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.