McCoy Prepares To Bid Farewell To Cheltenham

Horse racing without AP McCoy is like Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson. Whilst the

latter departed Old Trafford holding the Premier League trophy aloft a couple of seasons ago, the

former will be aiming to leave his very own ‘Theatre of Dreams’ next month in a blaze of glory, as the

legendary Northern Irishman gears up for his final farewell to the Cheltenham Festival.

The term ‘legend’ is branded around sporting circles with infuriating frequency, but in McCoy the

19-times champion jockey has revolutionised the National Hunt weighing room and in a career

spanning over two decades the 40-year-old has ridden over 4,000 winners, with 37 of those coming

at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

With less than three weeks to go until the 2015 Prestbury Park extravaganza kicks off, McCoy could

be forgiven for taking the last few months in the saddle easy, but as he showed last week when

riding four winners in four different countries in four days, he will continue his unrivalled will-to-win

until he finally hangs up his riding boots for good.

 

Comfortably on course for an unheralded 20th champion jockey title, McCoy will be desperate to

sparkle at the imminent spring festivals and whilst Shutthefrontdoor could look to hand him a

second Grand National win on April 11, all eyes are firmly fixed on what the “champ” will be

partnering over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival.

 

A three-times winner of the Champion Hurdle, McCoy is likely to partner reigning Champion Hurdle

hero Jezki, who is not only looking to reverse recent form with Hurricane Fly, but also down the new

pretender Faugheen, who along with The New One make the opening day showpiece on March 10 a

real scintillating spectacle.

 

McCoy will don the famous green and gold silks of JP McManus in the Queen Mother Champion

Chase, as he looks to etch his name in that roll of honour for the second time in his career, as they

team up with Mr Mole, who is an 8/1 shot with Paddy Power for the 2m Championship race on day

two.

 

Landing success in the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup aboard Carlingford Lough was another Grade 1

success ticked off McCoy’s list, but he is yet to reign supreme in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, and

with More Of That’s participation in the 3m staying event under real jeopardy then it could well be a

title the Country Antrim-born rider will have to live without.

 

McCoy’s ride aboard Synchronised is often uttered as one of the finest rides seen around the

undulations of GL50, as the Jonjo O’Neill-trained star was cajoled to Cheltenham Gold Cup victory,

and it’s the aforementioned Carlingford Lough and dual Festival winner Holywell that McCoy will

have to choose between when trying to make it a hat-trick of wins.

 

Away from the Championship races, McCoy is sure to have a plethora of top rides, as the aforesaid

McManus will unleash a host of handicappers, whilst the likes of Taquin Du Seuil and Aurore

D’estruval could add more depth to what should be a star-studded book of rides throughout the four

days.

 

Having only landed the Cheltenham Top Jockey crown on two occasions in 1997 and 1998, McCoy

often struggles to live with the firepower at the disposal of the likes of Ruby Walsh and Barry

Geraghty, but Sky Bet have installed McCoy as an 11/1 shot to lift the title this season, and knowing

the nature of the man, you’d be a brave man to take the jumping idol on.

 

Article by Steve Chambers, who is on Twitter at @SteveChambers86

Cheltenham Bankers Or Blowouts

Steve Chambers (@SteveChambers86) takes a look at some of the leading fancies ahead of the Cheltenham 2015 and concludes whether he think they’ll be Festival ‘bankers’ or ‘blowouts’ come the second week of March. 

As the Cheltenham Festival ante-post markets begin to gain significant shape, as horses continue their final prep runs before heading to Prestbury Park for the four-day National Hunt extravaganza, we look deeper into some of the short-priced favourites and their chances of landing festival glory. We pick out four of the red-hot jollies and discuss whether they are banker material or will blowout on the big stage.

Faugheen – Champion Hurdle (currently 5/4 with Paddy Power)

There’s no way you can’t be impressed with what Faugheen has shown on a racecourse as last season’s imperious Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner has blossomed out of the novice division and his wins in the Coral Hurdle and Christmas Hurdle were exquisite jumping displays.

