12:10 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial
Botox Has ran well in defeat behind the mightily impressive Allmankind over C&D last month. That race looked the strongest juvenile contest of the season so far and off the back of that effort. Repetitio, third in that event, also gave that form a boost by winning a competitive handicap here yesterday. Langer Dan is two from two from this season, including in Listed company at Wetherby last time, so looks to rank as the main danger, whilst flat recruit Group Stage won at Ludlow on his hurdles debut and isn’t completely ruled out, though probably needs a clear step forward to compete here. The most interesting hurdles debutant is Mick Easterby’s Lanark Silver Bell hero Elysian Flame, who was last seen when finishing second to very talented Hamish at York in September. If a similar level of ability is shown on his first start over obstacles, he’s certainly got a chance of making the frame.
12:45 Ryman Novices’ Chase
A very tidy novice chase this, and one where cases can be made for most of the field.
Beakstown was a horse I really liked as a novice hurdler last season and looks every inch a chasing type, but seemingly hasn’t found the transition to the bigger obstacles as smooth as one may have first thought. I’ve not been impressed with his jumping so far though, as rather than stepping over his obstacles as a horse his size may have been able to it, he’s actually looked rather cumbersome, as if he’s found it hard to get all of his big frame from one side of a fence to another. That being said, it was probably an improved round at Newbury last time compared to his bow at Wetherby, so there is reason to be hopeful that he’s starting to put things together, though he might end up a little bit of a longer term project for the Skeltons.
Mister Fisher was a similar level to Beakstown over the smaller obstacles and made a pleasing start to his chasing career behind Torpillo at Warwick last time. The collateral form line through third-placed Lisp is working out well, and though he’s worth a crack at this step up in trip, it would be a slight concern for me, as he’s only ever raced over the minimum trip and looked every way a speed horse in victory at Kempton and Haydock last season.
We may not have yet hit the ceiling of Good Boy Bobby’s talent yet, and he’s my selection in this. I was mightily impressed by how hard he made Brewin’upastorm work on his chasing debut at Carlisle, the pair pulling well clear from useful types including Midnight Shadow and Global Citizen, before gaining his first chase win in facile manner at Wetherby last time out. This race doesn’t represent a step up in grade from the ones he’s been acquitting himself well in, so I think he’s the one they have to beat.
Winning pointer Champagne Platinum was thrown in at the deep in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival after winning his first two rules starts, but given the lofty reputation he seemingly holds at Seven Barrows, is one to file under the “could be anything” bracket.
1:20 Cheltenham Club Handicap Chase
Top weight Destrier finished last season in Grade 1 company at Aintree and put in a pleasing reappearance when not beaten far into third
Shock Grand Annual winner Croco Bay was in the form of his life last season, and followed up his Festival heroics with another good effort at the Punchestown Festival. Age isn’t on his side, but it’s hard to rule him if in the same heart as he was when finishing last season.
At the other end of the age scale is the equally likeable five-year-old Ballywood, who was consistent last campaign and returned in a similar vein when third behind borderline Graded quality performers in Capeland and Diego Du Charmil at Ascot. He’s young enough to have a little bit more for improvement from his mark of 148, so is the pick in this, though the mare The Bay Birch, a winner at Chepstow in October, also merits a mention down in trip.
1:55 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase
The feature handicap of the meeting is always a competitive betting heat, and this season’s renewal is no different. Antepost favourite Riders Onthe Storm has been well supported during the week (as short as 7-2 in places) and it’s easy to the case for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding. His novice form in Ireland last season was useful for Tom Taaffe and he could barely have been impressive on his stable debut at Aintree and his position at the head of the market looked justified, despite racing this time off a 10lb higher mark. He now misses the race, officially due to an infection, though an “admin error” has now been blamed by Twiston-Davies.
He would’ve been reopposed by Cepage, who was only a length and a quarter behind the him at Aintree last time and runs here on more favourable terms. Venetia Williams’ representative went down to a top class rival in last year’s renewal of this contest when runner up to Frodon. There shouldn’t be anything of that calibre in here, and Cepage has held his form well in this sort of event for the best part of two seasons. He’s well respected off top weight.
Brelan D’as and Warthog, both placed in the BetVictor Gold Cup, also merit consideration. Of the pair, I’d prefer Brelan D’As, who looked to be a stronger stayer than Warthog last time and has a good record at Cheltenham. I don’t think he’s particularly poorly off at the weights and given his effort last time, it could be fair to suggest he could find another couple of pounds of improvement over this intermediate distance, so is a tentative selection.
Others to consider include the second season chasers Secret Investor, a dual Grade 2 winner last season who ran fairly well on seasonal return behind the classy Real Steel at Down Royal, and Clondaw Castle, who came close to denying Diego Du Charmil with a late rally and in that now infamous event at Ascot in October. Novice Not That Fuisse makes his handicap debut here- he was a similar level to this over hurdles and made a pleasing start to his chasing career, but his effort last time, albeit over a trip shorter than ideal, was disappointing enough for me now to have a doubt about him.
