Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Cheltenham New Year’s Day Fixture Cancelled Due to Waterlogging

Cheltenham’s popular New Year’s Day fixture has been abandoned after a huge 145mm of rain fell on the track over the last month, causing waterlogging in places.

The card was due to feature the Relkeel Hurdle, a Grade 2 affair, as well as the Dipper Novices’ Chase at the same level and up to now there appear to be no plans to reschedule the meeting.

Whether the two big races can be rerouted to another track also remains a mystery at this point, but racing at Cheltenham was finally abandoned after a course inspection on Wednesday when clerk of the course Simon Claisse realised the track was in an unraceable state.

Trials Day Next for Cheltenham

Up to Tuesday night there was still hope of the New Year’s Day meeting going ahead, however with no improvement in the weather overnight and freezing conditions forecast it left two specific parts of the track waterlogged and in no shape to host racing.

Cheltenham are next due to put on a meeting on January 30, the Festival Trials Day fixture, which track officials are still hopeful for.

Trials Day is an important next step for many horses en-route to the Festival in March, the day being due to feature a Triumph Hurdle Trial, the Cleeve Hurdle and the Costwold Chase which could help to shape the Gold Cup market.

TV Changes as COVID Fears Also Loom Large

Cheltenham was due to be the centrepiece of terrestrial TV coverage as we see 2021 in. The loss of the fixture at Prestbury Park means ITV Racing have had to move quickly to switch things around, with Exeter and Musselburgh now thrown more into focus while dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo’s return to the track will also feature at Tramore in Ireland.

Recently the whole Gloucestershire area has seen a record rise in coronavirus cases too. Not unexpectedly but disappointingly all the same the county, specifically Gloucester, Forest of Dean, the Cotswolds, Tewksbury, Stroud and of course Cheltenham itself have been thrown into Tier 4 by the government.

A full national lockdown is now feared which could put the Cheltenham Festival into doubt, at least as far as crowds being there are concerned, and the memory of many members of the public blaming the 2020 extravaganza going ahead for the first outbreak is still fresh.

It is very much hoped that the Tier 4 restrictions now imposed alongside the rollout of the new vaccine will lead to things improving before the next meeting at the end of January, as time ticks down to March 16 and the beginning of the next Festival.

Friday, 11 December 2020

International Meeting Day Two: Saturday 12th December 2020 - Goshen to Make Big Statement About Champion Credentials

Day two of the International meeting should be a cracker, here’s our take on all seven races.

12.05 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Class 2) – ELHAM VALLEY

There is so little to choose between the three main entrants here; Adagio, Son Of Red and Elham Valley.

The first two finished within a neck of each other on good ground at Newcastle, and while Adagio now gets a 3lb pull and has progressed further with a second place around here in a Grade 2 since, it could be that Son Of Red just needed more cut in the ground and so turning the placings around can’t be ruled out.

The value shout theough is the third-favourite at the time of writing, Fergal O’Brien’s Elham Valley. A good winner on his National Hunt debut at Sandown only a week ago, his trainer clearly feels he is fresh and well and he could really strike while the iron’s hot under Connor Brace.

12.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – FUSIL RAFFLES

A small race which in itself makes it a difficult one to assess, given the potential lack of pace and the need for tactics.

Chantry House is the odds-on favourite here after an easy chase debut win, but even giving 3lbs away to him his stablemate Fusil Raffles may be the smart bet.

He himself made an impressive chase debut, and while he’s had more of a chance to strut his stuff than Chantry House, he has not been allowed to stride out over this sort of distance before (2m4f) and so it could be that there is plenty more improvement to come from him.

Quel Destin is best of the rest, but he’ll need to improve markedly on his debut over fences to win.

1.15 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – CAPELAND

There are number of questions to be answered by a few of the leading contenders here, but assuming he is once again reaching his peak then Paul Nicholls’ Capeland looks best in at the weights.

