off second-favourite for this event with Tingle Creek winner Defi Du Seuil in the line-up, he arguably possesses as much speed as anything else in the line-up bet crucially is given weight by Philip Hobbs’ runner and Rouge Vif.

Defi was beaten at the festival when a 2/5 shot and while that wasn’t his true running, Put The Kettle On’s win in the Arkle showed not only his class but his liking for Cheltenham which has never fully been proved by the jolly.

The aforementioned Rouge Vif, a comfortable winner at the meeting here last month, makes the list but he needs to take another big step forward to tackle the two genuine Grade 1 types in the field.

3.00 (Greatwood Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – PROSCHEMA

Alan King has a terrific record in this contest and so his Edwardstone will obviously attract plenty of support. Paul Nicholls’ young hurdler Thyme White has to be considered as does the overpriced Ballyandy, however the one to be on could well be Dan Skelton’s Proschema.

A very smart flat performer for Tom Dascombe who was briefly under consideration for The Derby at one point in his career, Proschema demolished his field last November at Wetherby but suffered a setback and spent the best part of a year off the track.

Needing a run to blow away the cobwebs, Proschema returned to Wetherby and ran a very sound race in second place and he is set to now reach his hurdling peak.

One thing is for certain and that is that he has the look of a horse who can be much better than his official mark of 131, so could easily be well-handicapped for this event under Harry Skelton.

3.35 (Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – COURTANDBOULD

Given the nature of this race, we have to watch it with an eye on the future. Over the course of time it seems certain that likely favourite Third Time Lucki will be the best of this particular bunch and could indeed head to the Supreme, but at prices around the 11/8 mark he is too short for us.

In at around 3/1 is Fergal O’Brien’s Courtandbould who has been on the go during the summer. He has reached a decent level, now rated 141, and still has at least a little more to give which all in all gives Third Time Lucki a rather steep level to aim at.

Paul Nicholls has Fidelio Vallis in this race and he is not without a chance either, but we know how well O’Brien’s horses go around Cheltenham at all meetings bar the Festival and so we can’t ignore that.

4.05 (Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – WESEEKHIMHERE

Gordon Elliott had a major disappointment with Tiger Roll on Friday but he is bound to land some success over the weekend.

While it is by no means a fool proof plan for backing winners, the fact that his hangs around until the very last race of the meeting to run one of his is a fact that can’t be totally ignored and so his Weseekhimhere is of most interest.

Already boasting the best form, albeit from little evidence given the type of race, the four-year-old seems like a reasonably solid wager to finish off the meeting.

Friday, 13 November 2020

November Meeting Day Two: Saturday 14th November 2020 - Al to Dance to Paddy Power Win

On day 2 of the November meeting we really ramp up the quality. The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the feature race in which we should see an epic battle up the hill, while we also have a couple of Grade 2’s to look forward to.

12.30 (Triumph Hurdle Trial – Grade 2) – DUFFLE COAT

Short-priced favourite Hell Red, Gordon Elliott’s Duffle Coat and Adagio look to be the three horses to concentrate on in this race, but despite giving away weight it could be the Irish raider who comes out on top.

Already rated 133, Duffle Coat is unbeaten in three runs and has very definitely shown the speed needed around the Old Course between hurdles.

Paul Nicholls’ Hell Red made a good impression on his British debut at Chepstow recently, but he’ll need to improve plenty to get to Robbie Power’s mount who looks overpriced to us.

1.05 (Handicap Chase for Conditional Jockeys and Amateur Riders – Class 3) – KILFILUM CROSS

A tough race to call, both in terms of horse form and in attempting to second guess the varying ability of the jockeys involved, but the most solid on the list probably Kilfilum Cross.

Others, including Lamanver Pippin, Bermeo and What A Moment all rate highly too, but Henry Oliver’s nine-year-old is solid in the conditions, is race fit and is proven around Cheltenham after finishing second in last season’s Kim Muir.

1.40 (November Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – QUEL DESTIN

Most of the money pre-race is bound to go the way of impressive two-time chase winner Fusil Raffles, while Eldorado Allen appears to have it all to do despite being second-favourite.

