By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
1:50 Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Class Two) (2M5F)
This looks a nice race to kick off the season at Cheltenham and the race obviously shares the name with one of the grade one novice hurdles in March at the Festival. Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden’s season has started exceptionally well and their horse Ask For Glory is likely to start favourite. This son of Fame And Glory won a point to point in May 2018 and won on rules debut later that year in convincing style. He finished ninth in Envoi Allen’s Champion Bumper. After this run, he had a wind op yet he could only manage fourth on his return to the racetrack. He won by a huge twenty three lengths next time but he’s had another wind op. Also having their first start after a wind op is Global Fame. He’s also by Fame and Glory and ran out in the PTP that Ask For Glory won. Under rules, he is two from three and he won over hurdles at Wetherby in March. These horses’ novice tags won’t last much longer.
Finisk River has been busy over the summer with two wins, a second and a third, all in novice hurdles. His two winners were extremely convincing and one was over even further than this so we know he stays. Topofthecotswolds has had two starts so far in this campaign and he was second, beaten five lengths, on the first one but then he won on good ground last time. He’s three from nine over fences but has dropped down to the lower obstacles for now. So has my selection DOMAINE DE L’ISLE. This horse is in my 20 To Watch and I believe he could do well in races like the Welsh National. He is five from twelve over fences and won three races last season. He has three hurdle starts to his name and he was a good second and then third on two occasions. He’s rated 140 but only carries 10st12 because he has never won a hurdle race so he looks well-treated in this. However, he may need the run like a lot of horses seem to lately.
The two remaining horses to mention, Midnight River and Does He Know, won over hurdles nineteen and sixteen days ago respectively. Midnight River was third on both of his bumper starts and he made a good impression at Uttoxeter last time. He’s by Midnight Legend and out of a Presenting mare so has a proper jumping pedigree. Does He Know is the best of his sire’s progeny in the UK. He won a point to point before coming second on his first two hurdle outings but reappeared on 7th October to win nicely to win by seven and a half lengths. Kim Bailey’s runners are in flying form.
2:25 Matchbook Better Way To Bet Novices’ Hurdle (Class 2) (3M1/2F)
I was there when Mossy Fen won the grade one Leamington Novices Hurdle at Warwick. He battled it out well and steps up three furlongs in trip from that. This is not a concern though as he has won a point to point and novice hurdle over three miles. He was last seen coming fifth to Envoi Allen in the Ballymore so that is a long absence. Ask Dillon and Clondaw Caitlin are both running for the first time in a while. The former is from the in-form Fergal O’Brien yard. His form over hurdles wasn’t top level and he was last seen finishing tenth in the Stayers Hurdle. Clondaw Caitlin is such a good mare. Last season, she managed to win four races in a row, culminating in a grade one prize. She’s an exciting recruit to fences and the new Mares’ Chase at the Festival will probably be her target. She gets over a stone from the horses numbers 1, 2 and 3 in the racecard.
There are two Irish representatives in the form of Galvin and Doctor Duffy. Galvin heads the market as he’s three from three since July. He won by twenty two lengths on the first of those and then by smaller margins, the most recent being in a Tipperary grade three. He actually has quite a bit of experience over fences compared to some of the others. Doctor Duffy has ran seven times over fences too, but all of those occasions were since racing resumed in Ireland. He won two of them but unfortunately fell in the Munster National last time, injuring Davy Russell. The drop back to tamer company will probably do him good. Lastly is SOLDIER OF LOVE. He’s looked like a completely different horse since lockdown ended and has won four races, all over this trip or further. This is probably a bit more competitive than what he has faced before but, if the ground stays on the good side of soft, he’s got a very good chance.
3:00 squareintheair.com Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) (2M5F)
A maximum field of twenty go to post for this race and I have picked out a few to talk about. Captain Tom Cat heads the market with a feather weight of 10st9 and then Cillian Leonard takes off his 7lbs claim. This horse did nothing special in points but was second to Sangha River on 1st July. He probably needed that as he has won well on both starts since. He steps up five furlongs in trip and into handicap company. Our Power managed to win a competitive handicap hurdle before lockdown, beating subsequent dual winner The Butcher Said.
Fergal O’Brien and Nicky Henderson both are dual handed in this. O’Brien has Imperial Elysian and Lungarno Palace. The former is three from nine over hurdles and he won at Southwell in July. He was third last time over a little bit shorter than this. Lungarno Palace hasn’t won since October 2018 and he goes off a 4lbs lower mark. Hijack and Fix Sun represent Nicky Henderson. Hijack has had one start this season, finishing second at Fontwell over a shorter trip. He has only ran five times. Fix Sun has had a wind-op since he last ran, which was when he was only beaten a length. He won well on all three starts before that. He’ll want some cut in the ground but this is the furthest trip he’s ever ran at. Young Lieutenant’s wind-op before last time out worked wonders as he won by three lengths as a result. He struggled to win last season but looks on good terms with himself.
