Friday, 21 October 2022

Cheltenham Showcase Meeting Day One: 21st October 2022 - Season Begins on a Gathering Storm

Cheltenham is back!

The Showcase Meeting, particularly Friday of course, is a rather low-key start to the season at the home of National Hunt racing, but nevertheless this place is special and always hands us a betting opportunity or two.

We go through the seven-race card on Friday, beginning with the conditionals in the opening race:

1.35 (Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ELHAM VALLEY

This opening contest run over the extended two miles is a real lottery at first glance. We’d imagine not too many serious bets will be going in, unless they come from within a yard that knows something, so from our point of view it’s about playing the percentages.

At this time of year race fitness may play a key role. Of the leading contenders on the numbers, Elham Valley is the best of those with a recent run having finished second at Southwell in September.

His trainer Fergal O’Brien tends to do well in these early-season Cheltenham meetings too and it may be that the five-year-old is prepped to perfection. Jack Hogan claims six.

2.10 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – ASH TREE MEADOW

Given the forecast fast ground for these novices, especially over two miles, those with some proven speed may be at an advantage in this race and that is certainly the case with Ash Tree Meadow.

As well as having the obvious toe this runner has the best form in the race, even at the weights, is trained by Gordon Elliott who brings him over from Ireland, he has the assistance of Davy Russell in the saddle and at six he’s not the oldest in the line-up and he has more improvement to come.

All of that makes him a fair shout for this race.

2.45 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – SHE IS ELECTRIC

Gordon Elliott has another outstanding chance here in the shape of likely favourite Music Drive and of course, we don’t know how good that one could be over hurdles just yet.

That’s for the future, but as for today fellow Irish raider She is Electric may just have the experience and toughness, as well as the speed, to take care of this field and land a hat-trick going up in trip.

3.20 (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – Class 3) – HANG IN THERE

This is a very close field with only about 1½ points in the betting separating all five runners at the time of writing.

The fairly obvious but nevertheless solid betting choice is Emma Lavelle’s Hang In There. An eight-year-old, the son of Yeats has been kept quite busy throughout the warmer months, winning his last four races.

True, those races have been weak and they were all small fields, however he has done things ever so easily and by an aggregate of some 88 lengths and so we’ve no idea if the handicapper has got close to finding the true rating for him. It’s possible he remains well in.

A case can be made for all of the other four; Tullybeg, Pull Again Green, Champagne Gold and Found On, with the latter also on a solid winning run.

3.55 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ONAGATHERINGSTORM

This two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle really should be competitive and, according to this year’s betting, it is.

Thirteen of them line up, headed by good old stick Coole Cody who has been prepared to attempt to add to his 4 wins, 2 seconds and a third at the course he loves.

The popular eleven-year-old certainly made our shortlist but, regardless of how well trainers do with such types, it cannot be argued that they go backwards and not forwards at this age and so we cannot judge him on his very best form.

Francky Du Berlais is an interesting contender, one that may be just peaking now over hurdles having done so well at Bangor in August.

Spanish Present has been the one for money since the final declarations came through having won his second hurdle start so impressively, but the one we’re plumping for is another Fergal O’Brien runner in the shape of Onagatheringstorm.

The seven-year-old skipped quickly to a rating of 131 and in the fulness of time he will surely achieve more than that.

Owing to a couple of under-par runs however, he gets in here off 129 but after a wind operation it may be he’s fresh and ready to produce his best, a best that at these weights would see him be too good under Paddy Brennan.

4.30 (Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – ON SPRINGS

At around 5/1+ the field and with a maximum field of 20 taking part under amateur jockeys, this race too is an extremely difficult one from a punting point of view.

No very strong view can be taken, that’s for sure, so once again it is wise from a betting standpoint to simply try to cover a few bases and see which horse ticks the most boxes.

In the top half of the betting, in the top three on speed ratings (considering the quick ground), having been in the first two for 50% of his races and having won his last three means On Springs is the horse with the most ticks.

Ben Pauling’s runner has been very progressive overall going over the larger obstacles and there’s no reason that, as a seven-year-old, he is finished improving yet so he gets the nod.

5.05 (Maiden Hurdle – Class 3) – HULLNBACK

There are 12 runners in the finale, but frankly a number of them give us nothing to go on.

Assuming there are no nasty 66/1 surprises ready to shock us and thrill the bookmakers, it seems the race may come down to Fergal O’Brien’s Hullnback, Milton Harris’s Twinjets and Gordon Elliott’s An Mhi.

All three have good credentials in the context of this event. Hullnback and Twinjets achieved a very similar level in their respective bumpers at Aintree and Haydock in the spring.

The former may just about be the better animal, though it is a tentative selection.

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