Simply going for the best value though, it could pay to side with Paul Nicholls’ chasing debutant Quel Destin. Given his hurdle form, he’s the highest rated horse in this contest and even gets 3lbs from Fusil Raffles, and while you’d usually want to see him have a run first it is perhaps pertinent that his esteemed trainer throws him straight in at this level.

Furthermore, while most punters would rightfully expect improvement from first to second outing over the larger obstacles, many horses of his type are better over fences than they are over hurdles making that rating look all the more intriguing.

2.15 (Paddy Power Gold Cup – Grade 3) – AL DANCER

This is a good quality renewal, one in which past Cheltenham and big-race form should very much come to the fore.

Simply The Betts was excellent in winning two big handicaps around here in January and at the Festival in March and will attract plenty of money, while Paul Nicholls’ Saint Sonnet is a most interesting former French runner who may prove to be well treated in the weights.

The one attracting overnight support is Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher, however having had close form with him, being open to plenty of improvement and being nearly twice the price, the smart play is definitely Al Dancer.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies yard is going really well right now and that counts for plenty, while there appear to be no negatives in the trip, the grade or the course for the graded hurdle winner.

For what it’s worth, Mister Fisher is next on our list and it could be that their first and second from Doncaster last January in a Grade 2 novices’ race is the key piece of form in this event.

2.50 (Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle – Listed Race) – DANDY DAN

Despite the Listed grade of the race, there are many holes in the form and in the profiles of some of the principal runners.

On The Blind Side may prove to be too big a price here, though he has been off the track for quite some time, while likely favourite Tea Clipper has form figures of 111121 and cannot be discounted.

The jolly won at Grade 3 level last time out at Chepstow and clearly has the ability, but winning over 2m3f on good ground then belting round the Old Course for three miles are two very different things. With that in mind, it would be a brave punter who would take a short price about a horse who has gone up 7lbs in the weights.

Enter Kim Bailey’s Dandy Dan, a seven-year-old of Kim Bailey’s having his first hurdle run since April 2018. On the face of it the handicapper hasn’t taken many chances with his hurdle mark, but it is still 5lbs lower than his chase rating and he put in a career high last time over fences. He could be well-in.

3.25 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – WHATSUPWITHYOU

The obvious one here is Dr Richard Newland’s Captain Tom Cat, a winner three times since July including last time out at Cheltenham.

While he did win comfortably that day, he has gone up another 6lbs in the handicap for a winning what was a tight race in the end.

Only 4¾ lengths behind in seventh that day was Whatsupwithyou who has been kept at the same mark. That 6lb pull could be handy enough, but when you also consider that the race was little more than a pipe-opener for Ben Pauling’s six-year-old who now looks quite well positioned to reverse those placings.

Son Of Camas and Topofthecotswolds are both on the list too, though they aren’t of as much interest as the well-priced selection.

3.55 (Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – ELLE EST BELLE

Clear of the others in the market are Ishkhara Lady, Ucanaver and Elle Est Belle with the last named being the one to focus on.

While the other two mares are also last time out winners, Dan Skelton’s runner scored on her only outing to date in little more than a hack canter and yet put in a performance that would entitle her to favouritism here anyway.

The level of improvement she can reach makes her a rock-solid favourite in this contest and so she should be able to finish off the day in the right way for backers of the market leader.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

November Meeting Day One: Friday 13th November 2020 - Easysland to Tame the Tiger Again

We kick off Cheltenham’s three-day November meeting on Friday with six competitive races on the Old Course, all of them giving us betting opportunities if not clues towards the Festival in March.

1.15 (Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – INDUNO

We have a but of a conundrum to begin with on day one. The biggest field of the day at 18 runners is set for this race, which also happens to be a handicap and for conditional jockeys only!

That said, the form of the principal runners has a solid and reliable look about it and with that we put our money on David Pipe’s Induno. The six-year-old, last seen out nearly a year ago but who has won when fresh before, has plenty of improvement in him being so lightly raced and is anticipated to love it around here.