His top form from just a year ago would potentially have him winning this, and considering he’s been edging back towards that and would have got closer had he not hit the last fence at the Berkshire track last time out it looks like his time is coming.

The likes of Born Survivor for Dan Skelton, the overpriced Forest Bihan for Brian Ellison and likely favourite Ibleo for Venetia Williams also made the shortlist and must be considered.

1.50 (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – Grade 3) – GOOD BOY BOBBY

This is a fascinating, tight, tough and competitive renewal of a wonderful £105,000 race and in it we feel that at double-figure odds Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Good Boy Bobby could be the one.

Only outside of the first two over fences when taking part in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, Good Boy Bobby has outstanding credentials and at the very least looks to be way better than his official handicap mark of 146.

The trip and ground both look ideal for Daryl Jacob’s mount, he has strong form in the bag and has the sort of weight turnaround needed with Master Tommytucker who beat him at Haydock last time out.

Master Tommytucker indeed is another who could go strongly, albeit off top weight and in a race far different from the ones he has taken part in recently, while Al Dancer is another class act who should reach a place all being well.

Coole Cody comes into the race as the winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November and just needs to defy a 6lb rise to be right up there again, while Annie Mc is clearly underestimated and Windsor Avenue should appreciate the track and can put in a career high performance.

2.25 (Bristol Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – MAKE GOOD

The likes of Wynn House and Danny Kirwan are solid enough contenders here, while Ask A Honey Bee could conceivably improve enough to take a hand in the finish too.

The two horses who stick out though based in their sharp upward trajectory are Dan Skelton’s Ashtown Lad and John McConnell’s Make Good.

The latter, trained in Ireland, won ever so easily last time out and shapes like a horse who will not only get better still, but will also appreciate this race distance as well as the terrain. Make Good is also a great value price which makes him attractive and so he is ultimately given the nod.

3.00 (International Hurdle – Grade 2) – GOSHEN

There are too many horses to mention in this feature race of the meeting who are in with some degree of a winning chance, giving the event a proper look which means in turn the form will be worth noting for the rest of the season.

Ch’tibello was a beaten favourite last time but steps down in trip for this race, and while he could yet get back to his County Hurdle winning best, he is on a long losing run and a top Grade 2 doesn’t seem the place to break that duck at least on first viewing.

Silver Streak is admirably consistent and chased Epatante home last season at the highest level, though his standout performance you could argue was at a flat Kempton Park on good ground and so this will be plenty different.

Song For Someone is a young improver and a Grade 2 winner, but we cannot ignore how good Goshen looked in March’s Triumph Hurdle before famously and spectacularly unseating at the last and he may be the class act still.

Gary Moore has said his horse essentially needs to win this if he’s to go for the Champion Hurdle, and while he is very young, he is the one to beat.

3.35 (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – MIAH GRACE

Jedd O’Keeffe is not one to send a mare down from Yorkshire just for the day out, and there’s no doubt that his Miah Grace has the best credentials in this race at the weights.

The White Mouse is worth considering for the places too, while popular Festival winner Indefatigable comes back to her favourite track but may need a weight-for-age race now to be shown at her best.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

International Meeting Day One: Friday 11th December 2020 - Dolos to Advertise Festival Claims

It’s day one of Cheltenham’s International meeting on Friday, one in which we now have an extended eight-race card following the rightful decision of the BHA to add the Peterborough Chase to the line-up following Huntingdon’s unfortunate cancellation last Sunday.

11.30 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 3) – ANY NEWS

Neil Mulholland’s Any News may end up going off favourite for the opening race after his two winning runs this season, one in a bumper and one in a maiden hurdle, but he is backable at anything above even-money given the relative strength of his form.

That forms beats what we’ve seen from his rivals in this race so far, though they are of course all open to significant improvement, while conditions underfoot look to be ideal for him.

Those rivals include Paul Nicholls’ recent winner Lucky One, second on our list, while Lord Baddesley and Make Me A Believer have a little more to do on the book but anything remains possible with such a young and inexperienced bunch.

