International weekend is the second major meeting of the season at Cheltenham following the Paddy Power Open Meeting in November and features two days of top class action from the home of National Hunt Racing.
Friday 12th December Race Schedule
12.15 The Ryman Stationery Business Club Novices’ Steeplechase – 3m 1 1/2f
12.50 The Shloer Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Steeplechase – 2m 5f
1.25 The British Stallion Studs E.B.F. Novices’ Hurdle – 2m 1f
2.00 The Majordomo Hospitality Steeplechase ( Handicap ) Grade 3 – 3m 2f ( Channel 4 )
2.35 The Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeplechase – 3m 7f ( Channel 4 )
3.10 The CITIPOST Handicap Hurdle – 3m ( Channel 4 )
3.45 The CF Roberts Electrical + Mechanical Services Handicap Hurdle – 2m 1f ( Channel 4 )
Friday’s opening novice chase is sure to attract a number of potential Arkle or JLT participants as last year’s renewal was won by the high class former hurdler Oscar Whisky who just got the better of a decent recruit in the Paul Nicholls-trained Wonderful Charm. The Grade 3 handicap chase at 2.00pm could provide plenty of clues regarding the long distance staying handicap chases later in the season. Won by Crabbie’s Grand National seventh Monbeg Dude 12 months ago the race is once again likely to feature a number of runners in the world’s most famous race next April. The 1-2 in last year’s Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – Sire Collonges and Any Currency, are likely to feature strongly again after the pair finished third and fourth respectably behind Balthazar King and Uncle Junior at the Open meeting especially with the winner there unlikely to be seen again before attempting to go one better at Aintree in four months time. Although only fourth in the CITIPOST Handicap Hurdle last year Southfield Theatre went on to be beaten just a nose by Fingal Bay in the Pertemps Final at the Festival and the race could once again provide an insight into that particular contest next March. The Friday ends with a novice hurdle won by Ballyalton in 2013 who found only current Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen too good in the Neptune at the Festival while runner-up Garde La Victoire won the competitive Greatwood Hurdle at the Open meeting last month.
Saturday 13th December Race Schedule
12.15 The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial – 2m 1f
12.50 The Ryman Stationery Novices’ Steeplechase – 2m 5f
1.25 The Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Steeplechase – 2m 1/2f
2.00 The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup ( Handicap Steeplechase ) – 2m 5f Grade 3 ( Channel 4 )
2.35 The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – 3m Grade 2 ( Channel 4 )
3.10 The StanJames.com International Hurdle – 2m 1f Grade 2 ( Channel 4 )
3.45 The Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle 2m 4 1/2f Grade 2 ( Channel 4 )
Saturday’s opening Triumph Hurdle trial didn’t look significant in 2013 after being won by the unconsidered Ballyglasheen at 33-1 but the neck runner-up there Kentucky Hyden acquitted himself well in the main Juvenile event at the Festival finishing a creditable second to Irish raider Tiger Roll. Only 4 turned out for the staying novice chase 12 months ago and was won by another horse successful at last month’s Open meeting in Sam Winner while last of the quartet Shutthefrontdoor went on to win the Irish Grand National last season and is currently as short as 18-1 for the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup so anything that runs well here is to be respected for races like the RSA at the Festval. The three mile novice hurdle at 2.35 is a major trial for the Albert Bartlett Final and although last year’s impressive winner King’s Palace was strongly fancied at the Festival but fell when well beaten David Pipe’s charge is already an exciting chasing prospect for the season ahead. Like the staying novice chase the Relkeel Hurdle fielded just 4 runners and went to the unexposed More Of That who put an end to the unbeaten record of Annie Power at the Festival when outstaying the wonderful mare in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
THE CASPIAN CAVIAR GOLD CUP – Inaugurated in 1963 when sponsored by Massey Ferguson and run as the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup. The 2m 5f handicap chase continued with that title until 1980 since when it has had a number of sponsors including bookmaker Boylesports who supported the race from 2006 to 2009. Usually competed for by horses that took part in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the Open meeting three of which, Pegwell Bay, Senor El Betrutti and Exotic Dancer have completed the double.
Double Ross ran out a game winner of the race 12 months ago with the Paddy Power 1-2, Johns Spirit and Colour Sergeant managing only third and fifth places respectively. This season’s Paddy Power 1-2 Caid Du Berlais and Johns Spirit currently head the ante-post market on 8-1, the same price as last weekend’s Newbury scorer Monetaire from the David Pipe stable. 32 Horses are entered for the race at this stage but the picture should become clearer once the six-day declarations are made on Monday 8th although one who takes the eye is the David Bridgewater-trained No Buts who looks an improving well handicapped chaser and is currently available at a standout 16-1 with Bet365.
THE INTERNATIONAL HURDLE – Sponsored by bookmaker Stan James since 2010 this is one of the most significant trials for the following year’s Champion Hurdle and was established in 1963 and run in honour of the great hurdler Bula from 1977 until the present sponsor took over. The last horse to win the race before going on to Champion Hurdle glory was Rooster Booster in 2002/03 while the race’s history is littered with great champions of the past including Comedy Of Errors and Sea Pigeon. There have been two triple winners of the race, Birds Nest successful in 1977/1978/1980 and Relkeel three years running from 1977 to 1999.
This year’s renewal is likely to revolve around the winner of 12 months ago The New One who many considered an unlucky loser of the Champion Hurdle back in March after being hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor at the third flight after which the mount of Sam Twiston-Davies was always on the back foot but rallied well to be beaten just under three lengths behind Jezki and My Tent Or Yours in third. Unbeaten in three outings since then the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding looks sure to go off a warm favourite unless Willie Mullins decides to run the Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen, a mouth-watering prospect but the pair are unlikely to meet in anger until the second week in March when both are sure to have plenty of partisan support. Just what opposition The New One is likely to face in just under two weeks time is unclear but could include either Vaniteux or Sign Of A Victory from the Nicky Henderson stable.