David Cleary's Cheltenham Countdown: Lalor makes striking chasing debut

Former Gold Cup winner Coneygree
Coneygree, seen in his pomp, rolled back the years this weekend

David Cleary dissects all the best action at Cheltenham's November meeting, while our Market Ops team update the big antepost betting news...

"Mister Whitaker also needs a mention. He was a little flat, in truth, and never threatened to get involved, finishing only fourth, but the race in hindsight may have come a bit soon after Carlisle, his runs last season having been more widely spaced. His profile is overwhelmingly positive and he is likely to bounce back in the not-too-distant future."

Lalor: performance of the season so far?

Lalor's victory in the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday was surely the most significant performance of the week, perhaps even of the season so far. Despite looking as if the race would bring him on, Lalor laughed at a pair of recent winners, showing straightaway a level of ability in advance of even his smart novice hurdles form.

His jumping was assured and the turn of foot he showed to cut through the field at the third last was breathtaking. He was rightly cut in the betting for the Arkle itself and his next appearance is eagerly anticipated.

Kalashnikov's chasing debut was good, Lalor's was better and he ought to be favourite at this stage.

Of the vanquished, Dynamite Dollars and Claimantakinforgan both built on the foundations of their debut wins without having any excuses, the latter looking ready for a step up in trip. The long-absent Pingshou seemed to blow up two out; he has the physique to make a better chaser than hurdler and had shaped most encouragingly until lack of an outing told - he's clearly one to note.

Keep Whipped on side

Pingshou's trainer Colin Tizzard probably should have won one of the other novice chases at the meeting, as White Moon was coming through to challenge when short of room between horses and falling in the two-and-a-half miler won by Count Meribel. This was rather a muddling race and although the winner is game and largely jumped well, bar a blunder two out, he might have trouble confirming placings with not only White Moon, but the favourite Mr Whipped.

Mr Whipped wasn't seen to best advantage, the ride not making the most of his strengths, though he produced a pleasing first effort and is sure to build on it a fair bit. White Moon and Mr Whipped will both win races this season.

The staying novice chase went to Ibis du Rheu, in his third season over fences. He seemed to show improvement, away from the mud, though it would be a surprise if he emerged as a major RSA Chase contender, his future lying in big handicaps over further perhaps. The same applies to the runner-up Theatre Territory, who ran a fine first race of the season. She will be interesting back in handicaps off her current mark - the assessor isn't allowed to raise her for this - and the Becher Chase at Aintree next month may well be the aim.

Baron lands feature

The feature race of the whole meeting, the BetVictor Gold Cup, went to Baron Alco, who followed stable-companion Traffic Fluide in winning a big pot on the back of a promising return at Chepstow last month. Baron Alco went off hard, with competition for the lead, but as so often on this track, that only drew mistakes from his pursuers when coupled with his own bold jumping.

Only six of the 18 runners got round, most notable of the casualties being Rather Be and Merry Diva who coped well with the demands of the race and were still travelling well when brought down four out - both will be of interest in this grade again.

As for Baron Alco, he may well be back for the Caspian Caviar at the next Cheltenham fixture. When he could well clash again with the admirable Frodon, who eked out a little more improvement, his mark 3lb higher than when winning the Old Roan. A reversal of placings on the New course next month wouldn't be out of the question.

Mister Whitaker also needs a mention. He was a little flat, in truth, and never threatened to get involved, finishing only fourth, but the race in hindsight may have come a bit soon after Carlisle, his runs last season having been more widely spaced. His profile is overwhelmingly positive and he is likely to bounce back in the not-too-distant future.

Plenty of credit for Silver

The Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday was a highly competitive affair, but rather spoilt by the low sun, which caused the hurdles in the straight to be omitted. The winner Nietzsche was given a really good tactical ride by very promising 7lb claimer Danny McManamin, moved forward early to be able to kick on once the final flight had been jumped.

Silver Streak ran another cracker in second, all the more so, as he made a complete mess of the first, went round on the inside, which seemed a disadvantage over the three days, and conceded first run to the winner - he may yet defy the handicapper again.

Verdana Blue, kept busy, did fairly well, not seen to best advantage in terms of position and having a messy run through; she should get right back on track next time. Her stable companion Charli Parcs ran as if better for the race, another to go round the inner for most of the way; he retains his ability.

It would be remiss to conclude thoughts on Cheltenham last week without a mention of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree. He ran a cracker on his first start in nearly a year, showing all his old zest and jumping for fun. He has always been regarded as best on soft ground, his running in the Gold Cup rather than the RSA the result of a forecast of rain between the two races. However, he won a Kauto Star at Kempton on good to soft by 30 lengths and is likely to return there for the King George on Boxing day if all remains well.

Update

Mellow Ben ran another good race at Cheltenham, finishing fourth in an intermediate handicap, taking on better rivals than he need and remains one to keep in the notebook for a drop in class. His form last time out has been working out well, and Mr Antolini may get the chance to further frank it at the weekend, entered at Haydock.

Whatmore confirmed the promise of his Chepstow run in winning at Bangor in the week; he remains with a good profile and is worth noting, wherever he goes next. Chepstow bumper scorer McFabulous ran below expectations at Cheltenham, but he had a rough passage and is probably worth forgiving.

As well as Mr Antolini, Captain Cattistock is entered at Haydock, in the Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle, while Prime Venture has a choice of engagements, including in handicaps.

All the latest Cheltenham Exchange market movers...

It was an exciting weekend of racing in England and Ireland. The November meetings at Cheltenham and Punchestown got the jumps season into full swing.

Lalor romped home in the Grade 2 Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday, beating his nearest rival Dynamite Dollars by an easy 7 lengths. – 32.031/1 in to 7.26/1 for the Arkle.

Sceau Royal was the well backed winner of the Sholer Chase. He beat the Nicky Richards trained Simply Ned by 2 ¼ lengths after jumping levels at the last. - 26.025/1 in to 12.011/1 ffor the Champion Chase.

The Gordon Elliot-trained Malone Road looks the real deal after beating the highly rated Mt. Leinster by a convincing eight-and-a-half Lengths at Punchestown on Sunday - 18.017/1 in to 5.69/2 for the Champion Bumper.

It looked like it was going to be a star-studded Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday but the quick ground kept Gordon Elliot stable star Samcro and the Jessica Harrington trained Supasundae out of the occasion. Multiple Cheltenham winner Faugheen could only manage a well-beaten second place behind stable mate Sharjah. - Faugheen 6.25/1 out to 11.521/2 for the Stayers Hurdle.

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