David Cleary extends a warm welcome to regular readers and latecomers, as the jumping roadshow returns to Cheltenham for the November meeting...
"Magic Saint, who'd had a breathing operation since the spring, travelled as well as any, but this was far too much of a slog for him and he faded in the straight. Magic Saint was the youngest horse in the field and this suggests there is something still to be untapped with him, particularly back over shorter."
Although there's been enough going on over jumps in the last month to fill a medium-sized column, it's only really this weekend, with the Cheltenham November fixture, that the die-hard Flat faithful finally turn their attention to the hedgehoppers.
That said, that there was going to be any racing to attend to may have looked doubtful with some of the shots of standing water posted online on Thursday that led to the abandonment of Friday's card, but the course drains worked their magic, the rain relented and three days were crammed into two. Conditions were inevitably very testing and the omission of the third-last on both chase and hurdles tracks changed the nature of the Old course somewhat, the long run to the penultimate obstacle making stamina and fitness demands more typical of the New course.
Diva compensated as House tumbles
It was certainly the case in the signature race of the meeting, the BetVictor Gold Cup, that those qualities came up trumps, as a pair with a recent run to their name, Happy Diva and Brelan d'As, came clear on the run-in. Happy Diva had been unlucky in the race the previous year, but neither of them really looked horses ahead of their marks coming into the race and it's hard to take a particularly strong view of the form.
Happy Diva at least has the option of going into conditions races against her own sex, with the Lady Protectress at Huntingdon in January, a race she won last season, an obvious option. Sadly for connections, the Mares Chase at the Cheltenham Festival doesn't join the party until 2021.
Had he stood up, the novice Slate House would surely have run Happy Diva close; he had made ominous headway from off the pace to track the leaders when he fell two out, still to be asked a serious question. Slate House (pictured below) is well up to winning more races over fences, though, after this, he might be better deployed back in novices, his jumping here riddled with minor errors, in contrast to the way he fenced in a novice at the Showcase meeting.
Count on Lac and Saint to step up next time
A couple of the reappearing runners are of interest in good handicaps to come. Siruh du Lac, who won all four starts last season, didn't take the eye in the paddock, sweaty and not great in his coat, and ran as if he wasn't fully tuned up, jumping boldly as ever but not going with his usual dash - there will definitely be other days for him.
Magic Saint, who'd had a breathing operation since the spring, travelled as well as any, but this was far too much of a slog for him and he faded in the straight. Magic Saint was the youngest horse in the field and this suggests there is something still to be untapped with him, particularly back over shorter.
Defi du Seuil shines in Shloer dash
The weights for the BetVictor had been due to be headed by Saint Calvados, but his connections took the view that a slog on very soft ground wasn't the best time to find out about his stamina beyond seventeen furlongs. Instead he turned up in the Shloer over two miles on the Sunday, well backed in a field of four, in which two, Politologue and Defi du Seuil were having their first outing since the spring. With Saint Calvados again patiently ridden - the change of tactics had worked well on his reappearance and a switch back to front-running might well have undone that good work - the field pottered round, Politologue dictating.
Turning in, all cards were still to be played, all four runners still in with a chance after Politologue just fluffed the last slightly, Defi du Seuil impressing with the turn of foot he found to overhaul the leader. Defi du Seuil's connections are entitled to be the most pleased, obviously, given this ought to set him up for tackling some of the best races this winter. He holds an entry in the King George, though he has still to try three miles and might be better off kept to shorter distances on this evidence, with the Champion Chase or the Ryanair presumably options back here in March.
Politologue, yet another of his stable to have had a breathing operation, was conceding 3 lb to the winner and perhaps wasn't suited to making the running, but he's rather more of a known quantity than the winner. Saint Calvados ran well on paper and probably in practice too, despite the slow pace. He would be an interesting candidate in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the next Cheltenham meeting.
Kettle upstages Dancer and Trump
The time for the Shloer was almost identical to that for the November Novices' Chase half an hour earlier. This was billed as another Arkle Trial clash between Al Dancer and Getaway Trump, but the Irish mare Put The Kettle On stole the limelight. She jumped well under a well-judged ride and crucially got good leaps at the last two fences, which kept her one step ahead. She's a useful novice, but was surely seen to maximum advantage.
Al Dancer bungled the second-last and lacked the pace to close down the winner after the last. He's always been a keen sort and was again here, though he's bred to stay beyond two miles and it might be time for his stamina to be tested.
Getaway Trump (pictured below) looked a big danger to the winner turning in but he hit the second-last and, as on his return, didn't come up the hill so well as might have been hoped. Getaway Trump's best hurdles efforts came under very different conditions and it's to be hoped that away from the mud and off a good pace, he'll show the level of form he did as a novice in that sphere.
Thyme Hill shines again
The graded novice hurdles at the meeting went to two good prospects - Thyme Hill, the Champion Bumper third, who backed up his Persian War success with a win in the Hyde Novices' Hurdle, and Hang In There, who stepped up in class to land the Sharp Novices' Hurdle over two miles. Generally the racing on the hurdles course was a bit unsatisfactory, with no-one quite sure where the best ground was, but these two will be making a mark in top novice company. Thyme Hill looks the best British hope at this stage for the Ballymore at the Festival
One other novice hurdler worth a mention is Falco Blitz, who was second in the intermediate handicap on Saturday. He showed marked improvement and impressed with the way that he travelled. It's also worth noting that his trainer Nicky Henderson let him take his chance: his stable had just four runners over the two days and Falco Blitz was the only one not owned by J. P. McManus.
There isn't much space for action away from Cheltenham this week, but it is worth noting the novice handicap chase won by Notachance at Exeter. The winner, only five, built significantly on the form of his chasing debut, while the runner-up De Name Evades Me confirmed the promise of his. With likely chasing types in third and fourth on their debut over fences in the shape of Southern Sam and Shady Glen, as well as the sympathetically handled Truckin Away in fifth, all shaping promisingly, this looks a race which is sure to throw up winners.