However, at 5/4 with Paddy Power the Willie Mullins-trained unbeaten star is far too short for the Champion Hurdle, as he will face an army of top class hurdling talent in the opening day showpiece on March 10 and with the likes of Jezki, The New One and Hurricane Fly all aiming to down the new pretender he could well find things tough on the big day.

He may have won the aforementioned Coral and Christmas Hurdles in style, but he was handed mediocre opposition that had never shown anything at the highest level, but in the Champion he will come up against seasoned campaigners and his jumping will be tested to the max at Championship level.

He will be many punters’ idea of the Irish banker, but with so much firepower likely to take him on at the front end then he could well be vulnerable and he may just come up short in what is a real classic first day spectacle at Prestbury Park.

Prediction: Blowout

Un De Sceaux – Arkle Challenge Trophy (currently 4/5 with BetVictor)

Willie Mullins will have an embarrassment of riches going into battle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and whilst the likes of Faugheen and Annie Power will be two heavyweights flying the County Carlow flag, it could prove to be Un De Sceaux that is his shining beacon, as he goes for glory in the Arkle Challenge Trophy.

A best-priced 4/5 with BetVictor, the seven-year-old suffered a fall on his novice chasing debut, but a facile win at Fairyhouse next time out was followed by a stunning front-running victory in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase, and if he can repeat that Leopardstown romp then it’s going to be tough for anything to live with him at Cheltenham.

His scintillating cruising speed will have many rivals struggling to keep up from the flag fall, and he showed at Leopardstown when downing Gilgamboa and Clarcam by 15 lengths that he can quicken off an already fast pace and this will surely see off his remaining rivals as they freewheel down the hill in the second half of the race.

Yes, his jumping will come into question, but he showed signs of having improved his jumping in that aforementioned Leopardstown win and he could well be the future star of the chasing world and at 4/5 will be potential banker material over the four days at the Gloucestershire venue.

Prediction: Banker

Annie Power – David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle (currently 11/10 with BetVictor)

If the aforementioned duo of Un De Sceaux and Faugheen can do the business for Willie Mullins then there will be a gargantuan number of bets running on to Annie Power in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, as she aims to land a hat-trick of wins for the all-conquering Irish operation of the first rate Mullins.

Aiming to emulate the peerless Quevega, Annie Power has yet to be seen on the track this season, but she is on track for the festival and if she does line up in the opening day 2m 4f event then it’s hard to see any of BetVictor’s 11/10 being available about the top quality mare retaining the crown for Ireland.

Edged out by More Of That in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle last season, Annie Power then returned to winning ways at the Punchestown Festival, and if she is in the same form this term then it’s tough to see anything in the mares’ division living with her in this Grade 1 contest.

Aurore D’estruval looks a very smart mare and could be the biggest danger, but Mullins knows what it takes to win this race and with Annie Power being earmarked for the race then he could well lift the trophy once again in what is always a field devoid of any significant depth.

Prediction: Banker

Silviniaco Conti – Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (currently 3/1 with Betfred)

Silviniaco Conti has been the standout chaser this season as wins in the Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase have propelled Paul Nicholls’ stable star to the head of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup betting, where he is available at 3/1 with the sponsors for the blue riband event.

A bloodless staying performance in the King George saw his rivals blown away, but whilst he has been the dominant staying chaser on British shores this season there’s still question marks hanging over his ability to produce his best at Cheltenham on the big day.

Twice he has taken his chance in the Gold Cup and having fallen when travelling well in the 2013 renewal, he was then a tiring fourth in last year’s race and he could well just be vulnerable coming up the hill and at 3/1 is no value at all in the ante-post betting.

A different proposition on a flat track, he has dominated the King George at Kempton Park the last two seasons, but at Cheltenham he has just found wanting at that crucial stage and with a star-studded field likely to take him on in the Gold Cup on March 13, then he could just have to settle for the minor honours once again.

