Some early markers could be put down on day two of The Showcase for next year’s Cheltenham Festival, several of today’s runners seemingly possessing plenty of improvement for the season ahead.
Once again, we have a selection in all seven races on the card beginning with the extended two-mile opening affair.
1.45 (Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – SAMARRIVE
Not many National Hunt yards will prepare their runners for a seasonal opener after a long break as well as that of Paul Nicholls’, his Samarrive looking capable of landing this race under Lorcan Williams.
The four-year-old has plenty of learning to do, but on this genuine surface he shouldn’t struggle too much even under 11st11lbs, while his wins at Angers in France and at Kempton in April showed that he has tons of talent.
He landed the odds comfortably by 13 lengths last time and there is no telling where his ceiling is. Fergal O’Brien’s Samba Dancer is a solid second choice, while Ingleby Hollow for Rebecca Menzies and Gordon Elliott’s overpriced Uncle Henry may also go well.
2.20 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – COOL MIX
Cool Mix is a tentative choice in this 3m1f handicap chase for Iain Jardine, though all being well the lightly-weighted nine-year-old can make the 520-mile roundtrip worthwhile for the yard.
Connor O’Farrell takes the ride as usual on the grey, the pair last season having won at Wetherby over 2m3½f before being placed in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle over three miles and running fifth in the Scottish Grand National. He’s an improving stayer overall and looks too big a price at double-figure odds.
There is plenty of opposition however. Jersey Bean (Oliver Sherwood), Just Your Type (Charlie Longsdon), Domaine De L’Isle (Sean Curran), Shoal Bay (Colin Tizzard) and potential market leaders Storm Control (Kerry Lee) and Cloth Cap (Jonjo O’Neill) all have chances, so stakes should be kept to a minimum.
2.55 (Class 2 Hurdle) – STEPNEY CAUSEWAY
Unfortunately, this extended two-mile hurdle has cut up badly with just four left in at the final declaration stage. The small field however accentuates the need for a turn of foot, something that drew us to Stepney Causeway earlier in the week and he is backed to score for Dan and Harry Skelton.
Most of the money in the ring should go the way of Adonis winner and Triumph Hurdle fifth Tritonic, perhaps amazingly handing us a backable price on the selection.
Despite the favourite’s Festival appearance, it could be said that Stepney Causeway has more experience now having had five hurdle starts to Tritonic’s three. They are both four-year-olds however, meaning our boy potentially has as much improvement in him as his rival.
He’s already reached a similar level to the market leader too, but gets a more than handy weight pull of 8lbs. I Like To Move It is the other serious contender but needs to take a step forward.
3.30 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – BEFORE MIDNIGHT
Sky Pirate has been the one for money this week in this two-mile race, Jonjo O’Neill’s runner having landed the Grand Annual at the Festival back in March.
He may not be at his absolute sharpest on his seasonal bow however, something that off topweight he’ll need to be and so there is arguably value elsewhere.
Chiefly that value comes in the form of Sam Thomas’ Before Midnight. The eight-year-old gelding has shown a real liking for good ground, has the pace needed for the Old Course, and up to his season closer in April had shown a pattern in seven chase starts of almost constant improvement.
Leapaway is next on our list, ahead of the aforementioned Sky Pirate and the JP McManus runner Belargus.
4.05 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – PANIC ATTACK
This three-mile event is an important qualifier for the Pertemps Series, the 15-runner field being indicative of that.
Plenty are in with chances then but balancing up general form, fitness, speed between the hurdles, the potential for further improvement and value at the prices, most of our boxes were ticked by David Pipe’s Panic Attack.
After winning at Uttoxeter and Newbury, Panic Attack finished last season off with a fine second at Aintree and at five years old she surely has plenty more to offer up after her break. That effort was her first after a breathing operation and more is expected this year.
Tullybeg and Born Patriot are two Irish-trained horses bound to attract cash in the ring, while Nicky Henderson’s Haul Away comes into the race on a hat-trick and naturally cannot be ignored.
4.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – DOES HE KNOW
There are just the five runners for the three-mile novice chase, Kim Bailey’s Does He Know not being the biggest price in the world but looking the most solid of the quintet.
After an eight-race hurdling career that featured three wins and two seconds, Does He Know began chasing in fine style earlier this month with a simple five-and-a-half-length win at Chepstow over a trip just short of three miles.
He beat an odds-on shot of Paul Nicholls’ that day, a horse who’d finished hurdling with a record of four wins from 5 runs.
He didn’t have to get into top gear that day to score either, so with that in mind and seeing the sort of speed figures he clocked in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival it would seem there is a pretty big step forward to come. Roi De Dubai was next on the list.
5.15 (Open National Hunt Flat Race – Class 2) – OCEAN OF MERCY
Watch the betting throughout Saturday as there is always more knowledge held by trainers than punters in early-season bumpers, but on what we know so far Ocean Of Mercy looks the most solid option here.
Trained in County Kilkenny by Paul Hennessy, Ocean Of Mercy was only just held on his bumper debut at Navan in September at odds of 40/1. Shuil Donn may be another strong contender.