Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post Angles – Weekend Review

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Cheltenham November Meeting – The Fan Base

Nicholls Star takes center Stage in the Paddy Power Gold Cup

Stage Star was a fine winner of a strong looking Paddy Power Gold Cup and he rightly plummeted in the betting for this season’s Ryanair. Nicholls hinted that he may head straight to the Festival due to a lack of left handed options. As a result, he wouldn’t be an ante-post proposition for me, as I can’t see his price contracting massively before the day.

The Real Whacker was the disappointment of the race, but I would be inclined to forgive him. Interestingly the racing post write up reports that a vet examination revealed he was struck into on his right fore and was also lame on his right fore.

Il Ridoto and Fugitif shaped encouragingly in behind and you’d have to think they will go very close in next month’s Cheltenham December Gold Cup.   

Jonbon enhances his Champion Chase Credentials

An exceptionally strong renewal of the Shloeur Chase saw Jonbon come out an emphatic nine and a half-length winner from Edwardstone in second. His jumping was electric, and he really took control of the race with an awesome leap four from home. I loved the attacking ride Nico gave him and I think you’re mad if you believe the same Jonbon turned up in last season’s Arkle.

Harry Skelton was extremely complimentary of Jonbon in a post-race interview, suggesting he could be “very special” Tingle Creek success surely beckons for him now before an eagerly anticipated rematch with El Fabiolo in the Champion Chase.

El Fabiolo brushed aside Jonbon last season, but I do think Henderson’s star has improved and it will be interesting to see if El Fabiolo can kick on as well. I hope Jonbon will continue to be ridden aggressively over the minimum trip as I’m still not entirely convinced about El Fabiolo’s jumping, especially in open company!

Brilliant Burdett is well on the Road to Cheltenham

The early season Triumph Hurdle market was blown apart by Burdett Road this weekend after he absolutely bolted up in the first race at Cheltenham on Saturday. Having beaten rivals predominately rated in the mid 120s, there’s a strong case to be made that any Triumph Hurdle contender should be wining in the fashion he did.

Held up by Harry Cobden, he didn’t jump with any sort of fluency but still came there cruising into the straight. After a quick shake of the reigns, he powered clear up the Cheltenham hill. Cobden seemed particularly smug in his post-race interview, and I get the feeling he thinks this fella is a bit of a rocket. A whole host of well-regarded types from the likes of Mullins, Henderson and Elliott have yet to be seen so Burdett Road doesn’t represent a bet at his current odds of 7/1. Let’s see what the big guns have to offer first! 

Broadway Boy Brutal from the front

Arguably the performance of the weekend came from the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Broadway Boy. He was quite simply brilliant from the front and barring a mistake four from home, jumped beautifully throughout. He earned quotes of 25/1 and 20/1 for the Brown Advisory and National Hunt Chase. That performance gave a nice nod to Flooring Porter who defeated Broadway Boy over course and distance at the October meeting.

Broadway Boy looks a progressive chaser and I’m excited to see what he can do next. Stablemate Weveallbeencaught plugged on for second and maybe isn’t quite as good as connections first thought, whilst Good Risk At All shaped like a non-stayer. He’s one I wouldn’t give up on back down to the intermediate trip. 

Buddy One deserving of Stayers Hurdle quotes

A competitive looking handicap hurdle went the way of top weight Buddy One for the Gilligan’s. He recorded an RPR of 154 in the process and looks a progressive sort. Sire Du Berlais ran to an RPR of 164 in to win last season’s Stayers Hurdle, so I’d say Buddy One is entitled to head down that route now and test himself in open grade 1 company.

Two trips to Cheltenham have yielded a success and third in last season’s Martin Pipe behind the highly talented Iroko. The Martin Pipe has habit of producing grade 1 horses and Buddy One certainly looks a lively outsider at 33/1 for this year’s Stayers. 

Iberico Lord lands the Greatwood in fine style 

I thought this year’s Greatwood looked a strong renewal on paper and the form could be worth following going forward. Iberico Lord ran out a cosy winner from the front running Lookaway. It will be interesting to see what the handicapper does with the pair of them and where Henderson looks to go next with Iberico Lord. Lookaway shapes to me as though he would be just as effective over the intermediate trip. That could open a few doors for him with valuable races like the Lanzarote at Kempton a potential mid-season target.

It is worth noting that Iberico Lord paid a fair compliment to stablemate Under Control who defeated him off level weights at the back end of last season. Under Control could be a smart mare for Nicky Henderson and she looks set to reappear in the Gerry Fielden, a race Henderson has used with the likes of Epatante and L’ami Serge

Weekend Eyecatcher 

This weekend’s eyecatcher, unsurprisingly, comes from the Greatwood. Luccia has been somewhat of a talking horse for the past season or so and is clearly held in high regard by those at Seven Barrows. For a horse with her reputation, the vibes and comments pre-race seemed extremely negative. She tanked through the contest and was bang there turning for home. Her effort petered out a little up the hill, but she was conceding 4lbs to Lookaway and 10lbs to Iberico Lord.