Prediction: Blowout

Champagne Fever Set To Sweep Kempton on Boxing Day

Silviniaco Conti brushed aside the elite of the UK staying division with aplomb in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park last month and the Paul Nicholls-trained raider will aim to reproduce that imperious display on Boxing Day when he bids for back-to-back victories in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.

With five-time winner and former stablemate Kauto Star propelling back into the limelight when strutting his stuff at the Olympia Horse Show, it will be Paul Nicholls’ new shining beacon at his Ditcheat stables that will attempt to recapture the column inches for the champion trainer and Silviniaco Conti is the 5/2 favourite to retain his coveted Christmas crown.

Nicholls, who has saddled winner of the festive cracker eight times during his illustrious career, will not only unleash the aforementioned multiple Graded winner, but he will also hand eye-catching Amlin 1965 Chase victor Al Ferof a tilt at one of the finest and most prestigious races in the National Hunt calendar.

Returning from a lengthy absence, the grey exuded class as he eased to success in that Ascot event and he will now be stepped up to three miles next Thursday and if the tank can stay off the red for the 24 furlongs then he has to be in with a chance of landing a blow and is 6/1 with most firms.

As Cue Card (7/1) and Dynaste (8/1) waved the white flag from a long way out in the aforesaid Betfair it was the gutsy Menorah who finished closest to Silviniaco Conti and the form the Philip Hobbs team are showing of late then you can’t discount that regular Grade 1 contender at 8/1 with Ladbrokes.

The Irish haven’t tasted success in this race since Kicking King won his second King George in 2005, but the Emerald Isle will unleash a real red-hot contender this season in the shape of dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever, who is aiming to hand Willie Mullins his second win in the race.

Florida Pearl strode to victory for the Co. Carlow handler in 2001, but Champagne Fever will hand Mullins a star chance of another success on UK soil and last year’s Arkle Trophy runner-up was a fine winner of the 2m 4f of the Clonmel Oil Chase, and if his stamina can see out this trip then he will be a major player.

A 9/2 best price second favourite with BetVictor, the Rich Ricci-owned challenger is the most interesting opponent to Silviniaco Conti at the moment and if he can produce the goods then has to be considered as a potential player in the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup market, which is still extremely wide open.

At the prices, Champagne Fever looks the best value pick in the race, he showed enough on his chasing debut last time out to suggest he could be a chasing star in the making and connections certainly would be sending him over for a tilt at the race if they didn’t think he was capable and 9/2 is a standout price when other firms are as short as 3/1.

Written by @SteveChambers86

National Hunt Half Term Report

@SteveChambers86 delivers his half term report for some the leading contenders for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

With under three months until the tapes are raised for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival we do a half-term report for the current National Hunt season and grade the four ante-post favourites for the Championship races and whether or not they can sparkle on Prestbury Park in March.

Champion Hurdle – Faugheen B+

A sensational winner of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle last season, Faugheen has been touted as one of the finest National Hunt stars to emerge from Ireland for the last few decades and the Willie Mullins-trained raider is a 9/4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle.

Unbeaten in his seven career races, the six-year-old son of Germany made an impressive start to his campaign when trouncing his rivals with an electric turn of pace in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot at the end of November.  Sent off a 1/4 jolly that day, Faugheen produced a fluent round of jumping against inferior rivals, before igniting a stunning turn of pace from the last flight to win with aplomb.

You couldn’t help but be impressed, but the likes of Blue Fashion and Lac Fontana are hardly top quality hurdlers, so he will face his real test over the festive period when he will line up in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park, where he could lock horns with Champion Hurdle market rival The New One.

Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre C-

He may have been off the track for a year, but Sprinter Sacre still heads the betting for the 2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase, however, the Nicky Henderson-trained superstar is available at 4/1 with Paddy Power for the elite two-mile crown and it would be a brave punter to back the former winner of the race.