Induno’s handicap mark of 115 looks as though it significantly underestimates him and so he is taken to get us off to the best possible start under jockey Fergus Gillard. The Queen’s horse Steal A March and easy recent winner Castle Robin are next on the list for place bet purposes.

1.50 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – FANION D’ESTRUVAL

A good two-mile handicap with a decent prize, this Class 2 contest should again be competitive despite a slightly smaller than ideal field of nine potential runners.

There isn’t too much to choose in our books between solid types Born Survivor of Dan Skelton’s yard, Gary’s Moore’s Beat The Judge who is likely to come on nicely from his run here last month, and Dicky Johnson’s mount On The Slopes who will be very well supported in the market.

The smart money however may well be going the way of the horse representing Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch, Fanion D’Estruval.

The former French runner, who had two very encouraging runs for this yard before a setback, has almost certainly improved well past his handicap mark now and has the speed dexterity to cope with this track. He also goes well fresh.

2.25 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – PROTEKTORAT

We have just the four runners for this novices’ event unfortunately, and so often such events throw up strange results. That seems fairly unlikely this time with Dan Skelton’s Protektorat being more than sufficiently ahead of his main rivals Southfield Stone and Mossy Fen at the weights and so ultimately, he is the call.

There is another betting angle though should you wish to take note. The 2m4f trip here represents a fair step up in distance for the favourite over fences, and his hurdle form over this kind of trip doesn’t necessarily give the world of encouragement.

With that in mind you could do worse than have a very small punt on outsider Paint The Dream, one trained by Fergal O’Brien who always does well here and who has been underestimated for certain.

3.00 (Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – EASYSLAND

The race featuring double Grand National hero Tiger Roll and as such, the one many will be stopping what they’re doing to watch.

The Tiger’s colours were lowered on the cross-country course at the Festival by French raider Easysland for this column and he was denied the opportunity to show it was a blip in the National at Aintree.

With the French odds-on favourite carrying 4lbs less but also rated 4lbs lower and the Tiger being a much more attractive price, you’d perhaps believe Gordon Elliott’s runner would be the smart bet.

Overall though Tiger Roll is likely to be going just a little backwards now and there is some evidence of that; his run behind Easysland in March and his very low grade showing in a flat turf race recently despite the trainer being happy and it only being a warm-up.

A better alternative to the selection at the odds is likely to be Christian Williams’ Welsh Grand National winner Potter’s Corner, though it remains to be seen truly how fit he is for his first race back.

3.35 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – DOES HE KNOW

The “big” event of the day, at least in terms of status given that this is a Grade 2, the race registered as the Hyde Novices’ Hurdle should go the way of Kim Bailey and David Bass who team up together with the hat-trick seeking Does He Know.

The youngest of the main contenders at five and the one with the most potential for improvement, Does He Know won easily over the course and distance on good ground at the meeting here last month and there is nothing in his profile to make us believe he will suddenly take a backward step.

Deserving his rating, the jolly is the percentage call for sure and in fact could be further clear of Grand Mogul and Polish than we think although in the case of Grand Mogul in particular money could come based on the horse’s trainer.

4.05 (Novices’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ONE TRUE KING

Hopefully by this point we’ve had another profitable day at Cheltenham, and this novices’ handicap hurdle is a good way to round off day one with 17 runners potentially going to post and allowing us some pretty big prices to take aim at.

Short enough in the betting overnight but with likely improvement to come is Fergal O’Brien’s The Bees Knees, but while we love Fergal and rate him highly at the track his easy last time winner may in fact have looked more impressive than was actually the case at Musselburgh.

Chasamax and Takeit Easy are tempting enough at the prices, but the one who could just skip clear of them at a crucial point in the contest is the top weight One True King for the Twiston-Davies team.

While he does have that big weight, One True King looks the type to be better when attempting to outclass his field rather than get weight from them and he took a big step forward last time out.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Showcase Meeting Friday 23rd October 2020: West the Right Approach in Feature Race

We started off yesterday’s blog in great form, firing in 9/1 winner Does He Know and very nearly followed with a 10/1 scorer too – here’s to more of the same!

