Author: Alan Kelly
Published: 16:49 19/11/2014
Once again Cheltenham's Open meeting produced three days of high quality National Hunt action and come the end of the season we are likely to be much wiser as to how significant the 19 races prove to be but here is a rundown of the highlights from Prestbury Park:
The meeting was dominated by the partnership of trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson and the combination teamed up with three winners on the opening day starting with BOLD HENRY in the 2m Paddy Power Handicap. The eight-year-old has been troubled with tendon problems over the last couple of seasons and as long as the Kayf Tara gelding stays sound the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual at the Festival could prove a long-range target.
The 2m 4 1/2f Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase was an unsatisfactory affair after six fences were omitted due to the low sun although the first two home CHAMPAGNE WEST and COLOUR SQUADRON look sure to make their mark in the month's ahead. The former is going to be a force in the staying novice chase division and a quote of 20-1 with Betfred and Betvictor for the RSA at the Festival is more than fair at this stage while the latter will be better suited back in handicap company with a fast pace and the big handicap at Cheltenham's December meeting would seem the logical next target.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle developed into a bit of a sprint which suited the winner PARLOUR GAMES for which the six-year-old earned a top quote of 25-1 with Paddy Power for the Neptune, a price which makes little appeal although better ground will suit John Ferguson's charge. Runner-up BLAKLION and the fourth home CHAMPAGNE PRESENT were not seen to best effect and should not be written off just yet.
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase went ( as expected ) to hot favourite BALTHAZAR KING who excels in this type of event and the Crabbie's Grand National runner-up is unlikely to be seen again until attempting to go one better next April for which he is a standout 33-1 with Ladbrokes but the King's Theatre gelding will need to jump better than on this occasion.
The Cheltenham Club Novices' Chase run over an extended 3m looked a strong renewal despite only five runners and the winner KINGS PALACE could not have been more impressive in beating the promising SAUSALITO SUNRISE by four lengths, jumping like an old hand up front and relishing the testing conditions. The first two received general quotes of 10-1 and 20-1 respectively for the RSA and both are likely to take high rank in the staying novice chase department.
The extended 3m 3f Murphy Group Handicap Chase proved something of a war of attrition in the conditions and after being one of the first under pressure SAM WINNER outstayed the opposition under a fine ride from Sam Twiston-Davies. Unlikely to take up his Hennessy entry Paul Nicholls charge is likely to be kept to condition races before having a crack at his long-range target, the Crabbie's Grand National for which he can be backed at a general 33-1. Runner-up THE DRUIDS NEPHEW looks sure to land a decent handicap before the end of the season and despite being pulled up the Venetia Williams new recruit SHATTERED DREAM ran well for a long way and is capable of winning a decent prize off what looks a reasonable mark.
The meeting's big handicap, the Paddy Power Gold Cup, produced an exciting finish with last year's winner JOHNS SPIRIT just failing to hold the late challenge of CAID DU BERLAIS under another inspired ride from Sam Twiston-Davies. The race is certian to throw up plenty of future winners especially the third PRESENT VIEW who would appreciate better ground and could be the right type for the Topham Chase at Aintree's Grand National meeting. Fifth home BUYWISE is not the greatest of jumpers but any improvement in that department could see Evan Williams' seven-year-old land a big pot.
KATKEAU and BIG EASY were always going to fight out the finish to the 3m 1 1/2f handicap hurdle as both travelled well for most of the race unlike Grand National winner PINEAU DE RE who is unlikely to peak before a repeat bid next April. The first two could meet again at Haydock this weekend with the Pertemps Final at the Festival the likely target for both at the Festival.
GOLDEN DOYEN and HARGAM set the early standard after fighting out the finish to the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial with the latter possibly have the more scope but a top quote of 16-1 for the juvenile final in March makes limited appeal as does the 20-1 available about the winner who is unlikely to get similar conditions at the Festival.
VYTA DU ROC made hard work of beating 11-10 favourite EMERGING TALENT in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle and the form may turn out to be only moderate. Only four went to post for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial which went to another Hobbs inmate in DUNRAVEN STORM who kept on well from the strong travelling VIBRATO VALTAT, given a patient ride by Sam Twiston-Davies on a horse who probably needs producing as late as possible and unlikely to have been suited by the small field. The winner is a 25-1 chance for the big one in March and it will be a surprise if the son of Presenting proves good enough to win at that level. One of the handicaps at the Festival is a possibility for the runner-up where the five-year-old is almost certain to get the fast run race he needs.
The absence of Champion Chaser Sire Du Grugy took some of the shine off the 2m Shloer Chase but it was hard not to be impressed with the all-the-way victory of UXIZANDRE who has a preference for going left-handed which means missing Sandown's Tingle Creek ( stable has a leading fancy in Balder Sucess ) and a possible visit to Leopardstown over Christmas. Both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair are options at the Festival for which the six-year-old is available to back at 20-1 and 12-1 respectively.
The StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle can often prove a guide to the Champion Hurdle but this year's renewal looked a little below normal standard with Philip Hobbs, trainer of winner GARDE LA VICTOIRE, claiming his charge to be 20lb below that level. The runner-up VANITEUX however ran a cracking race under top weight on his seasonal reappearance and with that race under his belt and on better ground could yet prove up to Championship class. A 25-1 chance with several bookmakers for the Champion Hurdle including William Hill, odds which may turn out to be quite generous come March if the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding continues to improve as the season goes on. The improving EXITAS, attempting to win his fourth race in a row was unsuited by the slow early pace and a better run is expected when encountering a faster run contest.