By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The Runners –
1.Nube Negra (Harry Skelton & Dan Skelton)
2.Politologue (Harry Cobden & Paul Nicholls)
3.Rouge Vif (Bryony Frost & Paul Nicholls)
4.Put The Kettle On (Aidan Coleman & Henry De Bromhead)
The three-day November Meeting at Cheltenham, whether we like it or not, gets racing fans excited for those four wonderful days in March. The four-runner Shloer Chase on Sunday contains two Champion Chase winners and a runner-up.
Four runners, to some, might be a slightly disappointing turn out but it has an excellent field for a grade two so early in the season. The grade one Tingle Creek is a fortnight away and it is rumoured to contain Shishkin and Chacun Pour Soi/Energumene. Plenty of the other top two milers will turn up there instead. Despite this, small runner fields can be exciting, as we saw with My Drogo and Gin On Lime on Friday. Anything can happen in racing and that just proved it.
Dan Skelton’s horses have been the victims of a few closing stage tumbles lately, with previously mentioned My Drogo and Shan Blue capsizing late on with the Charlie Hall tied up with a bow, or so we thought. Proschema fell on Saturday in the handicap hurdle and Harry Skelton was stood down for the rest of the day. Hopefully, he will be able to ride Nube Negra and that this stable star manages to stay on his feet in the Shloer Chase. Dan’s old boss Paul Nicholls has the wonderful grey Politologue and stable debutant Rouge Vif in the race. However, the one they’ve all got to beat is Put The Kettle On for Henry De Bromhead, trainer of Gin On Lime.
“Course specialist” is a term banded about regularly but this is completely the case for Put The Kettle On. It was arguably her love for Cheltenham that kept her nose in front as she passed the post first in the Champion Chase, fending off the challenge of Nube Negra.
Put The Kettle On popped out in front accompanied by Rouge Vif in the Champion Chase, which transpire to be quite messy in the closing stages. Nube Negra was typically enthusiastic, held up at the back of the field. At the head of proceedings, Put The Kettle On got into a lovely jumping rhythm, which is one of her many assets. Harry Skelton moved Nube Negra forwards ever so slightly to take closer order, but was still at least four lengths off Put The Kettle On. Rouge Vif ploughed through four out, causing him to land quite sharply. He didn’t lose his position at the fence as it is followed by the downhill section of the course, so he managed to keep the momentum. However, at three from home, the other runners jumped much better than he did and he dropped back through the field.
Nube Negra, meanwhile, had been smuggled through to be amongst horses and a few found themselves in a barging match. Put The Kettle On was out of trouble and battling bravely with Chacun Pour Soi, who did get in front of her at one point, down over the last two. He cracked by half way up the run-in but Nube Negra put in his challenge after marginally dropping onto his nose after the last. He was forged to switch out and ran on gamely for Put The Kettle On’s winning margin to only be beaten half a length. I don’t want to do Put The Kettle On a disservice as she is an exceptional horse but the race went all her way. Nube Negra has to be held up, which forced him to challenge late because of the traffic in front of him. He would’ve been much closer if he could’ve had a gun-barrel straight path up the run-in.
This race is likely to be a tactical affair. Politologue, who was a non-runner in the Champion Chase after having a nosebleed, can make all in his races. The lead is likely to be between him and Put The Kettle On and they probably won’t be too keen. Rouge Vif probably will be; he has been on seasonal reappearance over the past two years. Nube Negra is just enthusiastic in his races and will no doubt be held up. There is a possibility that he could reap the rewards if the three other horses go too fast too early. Put The Kettle On doesn’t come across as a buzzy sort and Harry Skelton will be mindful not to let her get too far ahead this time. I’d like to see a proper horse race between Nube Negra and Put The Kettle on, instead of a case of “catch me if you can” like what we saw in the Champion Chase.
