The grass is lush and green, the fences are trimmed and sturdy, and the buzz of excitement can not only be heard, but felt as Cheltenham Racecourse host their Showcase Meeting. Welcoming in the new season with a typically enthralling card!
A trip to the parade ring is a must. The views on the walkway sublime. An amphitheatre like no other.
And then off down the shute and away we go, the tapes are up and so is the wait!
The opening card, as you’d expect, features many exciting prospects, with quality novice events, as well as the usual highly competitive handicaps. I’m going start by taking a look at the novice events, before highlighting a few horses in the handicaps that may be worth a second look.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle gets the day underway, and boasts a plethora of interesting contenders.
Recent Grade 2 scorer El Bandit lead the charge for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and he certainly has good credentials.
Winner of the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow 2 weeks ago (9th Oct), El Bandit has improved with every run for Nicholls, winning his last 4 races.
A novice until the end of October, this could well be his last run over hurdles, with novice chasing a possibility. But if he were to win here, he could easily be tried in hotter waters prior to the switch.
The in form Nigel Twiston Davies runs Templeross, who achieved a fair level of form in bumpers last season before making a successful debut over timber at Newton Abbot in September on seasonal debut, beating the Nicholls trained Rainy City in the process. He should improve for his reappearance.
Trained by Fergal O’Brien, Colin’s Sister showed an above average level of form in bumpers last season, culminating in a fine second to the Warren Greatrex trained The Nipper in a Listed Mares event at Sandown in March.
Her successful hurdling debut at Chepstow will have set her up nicely for this. It will certainly be interesting to see how she gets on against the boys, but she does look an exciting prospect over hurdles this season. She certainly has the potential to land blow here.
It would be careless to merely overlook the Charles Byrnes trained Black Water. An extremely shrewd trainer, as he proved when masterminding the infamous Roscommon coup in August, he has a reputation for being a fine target trainer.
Last year he brought Leave At Dawn over for the Paddy Power Meeting, and set sail back to Ireland with the prize in safe keeping.
His wins have all come in the summer months (May, June and August) and therefore not in the most competitive of waters. However any runner he brings to Britain has to be respected.
Pickamix, the winner of a bumper last season, and maiden hurdle on seasonal debut earlier this month, provides Charlie Mann with an interesting contender.
Noel Fehily looks a good jockey booking and Pickamix certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.
Next on the card is the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase, run over a trip of 1m7f199y. And once again, the entires look very interesting.
Marracudja made a successful chasing debut for Paul Nicholls and the newly formed Ditcheat Thoroughbreds syndicate at Newton Abbott in September, and looks a nice prospect for the season ahead.
Likened to former classy Ditcheat performer Sanctuaire by his trainer, Marracudja has clearly been impressing his onlookers at home.
James Ewart could have a smart novice on his hands in the form of Aristo Du Plessis.
A highly progressive horse, Aristo Du Plessis won 6 of his last 8 races over hurdles, rising through the handicap at a rate of knots. He’s certainly an interesting prospect over fences this season.
The Irish contingent comes courtesy of Jessica Harrington, who has runs two, Neverushacon and Gambling Girl, and Henry De Bromhead, who has Ridestan in the mix, the winner of his last two starts in Emerald Isle.
Neil Mulholland has Pinkie Brown engaged here, who won well at Towcester on his most recent outing in earlier this month. While Harry Fry has the well campaigned, recent Market Rasen runner up, Presenting Arms as a possible.
The field is completed by the likeable Gary Moore trained Baron Alco, who rattled up a fine hat-trick over hurdles last season, before finishing a half length second to the exciting Rock The Kasbah in a Class 1 event at Ascot. A consistent, hardy horse, he’s not one to rule out lightly.
The second novice chase on the card, the Class 2 Ryman Stationary Cheltenham Business Club Novice Chase, run over 3m80y, also looks an interesting contest.
Gordon Elliott has runs recent Munster National winner Tiger Roll who, of course, landed the 2014 Triumph Hurdle for owners Gigginstown House Stud.