Another seven races are scheduled for day 2 of the Showcase Meeting at Cheltenham and it’s been terrific to see action back at the home of jumps racing, with the feature handicap chase looking like throwing up some real value for us in particular.

2.05 (Conditions Hurdle – Class 2) – BOTOX HAS

We begin with a four-year-olds-only race, one in which the smallish field has led to the jolly looking very short in the betting.

The horse in question, Allmankind, is of course solid enough for the Skelton operation and while his third in the Triumph Hurdle round here at the Festival naturally reads well, it also truly shows us what his ability is.

He can improve still, but in the shape of Botox Has there is one horse in this line-up who perhaps has even more progression in him.

Gary Moore’s charge likes this track having won here, but his key piece of form is from last winter when he was actually second to Allmankind in the Triumph Hurdle Trial.

He didn’t take much of a beating that day, has a 4lb weight turnaround now and looks very good value to turn the table for a yard that wouldn’t come here were he not capable of beating his old rival. Nordano is next on the list.

2.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – NOT THAT FUISSE

The one for money here has been Pileon, and while he comes from a powerful yard in the shape of Philip Hobbs’ he just doesn’t have the form in our book to justify favouritism.

Challenging him at the top of the market has been Southfield Stone who looks a little more solid, but again under-priced and so a chance has to be taken on one we know has ability and is race fit and that is Dan Skelton’s Not That Fuisse.

The seven-year-old, just six runs into his chasing career and capable of plenty more yet, reached a new level when winning at Perth last time but that was merely a pipe-opener.  He has run second around here to Al Dancer in the past and can make his price look a little silly.

The only other horse in the line-up, Coole Cody, is no mug either so consider that in what will be a difficult placepot market.

3.15 (Handicap Hurdle – Pertemps Hurdle Series Qualifier – Class 2) – NEVILLE’S CROSS

Other than the feature, this could be considered the most competitive race of the day with 18 going to post for the three-mile hurdling cavalry charge.

Naturally there are plenty in contention, though market leaders Honest Vic and I’d Better Go Now seem overestimated a little to us.

With the most solid profile and representing just about fair odds is Tom Lacey’s hat-trick seeker Neville’s Cross and he is given the vote. Robbie Power takes the ride and that is a big positive, with the five-year-old match-fit improver likely to love conditions round here.

Philip Hobbs runs Flinck in this and too has a very strong place chance, while Champagne Court of Jeremy Scott’s yard is very definitely too big in the market overnight at around 14/1 and must be taken seriously too.

3.50 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – WEST APPROACH

Even in this strangest of times there is a decent pot on offer here for the 3m1f main event, with £30,000 on offer to the winner.

That pot could be going the way of the Colin Tizzard yard we reckon, with their ten-year-old West Approach having plenty in his favour here upon looking carefully at his profile.

He was second in this race last year and has gone on to run very well around the track on other occasions. He is now 7lbs higher in the handicap than he was twelve months ago, but he has been even higher in the weights and we think the improvement he has shown since being runner-up to The Conditional outweighs that 7lbs.

The likely favourite is the hard to assess Manofthemountain who has been winning easily at a lower level, while Sensulano should also be given more than just a glance.

Established horses such as Cogry and Frodon are in the mix here, but they simply don’t look well handicapped now or at least not for their respective seasonal debut’s anyway and are overlooked this time.

4.25 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – MINELLA ENCORE

While of the four with the biggest chance the selection has a couple of years on his rivals, he remains capable of improvement under the tutelage of Dr Richard Newland and so at small stakes the money goes the way of Minella Encore.

Overnight favourite Streets Of Doyen is next on the list while the Macon Lugnatic also gets a shout.

5.00 (Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – JEN’S BOY

This is a wide-open event for amateur jockeys, so once more we would not recommend going in too heavily at all.

It’s hard to accurately judge given all the race conditions what we believe each horse can achieve versus their handicap mark at this stage of the season, so the smart play is to stick with likely market leader Jen’s Boy who is ridden by the best available jockey in this scenario, Sam Waley-Cohen.