The horse that I find interesting is WEATHER FRONT. He has done the majority of his racing so far for Karen McLintock and won quite a few races for her before moving to Iain Jardine. He is a very good dual-purpose trainer and has only sent a total of ten horses down to Cheltenham in his career so this is notable. Last time out, Weather Front was second to Chapmanshype and he is on his last winning mark. The mares Yeavering Belle and Storm Goddess are worth keeping an eye on too.
3:35 Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase (Class 2) (2M)
This is a really good handicap chase. ROUGE VIF is a grade two winner over hurdles and made a perfect start to his chasing career by seven lengths. Next, he disappointed a bit behind subsequent Arkle winner Put The Kettle On but he won a grade two at Warwick, before finishing third in the Arkle. He’s kept some excellent form and Harry Whittington’s runners are going well at the minute. Top weight is sits with Dolos though, who is rated 161. He has had a wind-op since we last saw him, which was when well-beaten at Doncaster. It looks a tough ask with the weight. Katpoli finished second that day and he’d previously won at Wetherby and Southwell.
Bottom weight is a three-way tie between Movie Legend, Northern Beau and Doitforthevillage. The latter is a stalwart in this kind of race but he hasn’t got his head in front for a while. Movie Legend was last seen coming second over hurdles but was thought good enough to run in a grade three chase at the Aintree Grand National Meeting. Northern Beau has had a wind-op within the last twenty eight days, after she was beaten at Uttoxeter over four furlongs further. Dan Skelton has two runners in the form of Azzuri and Hatcher. Azzuri’s first two runs since July were good and he only just missed out on a better placing. Last time, he didn’t seem to stay and he has finished well-behind Katpoli before. Hatcher won well at Southwell, beating the late Croco Bay. He has a 50% strike rate over fences. Alan King has had a brilliant flat season and Ballywood is his representative. He has been seen once so far this season when second to Beat The Judge, who is looking to make it three wins in a row.
4:10 Catesby Estates Maiden Hurdle (Class 3) (2M1/2F)
This race is quite easy for me to work out – CHAMPAGNESUPEROVER. This horse is in my 20 To Watch and he has some really good form to his name. He won by sixteen lengths on his debut and then followed in Ocean Wind, who has won multiple races since, in a listed bumper. He’s a stunning horse. Hopefully, he won’t need the run. Art Approval could be a threat as he’s from the in-form Fergal O’Brien team and he has one start over hurdles under his belt, which was a second place over further. Dan Skelton’s representative, Faivoir, won a point to point on debut and is two from four under rules. He was beaten three lengths on hurdles bow last time out. Pipesmoker, for Nicky Henderson, has been consistent so far and the same can be said for Presentandcounting. Lessankan is having his first start under rules after a seventh in a point to point but his dam is a half-sister to two multiple winners over obstacles. Temur Khan is a dual winner on the flat but his first hurdles run was poor. Found On completes the line-up and she is a point to point winner.
4:45 Two Farmers Crisps Novices’ Chase
Just four runners go to post for this but it is a competitive little affair. FUSIL RAFFLES is my pick. He has always been well-regraded and his rating of 150 reflects that. His win last time out, which was his first run over fences, was very good. He kept on well to a four length victory. I think he’s a little bit better than these. I really like Getaway Trump too, though. However, it has took him a few runs to win a Chase but he did so last time by a length. Return Ticket also won last time. He’s not from one of the big yards like the aforementioned two but Rebecca Menzies is very capable, as shown by her recent four timer. He may not be up to the same standard as Fusil Raffles and Getaway Trump and a good hurdler Our Valentine is making his fences debut after 224 days off.
17:15 Back And Lay At Matchbook Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) (2M)
A big field go to post and I’ve had a look at a few of them. I’m a big fan of Percy. One – has a great name, and two – he’s a really likeable horse. He placed at 28/1 on reappearance in July then won well at Uttoxeter. Last time, he went over to France on heavy ground, which may not have suited. Harry Reed is a good jockey. So is Fergus Gregory. He rides Endlessly for Olly Murphy. After running five times on the flat for Martin Meade, he switched to Olly Murphy, winning twice on the level. He won twice early this year over hurdles but has has a big absence to get over. Top weight Sternrubin has a 531 days to overcome. He was last seen finishing second to Potterman in May 2019. He’d ran at the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree National Festival. He’s a classy horse on his day.
Clemencia and Nanabelle have only been with their respective trainers for a short while. Nanabelle was unbeaten over in France but was only fifth on debut for Nicky Henderson. Clemencia was with Brendan Duke before his last race and he won his maiden by a huge fifteen lengths. After that, he was fourth in grade two and then grade one company. His first start for Tim Vaughan was a really good fifth in the Fred Winter. He could be one of the big priced runners but could have a good each way claim. My selection is TEGEREK. This horse started his career in France before going to Jonjo O’Neill’s. He won on 1st March with first time head gear. That has done him the world of good as he’s ran very well to be second on his last two starts. One of the stable conditionals, Kevin Brogan, gets back on board after last time.