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CHELTENHAM, 27th October 2017
Going: GOOD (Good to Soft in places)
Over the Old Course
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A good turnout for the first meeting of the new season at Cheltenham, both in terms of horses and attendance, with a record crowd of over 13,000 racegoers attending the Friday of the Showcase meeting. A generous sprinkling of water meant that, perhaps surprisingly considering that it was a mainly dry week, the phrase 'good to soft in places' was in the going description; however the general consensus was that the race times backed that up.
The opening two-mile five-furlong Class 2 novices' hurdle looked a good opportunity for Brillare Momento to consolidate her good form from last season and she delivered in decisive fashion after the runner-up had set a medium pace.
Brillare Momento (medium height, well made) looked well in her coat but was a little on edge in the preliminaries. Racing keenly early, she pressed on from three out and stayed on well from the last. The many good mares' hurdles in the calendar, such as the handicaps at Wincanton in November and back at Cheltenham in December, pick themselves.
Treackle Tart (medium-to-tallish, leggy), another mare, started 12/1 but did better than expected beforehand, admittedly helped by Its All Guesswork's mistake at the second last: she tried to make all but was headed by the winner at the third last, and left in the runner-up spot two out, to her credit keeping on well. She, too, will probably head to the better mares' races - the handicapper is likely to leave connections with no choice after this, but she could pick up a handicap.
Jabulani, a workmanlike gelding who's not that tall, got on edge as the preliminaries wore on. He acquitted himself well, keeping on without making any impression up the hill, but made a couple of errors on the way round, the worst of which was at the fifth, so could do with sorting his jumping out, but there might be more to come.
Its All Guesswork, leggy and sparely made with little scope for the longer term, was the most relaxed of these in the preliminaries. Waited with, he had a bit to do at the seventh but made a move three out, and was looking dangerous - though not going as well as Brillare Momento - when blundering two out, done with thereafter, and Blairs Cove - tallish, raw and light-bodied - was disappointing, a promising forward move at the sixth coming to nothing when he was ridden and weakened from the second last; although he has the height he's unfurnished at the moment and needs time.
Race two was a cracking two-mile Class 2 novices' chase; the betting made it all about Sceau Royal beforehand but he had much more to do under a penalty for his Warwick win, and the winner North Hill Harvey was arguably the most promising horse seen on the entire card.
North Hill Harvey (4/1 to 100/30), the Greatwood Hurdle winner last season, finally got to do the job that he's very much built for and put in a most taking performance. Looking very well and proud beforehand, he led from the fourth and made the rest, ridden from the second last and finding all the way to the line, even when headed by Sceau Royal after the last. He was in close to the water jump and the third last but that's a minor gripe - his jumping was good and sound in the main and there's much more to come from him, possibly over longer trips as the season progresses, but expect to see him in the Grade 2 event over this course and distance and/or the Henry VIII at Sandown first.
Sceau Royal lacks the physical scope of others in this field, only medium height, leggy and light bodied, but on this evidence it's not stopping him over fences and he stepped up considerably on his Warwick chasing debut-win, to be fair jumping better than that time too, travelling better than the winner as he loomed up on the home turn and leading after the last, but the winner found more up the hill. Sceau Royal didn't flinch though and went down with honours, conceding 5 lbs.
Ballyhill, tall and close coupled, is straight backed, which for me isn't ideal in a chaser but he ran well here, confirming the form from when he chased home Sceau Royal at Warwick, making the early running, staying close up but fighting a losing battle from the third last - there might be more to come from him, and so too Movewiththetimes (medium height, lengthy and well made, opened 15/8), who was a bit keen early, moved up to track the leaders from the eighth and couldn't find the necessary from the second last, finally beaten off when reaching for the final fence - the second time he'd reached for one on the way round.
Mick Thonic, running in his last novice chase, was a most promising type last season but seems to be regressing, having weakened out of things at Newton Abbot on his reappearance and blundering badly at the first open ditch here (eighth), pulled up before the next.
Twenty-one lined up for the first big field-handicap of Cheltenham's 2017/18 season, a Class 3 0-140 handicap hurdle over two miles five furlongs, but the top weight KK Lexion was shy of the ceiling for the race, only 131: although four winners on this card made some or all of the running, the victor here Master Dancer came from last.
