A few favourites went in early on day one of the meeting and it’s hoped punters have another good day today at Cheltenham, the feature races this time being the Grade 2 International Hurdle and the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase.
12.10 (Triumph Hurdle Trial Juvenile Hurdle – 2m1f) – BOTOX HAS
Whether or not he will ultimately prove good enough to challenge for the Triumph Hurdle itself remains open to some doubt, but on this occasion Gary Moore’s Botox Has appears to have a very fair shout in this trial race.
Receiving 3lbs from two-time winner Langer Dan this time, Joshua Moore’s mount won at Fontwell on his British debut before running well in second in a Grade 2 Triumph Hurdle trial here recently and he should have enough ability to see off most of this field comfortably enough, with the possible exception of Irish raider Tremwedge who remains of interest in this sort of grade.
12.45 (2m 4½f Novices’ Chase) – MISTER FISHER
All things being equal, this race could come down to likely market leaders Mister Fisher and Good Boy Bobby, with the former being favoured this time.
Nicky Henderson’s 5-year-old has had just the one chase start, finishing runner-up to Torpillo over two miles at Warwick which is good form, and it’s thought he should progress rather well now going up in trip and that’s something which gives him the edge at these weights.
Good Boy Bobby, carrying a penalty for his Wetherby win, shouldn’t be far away while Beakstown is probably best of the rest.
1.20 (2m½f Handicap Chase) – BALLYWOOD
This is a very tight one to call between two outstanding challengers, and while it’s expected that there will be a bigger weight of money behind Destrier, who ran a cracker to finish third in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time out, we are happy to take a chance on Ballywood of Alan King’s yard.
Himself third at Ascot last time, while Ballywood was beaten a long way in the end the bare result doesn’t tell the full story and so we think the performance can be upgraded somewhat. As a 5-year-old it could also be argued that he has more improvement to come that Destrier, giving him the edge, while old-timer Croco Bay could once again make himself competitive and is taken to sneak into a place.
1.55 (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – Grade 3) – NOT THAT FUISSE
It goes without saying that our feature race, a £130,000 handicap, is hugely competitive but that usually means it’s best to look for one who could be very well-handicapped and we have that in the shape of Dan Skelton’s Not That Fuisse.
The 6-year-old did well here earlier in the season over two miles but it’s felt he’ll be better off over this sort of distance and it’s hoped, as is so often the case, that even more of an effort will be coaxed out of him now that he’s in a handicap and not a slowly-run novice event.
Only a young chaser, this being his fourth run and second around Cheltenham, he has a ton of potential and based on his close form with Al Dancer, his official rating of 131 may well have underestimated his abilities and so he is taken to land this ahead of Knocknanuss and Good Man Pat.
2.30 (Bristol Novices’ Hurdle – 3m – Grade 2) – CHAMPAGNE WELL
Once again things look close in this high-level Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle trial for the Festival in March, but while we like the chances of Igor in big races to come, he is not certain by all accounts to thrive over the full three miles and so on this occasion the percentage call is Fergal O’Brien’s Champagne Well.
Having landed a huge gamble here in October, the locally-trained horse came back to finish second to Thyme Hill last month in an improved showing and it’s felt that he has not finished progressing yet. This extra three furlongs could unlock yet more and so he gets the shout at reasonable odds, with Mossy Fen and Valtor perhaps getting into things too.
3.05 (International Hurdle – 2m1f – Grade 2) – CALL ME LORD
Nicky Henderson has an extremely strong hand here and while his unbeaten dual Grade 1 winner Pentland Hills is very much the better fancied among the public and bookmakers going into the weekend, his more experienced Call Me Lord could just be the shrewd call.
Getting 3lbs from his younger stablemate, Call Me Lord as well as being largely consistent probably already boasts the best form in this field given that it has been achieved not just in juvenile company, while he also appears to be getting quicker as he gets older.
Having won over 2m5½f before, he came right back to this sort of trip for the Imperial Cup last season in which he was third, before returning in Ascot’s Grade 2 Coral Hurdle where he was runner-up.
His form is solid and reliable and he can be backed at nice prices to tough this out ahead of his teammate Pentland Hills, and perhaps the returning Ch’tibello who remains of interest.
3.40 (2m4½f Mares’ Handicap Hurdle) – DAME DE COMPAGNIE
This is a very competitive race on paper to finish off the card, but it’s one in which Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty could team up to win once again for JP McManus with this 6-year-old mare Dame De Compagnie who is on the comeback trail.
Having had some significant time off the track, she returned last time with a thoroughly decent fifth in the Greatwood Hurdle last month and she can kick on from that now to record a first victory in 20 months since scoring in a Listed race around this track in April 2018.
In behind the competition is numerous with JP’s other horse in the race, 4-year-old Vision Du Puy likely to go well, along with another Nicky Henderson mare in Lust For Glory.