Tiger Roll has gained plenty of experience through the summer months, and as mentioned earlier when discussing Charles Byrnes, Gordon Elliott is another trainer that you have to take serious notice of when travelling horses. Rule him out at your peril.
Henry De Bromhead has 2 contenders here, choosing to run both both Full Cry and Heron Heights. While Jessica Harrington has Duckweed as a possible.
Heron Heights has won 3 of his 5 starts over fences, but one of his 2 defeats did come at the hands of current favourite Tiger Roll at Kilbeggan in August.
He did however slam another of today rivals, Duckweed, by 8L on his latest start at Clonmel in late September. He could be interesting here.
Full Cry has won 2 of his 8 outings over fences, with both wins coming before a third place finish when last seen on the track at Tipperary earlier this month.
All 3 boast mainly summer form, but still have to be respected with the ground sound underfoot.
Martin Keighley has an interesting novice chaser lined up for this race, in the form of Cottersrock.
The winner of a Down Royal bumper and Kempton handicap hurdle last season, he made a successful chasing debut at Uttoxeter earlier this month (Oct 2nd). Given that he’s trained locally, Cottersrock may prove popular here.
Tempestatefloresco represents Colin Tizzard, and boats an unusual profile given that he only made his debut under rules in August, at the age of 8.
A winner on that occasion, he fell when in contention at the penultimate fence on his next start, before finishing second, and then third, to Paul Nicholls smart performer Frodon (who should most definitely be noted if taking up either of his two engagements at Cheltenham on Saturday) in two subsequent runs. He’s hard to access.
The Harrison James & Hardie Maiden Hurdle is the fourth novice event on the card. Contested over a trip of 2m87y, the race has attracted some interesting prospects.
The field is headed by the David Bridgwater trained Accord, who finished runner up to Neil Mulholland’s exciting Peter The Mayo Man on hurdling debut at Warwick in late September.
They think a lot of Accord at home, and his promising performance at Warwick means that his presence should be respected.
Next in is Dan Skelton’s Ckalco Des Loges. This is one of 3 entries held by Skelton’s charge over the next few days. However if turning up here, he would rate an interesting contender.
Ian Williams has the superbly names Thehossbehind in the mix. He finished second on his only run to date in a bumper at Worcester in June 2015, beaten 9L by an inmate of former trainer John Ferguson, namely London Prize. He does, however, have a 16 month layoff to overcome.
Phillip Hobbs has Casper King entered here, whose record under rules reads; 5 starts, 5 second place finishes. He does however boast a fair level of form in both bumpers & Maiden/Novice hurdles.
His latest runner up effort came at Chepstow 2 weeks ago, when beaten by the promising Geordie Des Champs, with the highly regarded Capeland, who got off the mark over hurdles at Newton Abbot this afternoon, back in third. It won’t be long before this son of Scorpion gets off the mark.
Garo De Juilley is set to make his eagerly anticipated stable debut for Paul Nicholls, after attracting the praise of those that look after him every day.
Winner of his last 4 starts on the flat in France, the word is that the son of Ungaro has schooled well over hurdles at home. He could well be one of the more exciting young French exports for team Ditcheat this season.
Nicky Henderson runs 2 in the the race, namely Khezerabad, the current favourite, who finished a respectable third behing Paul Nicholls smart Zubayr in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton last season, and Thomas Campbell, who left an average bumper debut behind him when bolting up next time out in a Kelso bumber, winning by 14L. They both clearly have chances.
Tom George’s Bigpipenotobacee and the he Nigel Twiston Davies trained Gulshanigans completed the field. But it’s fair to say that both will need to step up on what they have previously shown to be a factor here.
Now for a quick look at horses that might be worth a second look in the handicaps.
Nigel Twiston Davies could hardly be in better form, currently operating at an impressive strike rate of 42% (11-26) in the last 14 days.