It’s difficult to assess his current state with Henderson electing to bypass the recent Tingle Creek Chase, but whilst reigning champion Sire De Grugy is still on the sidelines then it’s a division that is extremely wide open and a new name could propel into the contention for favouritism.

Having been seen last pulling up in the Desert Orchid Chase then you can’t rate the Seven Barrows inmate highly, so a C- will grade him with a lot of respect as at his best he is a phenomenal equine talent that will be tough to beat if meeting those dizzy heights of two years ago.

World Hurdle – More Of That – D

More Of That’s battling victory over star mare Annie Power in last season’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle will live in the memory for a long time, but the former produced a disappointing effort on his first start when sent off a warm order for the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, which saw him lose his unbeaten tag.

A host of sketchy jumps throughout the Grade 2 event saw the JP McManus-owned six-year-old continually lose momentum and in heavy conditions he failed to pick up for AP McCoy and duly finished 25 lengths behind Medinas, which forced the bookmakers to ease him to a 4/1 shot for the World Hurdle.

So, it’s hard to mark him any higher than a D for his current form and connections will be hoping that a break off the track can aid his progression and come the spring he will back producing those scintillating staying performances he showed he can bring to the party last season.

Cheltenham Gold Cup – Silviniaco Conti – A

The star pupil in this year’s half-term report has to be Silviniaco Conti who deserves to be top of the class and the Paul Nicholls-trained star has gained an A grade for his sublime display in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park.

He may have disappointed in the Charlie Hall Chase, but his staying demolition of a top notch form in the Grade 1 at the Lancashire venue has seen him launch to the head of the Cheltenham Gold Cup market and he is a best-priced 8/1 with most firms for the blue riband event on the final day of the festival.

He jumped with consummate ease and maintained a superb gallop throughout the race which saw the likes of Cue Card, Dynaste and Taquin Du Seuil merely wave the white flag.  A current favourite for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, the Ditcheat inmate will aim to solidify his name at the top of the Gold Cup betting with victory in that Kempton Park Christmas cracker.

Tingle Creek Provides Little In The Way Of Queen Mother Clues

Paul Nicholls saddled his ninth winner of the Tingle Creek Chase as 9/1 shot Dodging Bullets fought off a spirited effort from Somersby to land the Grade One showpiece from Sandown Park, but there was a sad postscript to the race as the multiple Graded winner, Oscar Whisky, had to be put down after a horrific fall in the middle of the contest.

A sombre mood echoed around the Esher venue as it became apparent the Nicky Henderson-trained star was not sound following his tumble, but for connections of the winner they were dreaming of bigger challenges as the season progresses and the Ditcheat-trained victor could well be bound for a tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase come March.

The two-mile division is awash with ifs and buts with both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy currently on the sidelines and it’s unknown as to when the last two winners of the Champion Chase will be back on a racecourse, so there’s an area to be exploited and Dodging Bullets was the first to throw his hat into the ring as potential Championship material on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Balder Succes and God’s Own were sent off the 7/2 joint-favourites, but both struggled to maintain a slick round of jumping and gradually fell back through the field to leave the aforementioned Dodging Bullets alongside the veteran Somersby, with the enigmatic Hinterland chasing the front pair as they bypassed the Pond Fence.

Sam Twiston-Davies was always a prominent figure on Dodging Bullets and he kicked to front approaching the last fence and went on to fend off Somersby, who gave AP McCoy a terrific ride, by two-and-a-half lengths, with the smooth travelling Hinterland a further one-and-a-half lengths back in third place.

Down the years the winner of this contest has invariably propelled to the head of the Champion Chase market and the illustrious roll of honour just emphasises the quality needed to win the race, but the bookmakers have opted to maintain Dodging Bullets in the double-figured price range for the Champion Chase and he is a best-priced 14/1 for the 2m crown in March with BetVictor.

An intriguing market that sees the aforesaid Sprinter Sacre a 4/1 chance and last year’s Champion Sire De Grugy 6/1 in the ante-post betting, then it’s sure to be a sphere that will wholly depend on whether those two heavyweights can make it back from a stint on the sidelines, as come March if they do not take their place then that current 14/1 about Dodging Bullets will not be in the same ball park if connections opt to send him down that sphere.