Master Dancer (well made, deep girthed) was last after the second and still had plenty to do at the seventh. Richard Johnson was still delaying his effort when he made a mistake at the second last, and he was shaken up at that point, running on to chase the leaders approaching the last, leading soon after it and putting ten lengths between himself and the second from there. This was only his fifth start over hurdles and there could be more to come, although there'll need to be such was the manner of this success. He's won over two miles on the Flat and should be okay over three miles over hurdles going forward.
Vivas ran into one here and might have another race in him, here making a mistake three out but moving through to track the leaders at the next, staying on and leading after another error at the last, but headed by the winner the instant he got to the front.
KK Lexion looked as though the run would bring him on and shaped with plenty of encouragement, pushed along after a mistake three out, shaken up and leading at the next and sent for home from there, a move which wasn't decisive, and he couldn't find any extra after the last. He hasn't yet built on a promising performance when winning at Wincanton in January, but will do at some point soon judged on this.
Hallings Comet was made plenty of use of, clear early, not so far ahead at the seventh but clinging on to a narrow advantage until the second last, even then keeping on, still holding on to fourth after a mistake at the last.
The Mighty Don (medium height, light bodied, angular) looked well forward for his reappearance but didn't run like it, moving up to be prominent from the seventh but weakening after reaching for the second last - he often makes mistakes over hurdles but it doesn't normally stop him and he could do better for this run, while others to note are Cake De L'Isle, who was up with the pace and still in touch, yet to be asked for the maximum, when unseating three out, and Cottersrock, who lost his prominent pitch after a mistake at the second last then rallied to pass a beaten one in the last 50 yards, few finishing faster.
The well supported One Forty Seven was the biggest horse on show all meeting, very tall and well made, wasted over hurdles. A forward move at the seventh came to nothing as he weakened from the second last, but he needs fences now.
The three-mile Class 2 novices' chase wasn't as hot as the earlier two-miler but there was still plenty of interest, even if a couple didn't come up to expectations.
Black Corton lacks size, only medium height and leggy, but impressed with his wellbeing. All the same this was a fortunate win. Never out of the first two, he was getting the worst of it as Sizing Tennessee pressed on going to the second last only to be left clear by that one's fall, and he was kept up to his work after the last. He'd been in action throughout the Summer and this was his fifth chase win, so chances are that could be it from him for now.
Fagan looks increasingly flattered by his runner-up finish to none other than Unowhatimeanharry in the Albert Bartlett at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and was fortunate to get second here, ridden and outpaced from the third last and well held when left in that place two out. He looks worth opposing going forward.
Ballymalin is straight backed, which isn't ideal for a chaser, but he's well made and lasted to the third last here before fading: there should be a handicap chase win in him.
Sizing Tennessee is a big, gross object, but he looked fit and well and was in the process of turning round earlier Newton Abbot form with Black Corton when falling two out, ridden and staying on at the time: on this sixth attempt in a chase it would have been his first win, and provided he shows no ill-effects, compensation shouldn't be hard to come by.
Beat That is very much like Fagan nowadays in that it doesn't seem to be happening for him, but the race hadn't started in earnest when he fell at the 12th: he also hadn't been fluent at the first. He looked well in his coat and had a bit of condition over the quarters, so at least he'll be better for the run, but he'll be on a hattrick of falls next time.
What looked a competitive heat in the three-mile, one-furlong 0-125 amateur riders' handicap chase didn't pan out that way. What Happens Now up there throughout and not much coming out of the field to challenge in the straight.
Because What Happens Now represented one of the punter's go-to pairings - Mr Derek O'Connor riding a Donald McCain-trained horse in an amateurs' chase at Cheltenham - his starting price of 8/1 was shorter than it ought to have been considering that he showed a poor attitude at Newton Abbot the time before, but to say he found much more than he did that time is an understatement. No knowing what we'll get from him next time, though.