5.35 (Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Class 2) – I AM MAXIMUS

We close with a bumper and it goes without saying that if there is a big gamble on any of these 15 prospects we’d have to sit up and take notice, but at the overnight stage we reckon it might pay at decent odds to side with debutant I Am Maximus.

The combo of Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville is a very strong one and the vibes are good about this son of Derby winner Authorized, so a chance can be taken for small money.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Showcase Meeting Friday 23rd October: Moore Team to Land Friday Showcase Feature

Friday afternoon means a welcome return to the home of the jumps game as Cheltenham hosts the Showcase meeting. We’re set fair for a fantastically competitive two days of racing, even featuring very early Festival clues no doubt.

As always, we have opinions and a firm selection for every race on the card beginning with the new season opener – the 2m5f novices’ hurdle on the New Course.

1.50 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – DOES HE KNOW

A small but select field of seven here, one in which we are entitled to simply go for value in the shape of Kim Bailey’s Does He Know.

In our minds, taking into account likely improvement at the relative stages of their fledgling careers, Does He Know looks capable of running to a very similar standard as likely favourite Ask For Glory of Paul Nicholls’.

Given that one could be 6/4 and the other could be closer to 5/1, backing Does He Know is a no-brainer and we must also consider that the five-year-old is match-fit after a very easy win on fast ground recently at Ludlow.

He should stay on nicely around here and may yet take care of the favourite under David Bass, Midnight River being next on the list for the Dan Skelton yard.

2.25 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – SOLDIER OF LOVE

Given reputation as well as performance, it is wholly understandable that the favourite comes from the raiding yard of Gordon Elliott in the shape of Galvin.

On a four-timer, race fit and from a top yard, the six-year-old is high on the list but in truth he is no higher than fellow Irish entrant Doctor Duffy.

Charles Byrnes likely has the seven-year-old still in fine shape despite having been on the go for a while and having taken a spill last time, but both of these fine types may have it all to do to hold of our selection, Soldier Of Love.

Paul Nicholls’ gelding is on a five-timer, in fact but for an unlucky fall it could have been a six-timer, and we feel there is no way that against the opposition the son of Yeats has faced that he has had to pull out his best yet.

Conditions should be fine for Harry Cobden’s mount here, so he is great value at second-favourite to land the spoils. Mossy Fen and Ask Dillon can also be considered for place money.

3.00 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – HIJACK

With any luck, Nicky Henderson’s young charge will be allowed to go off at near double-figure odds for this 20-runner, 2m5f handicap hurdle. If he is, then he could represent great value in what is a very close, competitive event.

With so many in with a chance on paper, Imperial Elysian, Hometown Boy, Up The Straight, Weather Front and Captain Tom Cat all being on that particular list, stakes would have to be kept to a minimum but this Hijack has the most in his favour including the benefit of a recent run.

Under today’s jockey Nico De Boinville he has an excellent record, one of constant improvement, and so a new career best should be on the cards here.

3.35 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – BEAT THE JUDGE

The feature race at £30,000 to the winner even in these trying times, this two-mile handicap chase looks a lot more competitive than it’s 13-runner field would suggest but once again we are backing the combination of improvement and value.

While at first glance likely favourite On The Slopes should be the one to be on, he’s done his best work at Kempton so far and wasn’t quite as impressive when last seen at Cheltenham.

With that in mind, it could be worth chancing the well-priced Gary Moore runner who was improving in lumps over the summer and has now had a similar break to the jolly.

It’s possible he can put in a new career best now, one that would make him very well handicapped, so he is preferred to On The Slopes with Scardura, Katpoli and Rouge Vif also on the shortlist.

4.10 (Maiden Hurdle – Class 3) – PIPESMOKER

Unless something surprises us, only three of these 8 should realistically hold a winning chance with Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville’s Pipesmoker readily preferred to main rivals Champagnesuperover and Faivoir.

The selection hasn’t won a race yet, but will appreciate this drop to two miles and can improve on what he’s shown when placed at Cheltenham and Ascot, though a repeat of those novice hurdle performances would be enough to win this anyway.