Balder Succes, who was touted as the next big thing in the division, was eased to 16/1 and he will need to show that he is still potentially top class, whilst God’s Own is set to revert back to the novice arena after the Sandown disappointment and he is a 25/1 shot with most firms for the Champion Chase which has a cloudy look to it as we venture towards the festive period.

Hinterland Looks Like Value In Competitive Tingle Creek

@SteveChambers86 untangles Saturday’s Tingle Creek and concludes that it is 16/1 shot, Hinterland, that is thevlaue of the race.

Three of the last four winners of the Tingle Creek Chase have gone on to sparkle at the Cheltenham Festival and land the Queen Mother Champion Chase, so Saturday’s renewal at Sandown Park will provide a plethora of clues for the premier two-mile Championship race in the National Hunt calendar.

However, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, who have both managed to notch the incomparable double in the last two seasons, will both be absent from this Grade 1 prize and with the 2m division having an open feel to it with that aforementioned duo off the track indefinitely, then a flurry horses will aim to stake their claim as a potential Champion Chase candidate come March.

Balder Succes has been touted as the ‘new kid on the block’ in this sphere and he was an ultra-progressive novice chaser last season racking up some fine Graded wins.  However, he was forced to settle for the minor honours on his seasonal reappearance at Exeter in the Haldon Gold Cup, where he was beaten by Tom George’s exciting God’s Own, who will take his chance in Saturday’s event.

The former has been installed as the 5/2 market leader with Paddy Power as this time around they will run off level weights, but connections of God’s Own will feel that they can frank that West Country form, where he was victorious by five lengths, and many will feel the 4/1 about God’s Own doing the business is much better value.

George speaks highly of God’s Own and it’s testament to his lofty accreditation that they opt to send him to this race rather than the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase on the same card at Sandown, but a highly competitive field will take on the prominent duo and Alan King’s Balder Succes will not only have his Exeter rival to get the better of in an intriguing race.

Nicky Henderson has won this race in two of the last three years with the aforesaid Sprinter Sacre and Finian’s Rainbow and the Seven Barrows handler will saddle Oscar Whisky, who was last seen running a stormer off top weight in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.  The former Grade 1-winning hurdler has often failed to hit the big time over fences, but he has the class to ease past these rivals and if it all clicks together then the 7/1 appears big.

Vukovar has been subject to continual support in the betting offices this week and Harry Fry’s second season chaser has always been highly acclaimed by his fledgling trainer, but the value could’ve gone as he is now only an 8/1 shot with several bookmakers.

Somersby is a mainstay of these sort of Grade 1 races and he will no doubt put up a gallant display, but his win ratio is pretty low key these days and he may just have to settle for the minor honours behind a potentially more progressive contender in this 10-strong field.

Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to win the races having trained Master Minded and Twist Magic to victory twice in the race and in Dodging Bullets and Hinterland he has a really appealing duo that could be under-estimated.  The latter, in particular, has shown a real zest for going right-handed and was mightily impressive when winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase earlier in his career and at 16/1 with William Hill has to be the each-way play in the race.

Silviniaco Conti The Pick In Competitive Betfair Chase

Cue Card produced a sensational display to out Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti in tremendous fashion in last year’s Betfair Chase and that heavyweight triumvirate will once again do battle again in Haydock Park’s Grade 1 event on Saturday afternoon in what will be an enthralling renewal of this valuable Cheltenham Gold Cup trial.

A masterful front-running display from the two-times Cheltenham Festival winner saw Cue Card silence his doubters 12 months ago as he saw out every inch of the three-mile trip and now with Daryl Jacob taking over the reins, the Colin Tizzard-trained seven-year-old will aim to emulate that bloodless victory in arguably the race of the season so far.