2:30 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Favourite Champagne Well has already ran well here at Cheltenham twice this season, having taking a Grade 2 here in October before putting up another creditable effort when runner up to Thyme Hill last month. He’s a useful yardstick, and has experience of better races than this, including when sixth in the Sefton at Aintree, though whether he’s quite got the scope of some of the less exposed types in this is up for debate. Nevertheless, he sets a good standard, and is the one they all have to improve past on hurdles form for man of the moment Fergal O’Brien.
Fellow second-season novice Igor broke his maiden in a traditionally hot contest at Ascot last time, though on the basis of what he’s actually achieved, also looks short enough in the betting.
Valtor is better known as a chaser (rated as high as 160 over the bigger obstacles), but made a winning debut over hurdles when defeating previous winner Redford Road at Ascot last month. He should be suited by the return to three miles, and we already know possess an above average level of raw ability, so at the prices, I prefer him to to those who head him in the betting.
My pick, though, is Mossy Fen, who also possesses a different sort of profile to those ahead of him in the market, as a winning Irish pointer, but I’ve been quite taken with in his two starts under rules so far. The form of his wins at Worcester and Aintree have substance to them, and in my opinion, he’s shaped like an out-and-out stayer, which is vital for a horse tackling this sort of test this early in his career.
3:05 Unibet International Hurdle
Last season’s leading juvenile Pentland Hills bids to get his senior hurdling career off to a flyer in this Grade 2 event. His form is working out nicely as well, with Coeur Sublime and Fakir D’Oudairies, both vanquished by Pentland Hills at major Festivals last year, having been impressive so far this season, but I’d say Pentland Hills’ price of 6-4 looks short enough, given that this looks an up to scratch renewal of the International and clear cases can be made for several of his rivals. That’s not to knock Pentland Hills, whose attitude is first rate and is clearly entirely different proposition to the one who was knocking around in Class 5 handicaps from Chris Wall on the flat, but he wouldn’t be the first four year old to find life difficult against senior hurdlers and I wouldn’t be so sure he has as much in hand against the opposition here as the betting suggests he does.
We know a lot more about Ch’tibello, who ended last season in flying form, winning the County Hurdle at the Festival before emerging with great credit when placed in the Aintree Hurdle. He’s a former Scottish Champion Hurdler and three times been runner up in open company at this level, as well as being given a crack at the Champion Hurdle itself in 2018. These waters are obvious calmer and he’s probably about as good as his current OR of 157 suggest- if he runs to it, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t, it’s easy to see him taking this, given he’s been such a solid operator in the division in arguably stronger seasons.
Call Me Lord is an interesting runner, given that prior to this, connections had considered going right-handed a prerequisite to him running well. He went down fighting to If The Cap Fits at Ascot on his last start, the pair pulling well clear of Lil Rockerfeller. He didn’t look short of pace when skipping clear that day, but it wasn’t a case of Call Me Lord being clearly outstayed at Ascot, if anything it went some way to confirming that he should be as good over this short of a trip as he is over further, where his best form comes. Obviously, the question is whether he’s as versatile course wise as he appears to be trip wise, but the fact he’s been given an entry at Cheltenham when connections had seemingly been putting it off for such a long time could be seen as a vote of confidence in his favour. If taking to the track, I’d consider him the one to beat.
Elixir Du Nutz was a likeable, hardy novice hurdler last season and gained a Grade One victory in the Tolworth, though I didn’t think it looked the strongest of renewals at the time, and the form hasn’t exactly sparkled since. I wonder whether he’s got the gears to compete at this level in company.
Monsieur Lecoq, Gumball and Le Patriote have progressed into leading two-mile handicappers and merit a crack at this grade, given that there isn’t an obvious standout leader in the division. Though I’d be surprised if any of these were good enough to win, they would all act as a good barometer of how far ahead the leaders in a frail looking division are from the chasing pack.
3:40 olbg.com Mares’ Handicap Hurdle
The market is headed by Dame De Compagnie, who won in Listed company over C&D on her penultimate start back in April 2018. She missed all of last season, but showed her ability remained intact when fifth in the Greatwood last month. The return to this trip should be a help, and I think she ranks as the most likely winner.
Vision Du Puy could be the joker in the pack, though. A winner on her first two starts at Auteuil and Perth, she still looked short of experience when third in a Listed event to Lady Buttons at Wetherby last time. She makes a handicap debut off a mark of 134, whilst Indefatigable, runner up in that Wetherby race, is top weight in this and is another to hold a chance.
Others to consider include the novice Queens Cave, a smart bumper performer who bumped into the talented Silver Forever at Chepstow on her penultimate start and then justified her odds-on price when winning at Exeter last time, and Nicky Henderson’s Lust For Glory, who returned in good form against the geldings when second to Not So Sleepy in a tidy race at Ascot.
Good Boy Bobby
Call Me Lord
Dame De Compagnie