12.05 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – HAPPYGOLUCKY

An interesting race, one that will take some winning over this three-mile, one-and-a-half-furlong trip considering these lot are still novices.

Among them is the keenly priced Happygolucky of Kim Bailey’s yard. The six-year-old gelding, a winner on his chase debut in October, was beaten at odds-on last time but we feel that he is not best judged on that effort.

Given that general improvement is expected now that he is back in favourable conditions, he can just about land this ahead of the returning Fabulous Saga, Exeter winner L’Air Du Vent and The Mighty Don.

12.40 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – SARASOTA STAR

There are plenty in with chances here in this competitive handicap hurdle, despite the lowly prize money on offer for a race at this track.

Possible favourite Tegerek looks pretty solid, as does the inimitable Fergal O’Brien’s runner Benny’s Bridge who will know his way around here without being steered.

The two to have caught the eye most however at the weights are Dan Skelton’s Crook’s Peak and Carlisle winner Sarasota Star, the lightly-weighted four-year-old getting the nod given his liking for a testing track such as this.

1.15 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – AGENT VALDEZ

This has been a difficult mares’ handicap chase to assess, at least on the whole, which if anything adds strength to our selection Agent Valdez who seems to be the only one progressing in large amounts.

Fergal O’Brien knows exactly what is needed at these Cheltenham meetings, and it is germane to note that this mare won by miles on a galloping track last time out and will love it here.

True, that was over a little further, but Agent Valdez made all there and clearly has the pace to lay up over this two-and-a-half miles, with any more improvement from her surely seeing her being too good at these weights.

Arian, Black Tulip and Bit On The Side look to be the best of the rest to us.

1.50 (Peterborough Chase – Grade 2) – DOLOS

A rather unexpected ‘feature’ race and one that is gratefully received. There is plenty of competition here despite the smallish eight-runner field, with no shortage of class albeit one or two are tasked with rediscovering their best form somewhat.

Top Notch could yet be just that, Fanion D’Estruval will be very popular and many people’s favourite chaser Kalashnikov could come right back to form now in these conditions after a spin over hurdles.

It would be great to see Amy Murphy’s boy win, but the true class in the race may yet be Dolos and it’s the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding who gets the vote.

Twice a winner of the same two-mile race at Sandown to prove his liking for rain-softened ground and a galloping track, he has also put up a very bold show over this 2½-mile trip and is a winner over 2¼.

He ran OK when fourth in a handicap chase on his reappearance and should be much sharper and better now, with the quality of this field also potentially bringing the very best out of him under Harry Cobden.

2.25 (Unibet Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – COURT MAID

There should be plenty of money floating around for Commodore, Potters Legend, Black Corton and Storm Control, but at best they are very close at the weights and at worst can be described as much of a muchness.

That’s not to be unkind as this is a high-quality race, but the one that potentially has a fair bit of weight in hand and thus has been sent over from Ireland by Thomas Mullins is Court Maid, therefore making the seven-year-old mare is favoured by us.

Her chasing form figures are 1141, the defeat being on bottomless ground which she will not encounter here, and there is no telling where the bottom of her is making appear still well-in in the handicap. David Mullins rides.

3.00 (Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – STEP BACK

Without Easysland this race has been opened right up, but even had the French horse been in the line-up at these weights he would have had his work cut out.

Course and distance winner Kingswell Theatre should once again show up well, as should runner-up behind him Beau Du Brizais.

Neverushacon has attracted money and may well be favourite, but goes better in heavy ground and was well beaten in the Cross Country at the Festival.

On a hat-trick now though is former bet365 Gold Cup winner Step Back, who should handle conditions, likes this trip and has all the class needed to carry top weight to victory under Nico de Boinville.

3.35 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – COME ON TEDDY

We close with another competitive and close-looking handicap event, this time a decent hurdle over three miles. We can’t be overly confident about anything in this line-up, but a tentative selection is Tom George’s Come On Teddy who was improving no end in between races last season and has now had a pipe-opener.