The bookmakers are finding it extremely difficult to split the trio at the head of the betting and Cue Card is a best-priced 10/3 with Ladbrokes to retain his title, but he failed to land any significant blow on his first start when down the field in the Haldon Gold Cup, but off level weights here he is sure to strip fitter and has to be a primary contender.

Silviniaco Conti is another that has already tasted defeat this season when well beaten by Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase, but Paul Nicholls’s stable star showed when reversing the form with Cue Card in the King George VI Chase over the festive period that he oozes class on his day and he is another available at 10/3 favourite with Paddy Power.

An eight-length fifth in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby last time out, the Ditcheat inmate will need to improve immeasurably to land a blow and is interestingly been run with cheekpieces for the first time, but with testing conditions likely to play to his strengths then he is sure to put up a more impressive performance on Saturday and has to come into calculations.

David Pipe has elected to keep Dynaste fresh for this test and he will make his seasonal reappearance at the weekend and is a best-priced 4/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook.  A fine winner of the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, he has often been touted as a non-stayer at three miles, but with connections still dreaming of Gold Cup glory then he will have to perform admirably here to be considered a real staying chaser for the notebook.

Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson have been in sensational form over the last few weeks and they will aim to propel into the limelight again as Menorah aims to build on the aforesaid Charlie Hall victory.  He is often under-rated in Grade 1 events and at 9/1 with BetVictor could be the each-way play in the race and a repeat of that Wetherby success will see him fight it out in the closing stages.

Barry Geraghty has taken over from AP McCoy on board Taquin Du Seuil, who was second in the Charlie Hall, and last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase still needs to prove he is up to this top class level and a positive performance here could see him launch into the Gold Cup picture and is another eye-catching runner at 11/2 with most firms.

Harry Topper will make his first start of the season and Kim Bailey’s charge can often mis-fire at the highest level and whilst he won the Denman Chase at Newbury last year, he could find things tough at the Lancashire track, whilst the likes of chasing stalwarts Medermit and The Giant Bolster will add tremendous depth to what is a truly mouth-watering contest at the weekend.

As far as the winner is concerned, I’ve always been a big fan of Silviniaco Conti and am willing to overlook his Wetherby disaster in the hope that he was in need of the run and if he produces anywhere close to the performance that saw him win the King George last December or this race two years ago, then he’ll be hard to beat and he’s taken to emerge victorious.

Written by Steve Chambers, follow him on Twitter (@SteveChambers86) for more of his racing opinions.

Kings Palace and Champagne West Stake Festival Claims with Open Meeting Wins

@SeanRaymond provides the low-down on those runners who caught the eye over the course of Cheltenham’s three day Open meeting.

The Open Meeting at Cheltenham is often seen by many as the real start of the National Hunt season in the UK and once again it proved to be a brilliant three days of jumps action. Thousands of fans descended on Prestbury Park over the weekend to catch some top class racing and we saw some very taking performances to scribble in the notebook along the way. The Festival may still be four months away but we saw plenty of eye catching action from some improving young horses who are sure to be back here in the spring with every chance of running big races.

There were a number of particularly interesting performances from one of two novice chasers over the weekend including Champagne West who made a real mark for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson on Friday. The Steel Plate and Sections Novices Chase has been won by the likes of Denman and Imperial Commander in recent years and while it remains to be seen if Champagne West will turn out to be as good as either of those two, it certainly was a likeable performance from an improving six-year-old who now looks one to follow.

Champagne West travelled and jumped like a very good horse indeed before pulling clear of stable-mate Colour Squadron up the hill and the RSA Chase now looks very much on his radar. He remains a relatively lightly raced horse who is sure to improve again as we see him through the winter and he is now as short as 12/1 for the RSA Chase with one firm which might look a decent price come the spring.

