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.