Given the vibes were negative beforehand, quite possibly due to the quick turnaround off the back of a hard seasonal reappearance, I thought she ran a cracker and should be well treated going froward. To my eye, she still appears to be learning on the job and her jumping does need to improve. I’d imagine they’ll give her a small break now to freshen her up again. Heading into the spring she’d be on my radar for a top two-mile handicap on better ground. Who knows, maybe she’s one for the County Hurdle

Navan Racing Festival

Bob Olinger back with a bang

Time after time, National Hunt Racing produces these magical moments where fan favourites return to former glory.

Now, Bob likely won’t reach the dizzy heights many thought he would, but after a tricky season it was great to see him come there swinging and really stick his head down up the run in. Connections haven’t ruled out a return to fences, but I think he should remain over hurdles. The Aintree Hurdle looks tailormade for him being a flat track with an emphasis on speed. Constitution Hill could be waiting for him there, but Henry did target the meeting with a few nice types last year and I think Bob would be the clear pick from the other potential runners. Who knows, maybe he could do the unthinkable, what a story that would be!  

Vega puts in a Facile fencing debut but you’ll see the best of him when he goes up in trip! 

All eyes were on the 15:15 at Navan Saturday where Facile Vega locked horns with Inthepocket and Saint Felicien in what looked a seriously strong beginners chase. Facile Vega was very good in the main and galloped clear down to the last. His jumping was novicey at first, but he warmed nicely to the task, and I was particularly impressed with how efficient he was. He was low and sharp at a few, wasting very little time in the air. I’d say the Arkle is likely to be his long-term goal with the Grade 1 Racing Post Novices Chase his next port of call at Christmas. 

Theres no doubt he has the class to go very close in an Arkle, but I really do believe we will see the best of him when he steps up in trip. He has a high-class cruising speed, but I still don’t think he has that electric turn of foot that lots of the top two milers possess.

The likes of Honeysuckle, Constitution Hill and old rival Marine Nationale all have that kick and ability to quicken clear off a strong pace. My gut instinct is that Facile stays strongly and continues to gallop, all be it at a fair old tempo! We’re yet to see Marine Nationale jump a fence so it’s a hard one to call, but at this stage, I still don’t see Facile reversing the Supreme form. 

Career best from Captain Guinness 

Last season’s Champion Chase runner up, Captain Guinness, returned to action with what I thought was a career best performance. Conceding plenty of weight, he ran out a 7-length winner from Riviere D’etel, with Dysart Dynamo a further 4 lengths back in third.

A tilt at the Tingle Creek and a rematch with Jonbon could be next on the cards before all roads likely lead back to the Champion Chase in March.

He clearly has a bit to find with El Fabiolo and Jonbon, but the Champion Chase has a weird way of cutting up closer to the time and for those of you that like each way plays, he surely must be of interest at 20/1.  

Stellar start for Story

Last season’s bumper crop have impressed me so far this season and Stellar Story shaped like a potentially smart stayer with a good win over the intermediate trip on hurdlers debut. Ile Atlantique franked his from on his hurdles debut and it is worth noting that Stellar Story had previously finished behind smart hurdlers Doctor Bravo and Nick Rockett on his first bumper start.

The Albert Bartlett isn’t a race I have had a great deal of success in, but antepost punters building a book on the race will surely want to have both Stellar Story 20/1 and Ile Atlantique 25/1 covered.

Take on Crooke Park next time out

£400,000 PTP recruit Croke Park backed up an impressive maiden hurdle success by landing the Grade 3 Monksfield Novices Hurdle at Navan. He looks a typical chaser in the making and would be one I’d fancy taking on next time out. He was hard ridden to beat Mel Monroe who had previously been brushed aside by Encanto Bruno.

Connections of Croke Park suggested he may step up in trip as the season progresses but hinted, he may remain at the intermediate trip for now. Should he appear in something like the Lawlor’s Of Naas, I would definitely take him on with a speedier type

Don’t give up on Fact To File

An intriguing Novices Chase saw American Mike return to form with an excellent round of jumping, seeing him defeat last season’s Champion Bumper runner up Fact To File. Given how American Mike tailed off last season, he’s a tricky one to place going forward. I’d imagine the Drinmore comes too soon so connections may look at the Faugheen Novices Chase at Limerick over Christmas. I thought Fact To File ran a cracker behind him in second, jumping really well throughout and running just a tad green at times.

It is worth remembering that was his first outing over obstacles, let alone fences! He’s an imposing type physically and I would expect him to come on bundles for that run. Willie’s big guns in the novice chasing department are starting to reappear and I think this fella will be towards the best of them come the end of the season. He’s 25/1 for the Brown Advisory and 20/1 for the National Hunt Chase. Two prices that I have my eye on.  

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