One horse who Champagne West may well end up taking on in the RSA Chase come March also made a favourable impression during the Open Meeting this past weekend. The David Pipe trained Kings Palace won the Cheltenham Club Novices Chase on Saturday with impressive style and he looks like a strong stayer who was more than at home on his chase debut. The six-year-old was a very good hurdler for Pond House but he was bought as a chaser and connections are convinced that the best of this horse will be seen over the fences. The highly rated Sausalito Sunrise was no match for Kings Palace on this occasion and Bet365 were impressed enough to cut the Pipe horse from 16/1 into 8/1 favourite for the RSA Chase which highlights the regard that this horse is held in.

The main talking point from the Open Meeting was the success of Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs who shared a stunning six winners over the three days.  The aforementioned Champagne West was just one of those winners and they enjoyed a number of other high profile wins together including on Sunday when Garde La Victoire claimed the Greatwood Hurdle in very taking fashion. The five-year-old remains lightly raced and should have more improvement to come although this was clearly a career best off of a big weight. One or two quietly fancy Garde La Victoire to run well in the Champion Hurdle after this latest success with 33/1 a more than fair price at the moment about a young horse who clearly acts on the course and will enjoy the trip.

Caid Du Berlais is also worth a mention, as he produced a thrilling finish under a good ride from Sam Twiston-Davies to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday. The Paddy Power is considered the highlight of the Open Meeting and it certainly gave the fans a cracking finish this season. As they came over the last it was Johns Spirit who looked the winner all over in his bid for a second successive win in the race but he was collared in the shadow of the post by the Paul Nichols trained Caid Du Berlais. The Ryanair Chase remains a possibility for the Ditcheat in-mate and he certainly enjoys the course and distance at Cheltenham as he showed on Saturday although a tilt at one of the middle distance handicaps at the Festival is also likely to be considered for a horse who has proven himself to be top class.

Credit to @SteveChambers86 for dragging himself away from the betting ring to grabs these snaps on Friday…

CC Course 1Hounds Cheltenham BK Cheltenham

Cheltenham ‘Open’ For Business This Weekend…

@SteveChambers86 provides an overview of what we should be looking out for across the three day Open meeting at Cheltenham this weekend.

News emerging earlier in the week that Sire De Grugy would not take his chance in Sunday’s Shloer Chase put a huge dent in the quality on offer at Cheltenham’s Open meeting this weekend, but the three-day extravaganza which kicks off on Friday will still provide a multitude of top class races with some smart jumping prospects strutting their stuff around Prestbury Park.

Johns Spirit will attempt to become the first horse since Bradbury Star in 1994 to win back-to-back renewals of the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained raider is one of the prominent figures in what is an ultra-competitive renewal of the 2m 4 ½f contest, but the Jackdaws Castle inmate will face a plethora of exciting rivals.

Jamie Snowdon’s flag-bearer Present View showed when winning at the Cheltenham Festival in March that he excels on the undulations of GL50, whilst Evan Williams’s Buywise has attracted significant support in the betting offices over the last few weeks and his imperious seasonal reappearance over hurdles will have him fully tuned up for what will be a real punting head-scratcher on Saturday afternoon.

The action kicks off on Friday afternoon and whilst a few devilishly difficult handicap conundrums take place on the six-race card we will welcome back Cheltenham legend in the shape of Philip Hobbs’s Balthazar King.  A battling winner of the Cross Country Handicap Chase in the spring, the veteran will be sent off a warm order for the marathon event over the idiosyncratic obstacles and he will do battle with two-times winner Uncle Junior in a cracker.

A roll of honour that includes Grands Crus, Dynaste and Taquin Du Seuil emphasises what a premier trial the Steel Plate & Sections Novices’ Chase is and the aforementioned Hobbs will unleash the exciting Champagne West, whilst former Greatwood Handicap Hurdle winner Dell’ Arca and last year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup second Colour Squadron will all line up in the 2m 4 ½f event on Friday.

David Pipe, who saddled the aforementioned Dell ‘Arca to victory in last year’s Greatwood, will aim to reign supreme in that event again on Sunday and the Pond House handler will saddle the exciting Imperial Cup winner Baltimore Rock.  However, all eyes will be on the red-hot jolly Vaniteux, who could become one of Nicky Henderson’s shining beacons for this season and an impressive victory in this event could see him propel into the 2015 Champion Hurdle betting.