Put The Kettle On has been seen once since the Champion Chase at Sandown on jumps finale day. She was handy into the first fence but had unwanted competition for the lead and jumped really slowly, crashing into Dolos. She didn’t look comfortable; Aidan Coleman had to nudge her along occasionally and, with a few more slow leaps, found herself in the back two. She was no better than fourth through the race and managed to keep that finishing position. It was an uncharacteristically poor run and the first time she has finished out of the top three since December 2018. She has been ready to run for a while but the ground went against her at Gowran Park on 2nd October as it was good. Officially, it is the same at Cheltenham and she has actually won on good ground multiple times. There should be no worries there for her.
Rouge Vif is finally getting his desired ground on his first start for the Paul Nicholls team. This son of Sageburg has had the obligatory wind operation from the Nicholls camp and Bryony Frost will ride as Gavin Sheehan is banned. He had previously had a wind op half way through his novice chase season. Before this, he had won at Market Rasen before finishing last to Put The Kettle On over course and distance on soft ground. He was very capable in his novice season, finishing second and winning in grade twos, beating Nube Negra by seven lengths. Put The Kettle On had the measure of him again, this time in the Arkle, beating him nineteen and a half lengths.
Last season, he won on reappearance on good ground in October. He won it easily and impressively suggested that he was a graded level chaser in open company. It earned him a spot in the Tingle Creek, but he finished third to Politologue. Next time, he was beaten twenty-five lengths by Nube Negra, which is a massive reverse in form from the Kingmaker in 2020. He was last in the Champion Chase, as I explained earlier, so it does give him a bit to find with his rivals here, who have all beaten him convincingly last season. Paul Nicholls now trains him as the owners moved him from Harry Whittington. On Saturday, Simply The Betts finished sixth in the Paddy Power, having moved to Nicholls from Whittington. It will be fascinating to see if Rouge Vif can put in an improved performance.
Stablemate Politologue might be the oldest horse in the race but he is also the highest rated. He has raced in the shadow of Altior for most of his career but he’s probably the benchmark for the two mile chasers these days. He won first time out last season with a masterful ride from Harry Skelton, when they made all, beating Greanateen. Next time, he finished second to First Flow. He led most of the way but just had no extra when the younger horse put in his challenge. After he was pulled out at Cheltenham, he went to Aintree but could only manage fourth. It was reported after that he bled, an issue that has plagued him throughout his career. Politologue does tend to go well fresh and he has had his second lot of wind surgery after his form tailed off. I think connections will be just hoping he gets round without bleeding again. He is obviously a very talented horse but he could be slightly vulnerable to the trio of seven year olds.
The horse that obviously excites me the most in this race is Nube Negra. I followed him all last season and met him in October, which was incredible. He is by French stallion Dink, who stands at trainer Dan Skelton’s stud, Alne Park Stud, which is ran by Grace Skelton, Dan’s wife. You can read my article about Dan Skelton Racing here – https://reinitinracing.wordpress.com/2021/10/13/dan-skelton-racing-visit/
Nube Negra was fairly successful over hurdles and his novice chase season only lasted three starts, winning at Warwick, finishing second to Esprit Du Large in a grade one and again to Rouge Vif when returning to Warwick. Arguably, he took a while to come to himself, really, before bursting onto the scene at Kempton with a scintillating performance in the Desert Orchid Chase. He was pulling double all the way round and accelerated into the lead incredibly well. He went straight to Cheltenham eighty days later and I’ve already explained that run earlier on. Hopefully, he gets a clearer passage in this. It is a much easier contest than the Punchestown Champion Chase, when he couldn’t stay with Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho in their own back yard.
I’m going to side with NUBE NEGRA because I think he can reverse the form with Put The Kettle On, who is at an advantage with just 10st13 on her back. I think Dan Skelton’s son of Dink is a really exciting horse, who is still relatively unexposed over fences. He’s really talented and is a worthy opponent to Put The Kettle On. She is ever so brave. I think the Nicholls pair have a bit to find but it will be very interesting to see how both horses go. Hopefully, the race will be thrilling but not too dramatic and all horses come home safe!