Indian Castle, well made, looked fit enough on this first run for 541 days. Outpaced from the 17th, he disputed third at the third last, at which point the winner and Sporting Boy were pressing on ahead, and he went second in the last 150 yards: the handicapper has given him a chance, but chances are that he's not the force of old. Veterans' chases probably present the best opportunities for him in the future.
Regal Flow won this race two years previously and ran well this time round, in contention at the top of the hill and hanging on to after the second last, while Petite Power - who looked very well - is anything but a chasing type in appearance and muddled round over these stiff fences, to his credit boxing on well from the home turn: he'd be interesting in a staying handicap hurdle.
Even though the winner was fancied it was Presenting Julio who was really all the rage, Gordon Elliott and Mr Jamie Codd a trainer-jockey combination who are backed blindly at Cheltenham, but this leggy gelding looked too high in the weights off 117 after his Killarney win off a mere 98 and so it proved, hard driving not getting him into a winning chance after the third last.
Bertie Boru has been round the block a few times and, held up last, made mistakes here, but stayed on well once the leaders were away from the second last and nothing finished faster - he's ten now and could be interesting in a veterans' chase.
Honkytonktennessee (leggy, workmanlike) spent a lot of the race out the back, but made steady headway into things on the back straight on the final circuit and not only moved comfortably with four to jump (even after a mistake there), but even looked as though he might take a hand in the finish: however he was pushed along and done with going to the second last, shaping as though failing to stay - he might be interesting over two and a half miles next time.
National Hunt horses often don't come cheap nowadays, but the owners of Slate House got a return of £4,750 on their hefty investment when he won the two-mile maiden hurdle in decisive fashion.
Slate House cost £260,000 at the Cheltenham Sales (held during the Festival in March), and looks a quality individual, well made and rangy, laid back in demeanour and giving the odd arrogant tail-swish in the paddock, if a bit dull in his coat for this Rules debut. A mistake at the third was his only jumping blemish and he wandered when pushed along approaching the last, but stretched clear in the last 150 yards. It goes without saying that longer trips and fences are going to be what Slate House will be all about.
Dans Le Vent (sweating behind), by contrast, will only ever be a hurdler on looks, but served it up to Slate House until he couldn't go on from the second last, while the third Gortroe Joe, who's well made, shaped encouragingly, finding something when ridden to pass a few between the third last and the last, no further impression up the hill - he's one for the long term.
Point Of Principle (medium height) made mistakes, but was probably found out against this opposition and, keeping on from the last, is probably one for middle-of-the-road handicaps in the midweek.
To round things off, another made-all winner in the two-mile Class 3 0-140 handicap hurdle (the top weight here was also 131, again short of the ceiling). Hardly anyone had been shaken up in earnest before the third last hurdle.
Bobble Emerald followed up his Southwell win on his previous outing, finding plenty when ridden from the second last and surviving a scare when badly hampered by a riderless horse some 150 yards out, forcing him right and unavoidably taking the runner-up's ground: however Bobble Emerald asserted in the last 75 yards to win going away and on merit, that being the conclusion that the Stewards quite rightly came to in the subsequent enquiry.
Man Of Plenty was still in rear three out, but stayed on from the second last, then didn't make it easy for his jockey by hanging left before the last. He still found enough to give him a half-chance up the hill, but had his ground taken when the loose horse forced the winner to the right and into Man Of Plenty's path; however the runner-up not finding as much as Bobble Emerald close home was the decisive factor.
Dreamcatching - only smallish and leggy - failed to act round Cheltenham for a second time after he flopped in the Fred Winter Juvenile back in March, making a mistake at the fourth, hard ridden after the second last and dropping away from the home turn.
Cool Macavity, a last-time-out Towcester winner, was just beginning to be nudged along with five lengths to find when falling at the second last - he's let down backers before and was no certainty to find the necessary, so it might be that his failure to complete didn't affect the outcome: the departure of High Expectations (medium height, stocky, looked well) one flight earlier, though, might have been more pertinent, for he was yet to be asked for an effort and was going comfortably, hemmed in on all sides, when unseating the talented Lorcan Murtagh, who was riding for the Gordon Elliott-yard for the first time.
Horses to take out of the meeting
North Hill Harvey
Cake De L'Isle