4.45 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – GETAWAY TRUMP

The all-conquering Nicky Henderson has the odds-on favourite here in the shape of Fusil Raffles, but frankly the price is ridiculous given that he is rated just 3lbs higher than Getaway Trump, carries the same weight and despite being young and expected to improve has not shown too much of a liking for Cheltenham.

The more experience Paul Nicholls runner however has indeed done well here and was nice and fluent when having a pipe-opener at Warwick recently.

He should be ready to truly show his best in this contest under Harry Cobden and should take it before moving into graded company before his next outing here in the winter.

Sir Valentine and Return Ticket are some way behind in completing the four-runner field, with only mistakes by the big two possibly being enough for one of them to win.

5.15 (Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ASHINGTON

Last year’s winner Benny Bridge, tipped on this column to good effect of course, is bound to be popular given that he won so easily that day and has had just the one run since.

If he is back to his best, in fact has improved which is very possible, then he will indeed be tough to beat but there are some ifs and buts about him and so he doesn’t represent great value.

John Quinn’s Ashington looks a good value selection this time around however given his upward trajectory over hurdles and he is given the nod in the lucky last.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Changes at the Cheltenham Festival as Novices’ Handicap Chase is Axed

It’s all change again at the Cheltenham Festival after it was announced that a new Mares’ Chase will replace the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase in March.

The BHA had already stated back in August 2019 that a mares’ chase of one description or another would be added to the programme from 2021, much to the chagrin of many owners, trainers and punters. All that was to be decided was which race would be axed.

The event to be discontinued was up for debate with all of the game’s stakeholders apparently having their opinion, even if most of them were put forward via social media, but now we have confirmation that it will indeed be the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase, only established in 2005 when the Festival was expanded to four days.

The race, a 2½-mile event, had been run on the opening day and while it has been axed from the Festival it is important to note that it hasn’t been lost to the calendar altogether. Now, the same race will be added to Sandown’s Imperial Cup meeting a few days before the Festival gets underway, a move that seems to have placated most people.

The new race will be staged at Grade Two level and while it will have big-name sponsorship from the outset, it will be registered officially as the Liberthine Mares’ Chase.

The change-up also means it is a good time to fiddle with the order of things at the Festival once again. The new Mares’ Chase will be run on Friday, Gold Cup day, forcing the Grand Annual to move to the Wednesday. In turn, this means moving the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle to Tuesday, the opening day, effectively replacing the discarded race.

Naturally for all those involved, deciding on which race to replace was never an easy decision. Feedback was sought and received from many within the game and it was essentially decided that there were enough novice chase races at the Festival, while a balance also needed to be kept between hurdles and steeplechases.

The real uptick this will lead to comes not just from the fact that a Listed race is being replaced by a Grade Two, but also because there are mares involved.

Unlike on the flat, not many National Hunt horses have a big value when they are finished their racing career, however a good race mare can be worth plenty and winning a Grade 2 at the Cheltenham Festival can significantly increase their desirability.

It goes without saying that this process has not been totally plain sailing, with some for and some against the decision within the sport.

Crack trainers Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have all spoken out favourably about the decision, especially in terms of the logic behind it, while Mick Channon was one of the more disapproving voices in the jumps training ranks.

As it turns out, the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle, the National Hunt Chase, the Kim Muir and the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle were the other races considered for removal from the Festival schedule.

As was the case with the switch to four days in 2005, it seems those in charge cannot please everyone. Back in March, fans of the sport could not agree on whether the Festival should have even gone ahead given the coronavirus situation and now we have a whole new, if thankfully less important, argument on our hands.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Cheltenham Festival Day Four: Gold Cup Thriller Rounds Off Fantastic Festival

It’s been a wonderful week at Cheltenham, as it always is, but now it’s Gold Cup day and a chance perhaps to see another new Blue Riband winner.

1.30 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – GOSHEN

A cracking renewal of this four-year-old’s event in which Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore’s Aspire Tower is the overpriced one.

Looking every inch a Triumph Hurdle horse when winning his Grade 2 by 18 lengths at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, he was battling away and may not have won when falling last time out but that was on unsuitable ground and he will be much, much better today.