I like the look of Florrie Boy in this hotly contested handicap, in which the son of Milan is set to carry 10-2, taking in to account Jamie Bargary’s 5lbs claim.
Twice a winner last season, Florrie Boy rose through the ranks, scoring in two Class 4 events before finishing a respectable second to an improving horse of Phillip Hobbs, Braavos, in a Class 3 event at Perth.
He then turned up at Haydock to contest a Class 2 event, where he ran with credit, coming home a 15L sixth to Harry Fry’s consistent Whataknight. Recent novice chase winner Minella Daddy came second, David’s Pipe’s smart Dell’Arca was fourth, Phillip Hobbs grey Brother Tedd was fifth and Paul Nicholls multiple winner Southfield Vic finished one place behind Florrie Boy, to give you an idea of the form.
Both his wins last season came on good ground, and with the Twiston Davies yard in such good form, Florrie Boy could easily outrun his price here.
CURRENT PRICE: 10/1
Twiston Davies also runs Artic Gold, who enjoyed a successful season over hurdles last term, winning 4 times, including twice in Class 3 events.
Perhaps outclassed in two Class 2 outings, first behind Flintham, and then when finding himself unfortunate enough to bump into the hugely exciting Nicky Henderson trained Different Gravey at Ascot, he still ran credibility, finishing sixth on each occasion.
An impressive winner at Ffos Las when last sighted, he forfeited weight to all of his rivals and still won nicely by upwards of 3 1/2L.
Most of his racing has come on ground with plenty of cut, however he did win his maiden hurdle on good ground at Stratford last term, so he should handle conditions.
10lbs claimer Tom Humphries will be doing the steering, which more than counteracts the 7lbs rise the son of Gold Well incurred for his Ffos Las victory. Only a 5yo, there’s every chance that he will be bigger and stronger this year after another summer at grass.
CURRENT PRICE: 16/1
Neil Mulholland runs the interesting Fingerontheswitch here, who must be better than the 2 attempts he has put up so far over fences.
A smart novice hurdler last season, Fingerontheswitch beat reliable yardstick Ballydine at Worcester, before finishing fourth to future Albert Bartlett winner Unowhatimeanharry at Cheltenham in November.
Since switched to fences Fingerontheswitch has finished fourth, behind Tempestatefloresco (who runs in the 3.55) at Newton Abbot, before finishing second of 2 at Cartmel in late August.
A winner of his third PTP, Fingerontheswitch finished second to the very talented Shantou Village on his second start between the flags, beaten just 4L. Running off a mark of 123, he has to be worth another chance here.
It’s also worth nothing that the yard won this race in 2014 with The Young Master.
CURRENT PRICE: 10/1
Connections have always held Wishfull Dreaming in some regard, and he showed 2 weeks ago, when bolting up at Chepstow, just why they do.
The winner of a Listed bumper at Cheltenham on his second start under rules, The son of Alflora has always promised to be above average, and now he looks to be confirming it.
He travelled and jumped supremely well at Chepstow. And when Richard Johnson said go, the race was put to bed in a matter of strides.
Raised 8lbs for that romp, Phillip Hobbs has reduced that penalty by 3lbs, by putting up conditional jockey Ciaran Gethings. If in the same form, he could be very tough to beat.
CURRENT PRICE: 7/2
CLIFFS OF DOVER:
Paul Nicholls looks to have found a smart recruit to the jumping game in the form of the 3yo, Cliffs Of Dover.
Winner of 3 of his 4 starts over timer, the progeny of Canford Cliffs has won twice in the last week alone, seeing off Moonday Sun at Wincanton last Friday, before taking the scalp of previous easy scorer, and odds on favourite, Lord Huntingdon at Kempton on Sunday.
A slick, quick hurdler, he could be very well in here, and the talented Harry Cobden will once again be claiming his 3lbs allowance. The only real question marks being whether his busy schedule will catch up with him, and whether taking on his elders will prove to much at his tender age.
CURRENT PRICE: 7/1
All that’s left to say is good luck!
Have a great 2 days!