We were greeted with much better weather for the second meeting of the season at Prestbury Park, after an overcast first day the sun shone bright for the remaining two which resulted in perfect viewing weather for a healthy sized crowd yet again, a testament to how popular our sport is becoming which is great. The sun did provide a few difficulties though with hurdles being omitted on both day two and three which included Sunday’s feature race, the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle. This is becoming a problem and personally I can’t understand why they don’t decide to bring the concluding bumper forward a couple of races to allow the sun to drop behind the main stand? This is an issue that I will voice my concerns over but will most probably end in vein, though no harm in trying!
There was of course some excellent racing on show for us and unlike last month there was no issue with the railings on the run in thank god. Here’s my round-up of the three days along with a few horses to note going forward.
There was a sad end to the opening race of the meeting, won by The Young Master, with the talented Nigel Twiston-Davies gelding Jameson unfortunately losing his life when falling two-out, bringing down Sky Pirate in the process and both horses looked ready to play a major role in the conclusion of the race. Station Master moved well into the race but the winner, who was 13lb below his highest winning mark, should still be well handicapped when next seen on that evidence.
Fergal O’Brien struck again at his local track, which is becoming a habit for him, with Red Hot Chilly who stole a march on the others when kicking clear nicely on the home turn though did look thankful that the line came as My Brother was hurling himself at the winner and another 50 yards it may have been a different result. Voodoo Doll seemed to enjoy the stiff two-miles in third and remains on a good mark though would need further on a flatter track as already shown.
After having reportedly worked all over Haldon Gold Cup winner and stablemate God’s Own, there was no surprise to see the well-backed Bun Doran bolt up in the ‘BetVictor Handicap Chase’ (though we only found out this info after the race unfortunately!). He travelled and jumped very smartly throughout and put daylight between himself and his rivals turning for home and his jump at the last to seal the race was just perfect, he’s one to most definitely keep an eye on with further progress forthcoming.
The ‘Steel Plate and Sections Novice Chase’ was a great spectacle with five of the seven runners all in with a chance over the last. White Moon unfortunately came down when making decent headway which left four fighting out the finish and after a terrible blunder two out it was remarkable that Count Meribel was able to get up and win to give his jockey Mark Grant a first Cheltenham success which unsurprisingly left him emotional in his post-race interview. Only a length separated four horses though that distance would have been more in my opinion if the winner hadn’t made that shuddering error and he looks a progressive type with Mr Whipped and White Moon also worth noting.
It was great to see Tiger Roll make the journey over to compete in the first cross-country race of the season but he was always going to struggle to concede 15lb to four-time C&D winner Josies Orders on reappearance and it was the Enda Bolger-trained gelding who just managed to hold off course-debutant Fact Of The Matter gamely. I think the run by Tiger Roll was still a solid effort and that would not have been a main target that’s for sure, with his race most definitely coming next March, so that was a promising return and I’d have him to beat Josies Orders off level weights again.
We saw an exciting prospect in Coolanly land the ‘Hyde Novices’ Hurdle’ to give Fergal O’Brien a double on the day. His horse fell early in the Persian War at Chepstow but hurdled very nicely here and soon scooted past the well-regarded Pym to score by over three-lengths and he already looks like a contender for either the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett at the festival.
Quel Destin gave Paul Nicholls a fourth win in nine years of the ‘JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle’ when defeating the in-form Cracker Factory and they both look smart prospects having jumped and travelled well as well as having to concede 5lb to three of their rivals and 7lb to the filly Never Adapt. She was lit-up going to post and that continued into the race as she shot off uncontrollably, but I have to say I thought she’d have nothing left to give after being headed two out but she kept on quite nicely up the hill so if they can settle her down going forward I think she’s worth following as I know she’s well thought of in the yard.
Nicholls then landed the ‘mallardjewellers.com Novices’ Chase’ to give him a quick-fire double with the 2016 Martin Pipe winner Ibis Du Rheu. It was again heartbreak for connections of Theatre Territory who has now finished second three times over fences at Cheltenham and overall chase record of 2-2-3-2-3-3-2 after putting in another fine round of jumping and you’ve got to think it’s only a matter of time until he does get his head in front. The World’s End was a bit novicey at some of his jumps and I’d be worried at present if he were to line up in a big field though one that does jump well is Harry Fry’s Minella Awards and I’d have thought he’ll be competing in some of the big handicaps over the season.