The unbeaten Allmankind has looked impressive in beating several other contenders en route to here, improving all the time, but he can be headstrong and that may not help him too much.

The solid one, and potentially an absolute monster, is another horse who’s unbeaten in three in the shape of Gary Moore’s Goshen.  The style, the form and the times of his wins on soft and heavy ground stand out so with more improvement obviously to come he looks a solid bet to land the opener under Jamie Moore.

2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – ADJALI

26 runners with just 17lbs separating them, this is a hugely competitive affair and not one any serious punter could be 100% confident about.

That said, Nicky Henderson’s Adjali is fresh from a break and a breathing operation having underperformed on his seasonal debut back in November and a lot more is expected of him now.

On past form and with progression expected he looks very well handicapped for this and is good value to score ahead of Stolen Silver and Ciel De Neige.

2.50 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – THYME HILL

Earlier in the season trainer Philip Hobbs was out to prove Thyme Hill was the best novice in the country and he is about to get the chance to prove his point.

There is top-class form on show from Latest Exhibition, Monkfish and Ramses De Teillee and any of those could enter the battle, but Richard Johnson’s mount just can’t be ignored.

As well as being three from three this season and crying out for this trip, he was an admirable third in the Champion Bumper last season over in inadequate distance.

There he was just 2½ lengths behind Envoi Allen, still unbeaten and Wednesday’s Ballymore Novices’ winner, and more than 3 lengths ahead of Abacadabras who was beaten just a head in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – SANTINI

Much has been said of Gold Cup winners not being able to come back and land the race for a second time, but that is simply not true and so with a similar preparation and his form not in doubt many will be banking on a repeat for 2019 hero Al Boum Photo.

He certainly has an obvious chance, however the race broke up last year with fallers and he is not guaranteed to have things open up so easily for him this time, though strictly on form he is the no.1 contender still.

Arguments have raged on social media in recent weeks about the fact that Santini should not be among the favourites as he hasn’t won a Grade 1 chase, but that simply isn’t how form works.

Regardless of what he has or hasn’t beaten or for that matter how slow he apparently is, he is the improver in this pack who is peaking at the right time and who so far has not been asked to produce his very best, until today that is.

His Cotswold Chase win puts him within about 5lbs of what is required and so with more to come from him, much more potentially, he can prove his point for trainer Nicky Henderson and does still strike us as a potential Gold Cup winner.

If putting a disappointing run behind him then Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation could have a say in the finish here given that much like Santini we have not been allowed to see the best of him yet, while former favourite for this race Presenting Percy and many people’s fancy Delta Work may only prove good enough to fight for place money.

4.10 (Foxhunter Challenge Cup) – HAZEL HILL

As an improving eight-year-old trained by Willie Mullins it has been Billaway who has been the subject of most whispers in advance of this race, but it could be argued the form of this yard hasn’t been what people expected thus far and he does need to improve a fair chunk to win.

Ahead of him is Minella Rocco for Jonjo O’Neill who comes into this on a hat-trick, but his Cheltenham form hasn’t always been the best which could leave the door open for last year’s winner Hazel Hill.

Even taking into account the fact he may be 2-3lbs worse than twelve months ago, probably just due to age, he ranks as the best in this race which makes his price seem rather generous.

4.50 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – LISP

As expected plenty of these are within a few pounds of each other on adjusted ratings, common for such a big handicap, but the one who could creep out of the pack and prove to be better treated than the rest is Alan King’s Lisp.

Extremely consistent this season and having taken one win on soft ground, he has been crying out for a proper race and the pace of this contest will therefore bring out the very best in him.

Gordon Elliott’s Chosen Mate is interesting as are the Paul Nicholls pair Greaneteen and Capeland.

5.30 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) – THE BOSSES OSCAR

The last race of the whole festival and one final chance to get one over on the bookies!  The mare Indefatigable is not out of this at a huge price while Pileon is clearly improving, but the standout contender for us is Gordon Elliott’s The Bosses Oscar and he is backed to round things off perfectly for another year.