Graded races will be aplenty during the three days and the Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle will unearth a mover in the ante-post market for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, whilst Sunday will provide more festival clues with some smart prospects doing battle in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Trial, whilst Court Minstrel, Sgt Reckless and Dunraven Storm could all do battle in the Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase.

As we head towards the middle of November, the National Hunt season has clicked into top gear and the up-and-coming three days at Cheltenham will produce some stunning action with some launching their name into the festival picture and being touted as the next big thing in the jumping division.

The Giant Bolster Looks Great Value in Charlie Hall Chase

@SeanRaymond shares his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase before concluding that The Giant Bolster is where the value lies…

The eyes of the Jumps Racing world in the UK will fall on Wetherby as they play host to their biggest fixture of the season this weekend. The National Hunt winter is really starting to ramp up a gear right now, and that will certainly continue in West Yorkshire on Saturday afternoon with the Charlie Hall Chase the feature race of the day. The 3m1f contest has grown and grown in stature over the past few years and that is the case once again with a very strong field of quality chasers assembling for this one.

Silviniaco Conti is without doubt one of the best staying chasers in training at the moment and the Paul Nicholls trained horse will be going for a second Charlie Hall win on Saturday on seasonal debut. The nine-year-old won the Charlie Hall two years ago before he produced a career best last Christmas to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton in great style for connections. That performance was top class by any standard as he pulled clear of the excellent Cue Card and that form ensures he is the one to beat here.

He went to the Gold Cup last season off of the back of that King George success but after travelling really well, he curled up slightly after the final fence to fall away into fourth place which was a slight disappointment. The defence of his King George title and another tilt at the Gold Cup remain the key targets this season which is a word of caution for punters backing him to win here but he is the experienced chaser with the best form in the field which explains his price of 5/4 with Bet Victor to claim the win.

If Silviniaco Conti can win this weekend, he will become the sixth dual winner of the race but if he slips below his normal standard, there are one or two horses in this field more than capable of causing the favourite a problem or two. Chief among those is Taquin Du Seuil who is a second season chaser for Jonjo O’Neill and a very classy one at that. He was the excellent winner of the JLT Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March and he has the advantage of already having a run under his belt this season which could give him a fitness edge.

The seven-year-old was a distant third at Newton Abbot a few weeks back which was so far below his best that Taquin Du Seuil does have something to prove here. He clearly needed the run that day which is without question and he will need to bounce back quickly to his best form if he is to challenge the favourite at Wetherby.

Menorah (7/1) and Medermit (10/1) are both experienced chasers who have shown on their day that they are more than capable of mixing it with the very best horses. Menorah in particular could be an interesting each-way bet at Wetherby for the bang in-form Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson team and although the feeling with both if these horses is that both have seen better days. Medermit returned last season after a long injury lay-off but in truth he only looked solid rather than spectacular in three appearances which is likely to leave him short in the Charlie Hall if the market leaders perform anywhere near their best on Saturday.

The Giant Bolster has been placed in the top four of the Gold Cup for the past three years which is top class form and he will be making his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall on the his first step back to the Festival. The David Bridgwater trained chaser always seems to save his best form for Cheltenham which does count against him here but if he can produce anything like his top form, it is easy to make a case for the nine-year-old running on into a place at a nice price of 10/1.

Rightly so this race revolves around Silviniaco Conti and whether or not he is at his best for a first start of the season. The King George remains the key early season race for him but it would be a surprise if Paul Nicholls didn’t have him in fairly decent shape for this one. Taquin Du Seuil is of interest but his poor run last time means he is best watched on this occasion which means that it is The Giant Bolster who makes most appeal here from an each-way betting appeal at a price of 10/1 w. Silviniaco Conti sets the standard and should win but he there is not much value in following him at Wetherby for punters with The Giant Bolster carrying our each-way money as a result.

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