This weekend in November is always on to treasure and enjoy. Three days worth of top-class jump racing at the home of the jumps- Cheltenham, giving clues for the big four days in March.
On the first day of the meeting, we were treated to a thrilling finish in the novices’ chase, the fourth race on the card, with four of the five finishers crossing the line within a length of each other. Court Meribel survived a horrific blunder at the second last to prevail by a head, in a race full of clues for the future. The Cross Country Chase is always a spectacle and eleven year old Jossies Orders obliged to land the spoils as the 2/1 favourite. Grand National winner Tiger Roll finished a creditable fourth and it was a good run to get him ready for the rest of the season. Another race for the future was the Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Grade Two) which was won very impressively by Coolanly. He is likely to go to the Ballymore in March and has to be one to watch.
The BetVictor Gold Cup is the big race of the Saturday of the Open Meeting. It is raced over two miles four furlongs and the maximum field of twenty runners are set to go to post.
Splash Of Ginge won this last year and comes here off the back of a run like last year. He was a good fifth in a hurdle race earlier in the month. He won this off 134 last year and is 7lbs higher than then after a really good second in a grade three at the Cheltenham Festival. He has won off higher (145) before and carries the same in-running weigh as last year. He is getting on a bit now and it may be worth looking for a younger horse.
Mister Whitaker is a six year old and has won his last three races in good style, two in Listed company, and goes off a career high mark of 152. He won at the Festival last year with Rather Be and Ballyhill behind him. He looks the one with the biggest futures and is a very progressive type. Frodon has won ten times despite being a six year old and it looks like his weight will unravel his chances as he has to carry 11st12lbs. On bare form, he is one of the best horses in the line-up. He is penalised for a good grade two win last time out when he beat Javert into second by just over a length. That horse was only having his second start since May 2016 having won at Uttoxeter a month earlier. He could spring a surprise and has to be respected for the in-form Emma Lavelle yard, especially as he gets 11lbs from him.
Gary Moore, trainer of Benatar and Baron Alco, has been quoted saying he would prefer softer going for his pair and that is something they are unlikely to get. The former won a group two last season and then was third in the JLT. He was very disappointing fourth last time out but will come on for the run and can’t be ignored. Baron Alco was second in a race at the Festival in 2017 and hadn’t been seen for five hundred and seventy seven days when a very close second in October. He’ll come on for that and is a leading contender.
Happy Diva has been so consistent for the past two years and made a good reappearance run to be a two and a quarter length second behind Mister Whittaker. She looks progressive as well but will have to step up in order to get past Mister Whitaker, who she is getting 13lbs, including her jockey’s claim, from. Movewiththetimes showed lots of potential over fences last season but never managed to shed his novice tag. That could be a good thing though and open some more doors for him this season now he is more mature. He was a very short favourite last time out but unseated his rider but will be primed for this and I know lots of people who fancy him. He had previously been behind Kalondra in a novice chase over course and distance last year and Neil Mulholland was then upgraded to grade one company and beaten over fifty lengths with West Approach just behind him. Then, he was third over course and distance in April. He ran in a chase and fell, in August, and would probably have won if he hadn’t fallen.
Rather Be won a grade three hurdle at Aintree in 2017 beating some nice horses. He won two novice chases last season and then only lost out a head at Cheltenham to Mister Whitaker. The other horse has the benefit of a run already this season so he’ll probably struggle to reverse the form but gets 3lbs from him. West Approach‘s yard has been in fabulous form of late and he ran well on his reappearance.
David Pipe has two representatives- Eamon An Croic and King’s Socks. The former was highly tried in this grade, after landing a Plumpton Chase, in the Ultima and he was then pulled up in a grade three hurdle at Aintree. He was eighth on his reappearance so will be primed for this but will struggle. Based on this, jockey bookings suggest that King’s Socks is the favoured of the yard’s runners as Tom Scudamore takes the ride. He was quite successful over in France but hasn’t had as much luck over here. He was beaten about eight lengths in two of his three starts last season. One was in an intermediate chase and in a grade three over course and distance over course and distance at the festival. Splash Of Ginge was ahead of him that day and he was ahead of Guitar Pete, Romain De Senam and Movewiththetimes who was pulled up. Willie Boy fell in behind him too.
Willie Boy won twice last season and was a decent second on his reappearance finishing ahead of Ballyandy. The Nigel Twiston-Davies horse’s last win came in September 2017 and has only had three runs since. he was fourth in a grade two over course and distance in January and then was pulled up later on in the month behind Mister Whitaker. He was three lengths behind Willie Boy over two miles three on his reappearance and will need to step up.
Guitar Pete gave a very encouraging return in November in a Listed race and will have come on for that. He won nicely in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last December beating Romain De Senam and Splash Of Ginge. Romain De Senam ran a decent race last time out to finish third beaten twenty five lengths. He has won off this mark before and will appreciate conditions.
Shantou Village won nicely in August off 139 and then ran well to finish fifth in the Kerry National beaten about five lengths and was then sixth in a three mile one furlong race at this course at the end of October. He goes off a reasonable mark and will like the going.
Geordie Des Champs put in a very poor performance on his reappearance and will need to really improve. Whoshotwho has won his last two at Market Rasen and has a huge rise in grade to get over so, similarly, will need to step up.
Mister Whitaker and Happy Diva (EW)