It's the November Meeting at Cheltenham this weekend and Tony Keenan likes a pair of Irish horses to make an impact in the feature races...
"Looking back now, his Galway Hurdle win looks even stronger form than it did then; Swamp Fox thrived in both codes afterwards, Airlie Beach won a listed race on the level while Joey Sasa won next time too."
Let's go at the November Meeting (formerly the Open) in reverse order with the Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday shaping up to be the clear pick of the features this weekend. Now that race certainly lost some of its intrigue on Tuesday afternoon with news that Defi De Seuil would be rerouted to Ascot later this month for a graded race; having suggested on Twitter a few hours beforehand that he would likely go off closer to 3/1 than the general 5/1 available, this was frustrating not least because part of my argument for backing him was Frank Berry saying he would run on Monday.
JP McManus's racing manager said 'he's in good form and Phillip [Hobbs] is happy with him. He's going to run on Sunday.' There is no grey in that comment and while it is obviously the prerogative of connections to run where they like, I find it unsatisfactory that they are happy to put misinformation into the public domain. A simple 'we haven't decided yet whether he runs or not' is not that difficult and any punter could then draw their own conclusions. Anyway, we go on.
Jenkins now becomes a key horse in the race - if he wasn't such already - and is worth opposing at around [6.0]. He could be well-handicapped on the form of his maiden hurdle but the emphasis is on 'could' as that was almost a year ago and his jumping has fallen apart in the interim. Facing a raft of horses proven in this sort of big-field handicap, others make plenty of appeal.
Mohaayed is one of those as he shaped better than the result in both the County and Scottish Champion Hurdles, efforts that were achieved on only his fourth and fifth runs over hurdles. He met trouble at Cheltenham and finished with running to give before doing best of those held up off a funereal pace at Ayr. His trainer Dan Skelton has a fine recent record in the race with North Hill Harvey winning and Superb Story going close so his chance is obvious.
Of the rest, Chesterfield seems a horse that thrived in slowly-run races last spring and may not get those circumstances again while Elgin may have received enough from the handicapper for his win at Ascot. Down the bottom, Silver Streak is interesting having looked a different horse last time. Plenty went wrong for him at Chepstow including getting shuffled back and a mistake at the final hurdle but he still won with lots in hand.
At the prices though, the pick has to be Tigris River. Looking back now, his Galway Hurdle win looks even stronger form than it did then; Swamp Fox thrived in both codes afterwards, Airlie Beach won a Listed race on the level while Joey Sasa won next time too. Further down the field we even had the Melbourne Cup third in Max Dynamite.
That performance was good on the clock and the form working out backs that up. I suspect Tigris River will prove best over two-and-a-half miles in time and the Galway Hurdle was certainly run at a good clip courtesy of All The Answers but this stiff track and big field should bring his stamina into play. With no Defi De Seuil in the field, Barry Geraghty seems likely to ride and he looks one that could go off a lot shorter than the current [15.0].
Tully East to build on excellent course record in BetVictor Gold Cup
Irish interest in the BetVictor Gold Cup has been historically limited, Tranquil Sea in 2009 the only horse trained here to win the race since 1980. That could change this year as Tully East looks to hold a decent chance of landing a second victory at the track.
In truth, backing a horse trained by Alan Fleming doesn't totally enthuse me, the trainer in the main failing to capitalise on the opportunity granted him by Barry Connell; there have been winners, yes, but not enough and certainly not in the right races. There are causes for optimism here however, not least two recent winners for the yard and a promising return over hurdles for the horse in question last month.
The chief argument for Tully East however was the manner of his success at last year's Festival. In a novice handicap chase that had more eye-catchers than a 30-runner Ascot sprint handicap, he may have been hiding in plain sight as he simply tanked through the race and was always going best. The form has proved decent and it's worth remembering that he could well be a dual Festival winner as he was sent to the front way too soon on the 2016 Martin Pipe. So here is a horse with excellent course form, a promising prep and hailing from a yard that are going through a decent streak; he simply has lots to recommend him at around [9.6].
Of the rest, Starchitect and Ballyalton are of some interest. The former ran well when fifth behind Road To Respect at last year's Festival when not seen to best effect and returned with a good win at Stratford last time while the latter won the same race as Tully East in 2016 and would be well-treated on that form if building on a reasonable return at Aintree.
Back Tigris River @ [15.0] to win the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle
Back Tully East @ [9.6] to win the BetVictor Gold Cup