Finally we had the return of racing at Cheltenham over the weekend with The Showcase meeting properly kickstarting the jumps season, a day I’ve been waiting for since April. Beautiful blue skies graced Prestbury Park where we had a record attendance for both the Friday and Saturday, another example of how much our sport is growing, especially with the younger generation of which there were plenty present.
The horses I’ve written in bold capitals are my main ones to take out of this meeting.
Local trainer Martin Keighley began proceedings with Brillaire Momento winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in what looked an ordinary race. He doubled up with Bobble Emerald who won the last at odds of 33/1 – not many cheers from the stands with that one mind.
The Novice chases I felt were particularly entertaining and for me probably the better of the races over the two days. Last year’s Greatwood Hurdle winner, NORTH HILL HARVEY, made a winning start to life over fences with a gutsy performance to see off the highly regarded Sceau Royal who ran his race. Apart from one slight blunder three out he jumped beautifully and must enter a few people’s notebooks. Ballyhill too ran a sound race and maybe one to keep an eye on is the Paul Nicholls’ trained MOVEWITHTHETIMES who doesn’t seem to get on with the undulations of Cheltenham. Personally on a flat track with a bit of give in the ground we can see this horse in his best light.
Black Corton was potentially a fortunate winner with SIZING TENNESSEE falling two out when just hitting the front but the winner is nothing but game so it might well have been much closer than first thought. Both are worth keeping an eye on but it looks as if we’ll have to wait till the spring to see Black Corton again after enduring a busy but successful summer campaign.
From the handicaps, I was personally over the moon with the manner in which COGRY won the opener on Saturday from the front. A horse that I have followed for years, it’s no secret that he has his jumping problems but he conducted himself superbly, travelled and jumped sweetly and stayed on well to beat SINGLEFARMPAYMENT by four lengths. The runner-up will come on for the run and is definitely one I’ll be keeping on side with the Ladbrokes Trophy (better known by many as the Hennessy Gold Cup) next on his agenda.
Foxtail Hill, another front-runner for Nigel Twiston-Davies, was so game to hold off the challenge of Le Prezien(step up in trip will suit this one) with the pair drawing well clear of third. He looks smart when on song, but like Cogry does have a few jumping issues. If he can reproduce that performance regularly he’ll be an interesting one for the last race of the festival, the Grand Annual.
The step up to 3m produced improvement for THOMAS CAMPBELL, a previous 3-time winner over the minimum, there was no surprise to see him kick clear in the closing stages, the only worry was would he see out the trip – which we saw he did pretty well. Already a live contender for the Pertemps.
It was great to see Tim Vaughan finally step foot in the winners enclosure at the home of jumps racing at the 151st time of asking, a ridiculous stat. His Master Dancer bolted past his rivals, making up a hell of a lot of ground before the last to win by 10 lengths. He’s sure to be penalised heavily by the handicapper but the fashion of that victory would suggest he may still improve.
Three more that caught my eye over the two days were Maiden hurdle winner SLATE HOUSE, who impressed on hurdling debut and cost connections £250,000 so might be pretty special. The other two were the first two home in the bumper on Saturday, Fergal O’Brien’s Herecomestheboom and the Alan Potts owned Ainchea. It’s hard to tell the depth of that race but they both shaped with promise so I guess only time will tell but both worth monitoring.
I’ll be back at Cheltenham for The Open meeting in mid-November where we’ll find out more clues for the festival itself. We’ve got some great racing to look forward too until then though – so I may post a shorter review of any eye-catchers over the next couple of weeks!