With the weather still playing havoc with the National Hunt fixture list, we’ve still no jumps racing again on Tuesday, but it is hoped that Ayr or Exeter can get us back on track (literally) on Wednesday.
Looking further ahead, it is even more so hoped that Cheltenham gets the go-ahead for Trials Day on Saturday, as we really could be treated to some high-class action, judged by the 5-day entries.
Following on from my original piece from Sunday, I thought this would be an ideal time (with the lack of jumps action) to take a first look through those entries.
The opener is the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, in which I assumed Paul Nicholls would run dual course winner Far West, but he has not been entered. The Champion Trainer will instead rely on either Sametegal or Irish Saint, who impressed when winning on his British debut at Kempton over Christmas.
John Quinn has opted to enter Hidden Justice from his strong hand of juveniles, while Nicky Henderson, as suggested at the weekend, has given Auteuil winner Rolling Star an entry and, given that he has not entered anything else, he is presumably being aimed at the race for his British debut. He looked good on his sole start in France.
Tom George’s Module, who won the handicap hurdle on this card last year, heads the weights for the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on a mark of 146 (Carlito Brigante has not been handed a mark at the time of writing), though he also holds an entry against Overturn and Tap Night in the Lightning Novices’ Chase up at Doncaster.
At first glance through the 22 entries Gullinbursti seems fairly treated on an opening mark of 136; the slight drop in trip may aid him on winter ground and he’s certainly one I will be keeping tabs on once the ground improves during the spring.
The Murphy Group Chase (a Grade 3 handicap over the same 2m5f trip) has no fewer than 31 entries, with Sky Bet Chase market leader Katenko among the possibles, for what looks like a handicap that would not be out of place at the Festival itself.
Walkon, runner-up twice here already this season, Festival winner Hunt Ball, Irish raider Bog Warrior and the improving Northern raider Bold Sir Brian are just a quartet worth mentioning at this early stage.
The Victor Chandler Chase has been re-opened, so the next race on the card to look at is the Grade 2 Argento Chase, which looks the ideal Gold Cup prep for Hennessy winner Bobs Worth (as suggested the other day).
Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old is four from four at Cheltenham and could face up to 13 rivals on Saturday, including Tidal Bay, Grands Crus and 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, who has been off for 680 days. It will be great to see him back in action.
There was an interesting difference in the price of Bobs Worth between some of the bookmakers who opened up on Monday afternoon. Paddy Power opened up at 1-2 while Coral went 6-4; bit of a difference there.
The Grade 2 novice hurdle looks a potential cracker, with Puffin Billy among 16 entered and possible opponents to Oliver Sherwood’s unbeaten five-year-old include current ante-post Festival favourites The New One (Neptune) and Coneygree (Albert Bartlett), though the latter holds entries in the Cleeve and at Doncaster, too.
The improving At Fishers Cross (also in at Doncaster), Cloudy Copper (again, in at Donny, too), and the unbeaten Nicky Henderson pair of Chatterbox and Whisper also feature among a potentially high-class field. Of the Henderson pair, the former, who beat stable-mate My Tent Or Yours on debut, holds entries at Huntingdon and Doncaster on Friday, while the latter is another engaged in the River Don.
Mark Bradstock’s dual course winner Coneygree features among 16 entered in the Cleeve Hurdle, where he would be taking on more established horses for the first time. As expected, Oscar Whisky and Reve De Sivola head the entries, while Donald McCain has also given Peddlers Cross an entry in the race, despite stating recently that he wouldn’t want to start him off over 3m. It could be a case of needs must for the trainer, however, who will be desperate to get a run in to the eight-year-old soon. Presumably, the Champion Hurdle Trial at Doncaster (re-arranged from Haydock last week) will be his first choice. That is another race that has been re-opened on Monday.
Of the others entered, Paul Nicholls has Tidal Bay in here too, as well as in the Argento Chase, and he’s also entered Kauto Stone. Pulled-up in the King George on Boxing Day, the seven-year-old has yet to race over hurdles in Britain, but was a Grade 2 winner at Auteuil back in October 2009 and also finished runner-up in a Grade 1 at the Paris track the following month.
Cheltenham’s stellar card rounds off with the 2m1f Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle, for which I was hoping Court Minstrel would be entered; that, sadly, has not materialised.
There are 22 horses entered for the finale, which looks hard to assess at this stage, though it is worth noting that Paul Nicholls has entered Sametegal here, as well as in the opening juvenile contest. He did the same thing last year with Hinterland, who went off favourite for this in the end, under a healthy weight-for-age allowance.
Hopefully I’ll be back on Wednesday with some actual selections but, in the meantime, keep everything crossed that Cheltenham begins to thaw out ahead of the weekend, as this card looks a very good indeed.
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Last Year’s Book Results – Leading Prospects:
- SPRINTER SACRE – Unbeaten – winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- SIMONSIG – Winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- CINDERS AND ASHES – 10/1 winner of Supreme Novices Hurdle
- BOBS WORTH – 9/2 winner of the RSA Chase
- MENORAH & SILVINIACO CONTI – Both Aintree Winners
- SIR DES CHAMPS – Unbeaten inc 3/1 Jewson Cheltenham Winner
- FINGAL BAY – Won 4 times inc Challow Hurdle
- RAYA STAR – 10/3 winner at Wetherby, 12/1 Ladbroke Hurdle winner, 15/2 Scottish Champion Hurdle winner
- AMBION WOOD – 14/1 EBF Final Sandown winner
- CHAMPION COURT – 6/1 G2 Dipper Novices Chase winner
- PALACE JESTER – 14/1 winner at FFos Las
- SWINCOMBE FLAME – Hat-trick winner inc Lanzarote Hurdle at 9/2
- TEAFOR THREE – 5/1 NH Cheltenham Chase winner (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)