Rock The Kasbah has always been thought of as a thorough stayer and it was nice to see him land the ‘BetVictor.com Handicap Chase’ over the the extended 3m3f with the better ground one of the keys to his success. It was a return to form for Royal Vacation back on the same mark as when landing a novice handicap at the track last January and not for the first time Singlefarmpayment goes off at the head of the market but could only fill the places. The best run in defeat of the meeting hands down goes to 2015 Gold Cup winner and much-loved Coneygree, who after pulling up in both the Charlie Hall and Ladbrokes Trophy last year, returned from an almost year absence to run an almighty race in third off top-weight and he had to concede upwards of 10lb to all but one of his rival, connections can feel very proud of the job they have done to get the eleven-year old back on the track and competing at such a competitive level.
The main feature of the meeting, the ‘BetVictor Gold Cup’ saw only six of the twenty finish after an eventful two-and-a-half miles which resulted in Gary Moore’s Baron Alco, who was second at the festival in March, gamely land the £90,298-prize for his connections. The seven-year old was given a great front-running ride by Jamie Moore, along with the second horse Frodon by Bryony Frost off top-weight, and that was by far the best place to be positioned with what was going on in behind them. There were three fallers, two brought-down, four unseats and three pulled up. From those who didn’t complete I’d be focussing on Rather Be, Happy Diva (both travelled powerfully when brought-down 4 out) along with Kalondra who has now hit the deck the last twice but has the potential to go close in one of these.
It was a good 35 minutes or so for trainer Ian Williams who landed a quick double with victory in the listed ‘Regulatory Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle’ with last month’s winner First Assignment who still looks way ahead of the handicapper when stepping up to 3m for the first time before flat-recruit Speedo Boy (sixth in the Cesarawitch) won the ‘BetVictor Intermediate Handicap Hurdle’ under a hands and heels ride by Tom O’Brien, two nice horses.
A headache for all punters to start the final day came in the form of a 23-runner handicap hurdle which was won by the Jonjo O’Neill team with Palmers Hill and there should be more to come with that just his second start in a handicap. Follow The Bear looked to be enjoying himself out in front before falling three out so would be one to take out of the race for Nicky Henderson.
Lalor provided us with an emotional victory in the ‘Racing Post Arkle Trial’ for trainer Kayley Woollacott with him very much loved in the yard and now makes it graded wins in all three disciplines in NH racing after landing a Grade 1 bumper & Grade 2 hurdle both at Aintree. He looks a natural over fences and is set for an exciting season ahead. The big disappointment was Defi Du Seuil who was very awkward at the majority of his obstacles and it remains to be seen where they’ll go with him next but more than likely back over timber.
Sceau Royal won the ‘Shloer Chase’ to stamp his claim on the Champion Chase in March but will have to come on a bit if he’s to win in March. He showed a nice attitude to stay on well up the hill though was fending off the eleven-year old Simply Ned who was giving him 3lb so I’m not so sure if he’s my idea of a Champion Chase winner at this current stage of the season. Le Prezien was supported in the betting and despite well beaten I’d assume the quicker ground wasn’t to his liking and is worth another go at this level when the rain comes whilst Brain Power again flattered to deceive.
‘The Greatwood Hurdle’ was unfortunately turned into a bit of a flat race with only five of the eight hurdles jumped but that didn’t stop it providing us with a pulsating finish. Silver Streak came flying up the hill but was denied a neck by northern-raider Nietzsche who claimed this big pot for Brian Ellison. He’s a multiple winner on the level so the dulling of hurdles was much to his liking and add to that his course form it wasn’t a complete shock to see the five-year old win despite his 20/1 odds off a featherweight. Verdana Blue followed up last week’s Elite Hurdle win with a fine fourth and a massive run from the top-weight Old Guard who made eye-catching headway late into third. The front five (completed by Western Ryder) pulled clear of the remainder so should all be kept a close eye on going forward with preference for Verdana Blue and Silver Streak.
After finishing second at ‘The Showcase’ meeting, Elixir De Nutz went one better for Colin Tizzard in the ‘Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Trial’ with a smart hurdling performance and gave one of my horses to follow, Thomas Darby, a lovely compliment having finished behind him last time out and Olly Murphy will have a good idea of how good that horse is as the aforementioned stablemate Itchy Feet ran a close second in this race.
Another top meeting had by all, roll on December! (though there is plenty of good racing in between to look forward to)
PERFORMANCE OF THE MEETING: LALOR (Kayley Woollacott)
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE MEETING: DEFI DE SEUIL (Philip Hobbs)