We are delighted to have racing expert and broadcaster Kate Tracey on board for the National Hunt season. Kate will be assessing the key weekend action with a race reading angle - kicking off with Cheltenham on Saturday...
Harry Skelton should get an uncontested lead in this race and provided Stepney Causeway consents to race economically again, he can steady the pace before quickening and catching Tritonic for a turn of foot.
Whoever decided that this weekend should be the first for my column could hardly have picked a better day of action. The excitement of Cheltenham's return added to the small matter of the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes makes for quite the day already.
And not forgetting of course, plenty of backend of the Flat season contests, which may give further classic clues for next year. However, it is to Cheltenham I head for my three best bets on Saturday.
About me and my new column...
I feel I should give a brief introduction of myself and my angle when previewing races. I've worked in the horse racing industry as a groom and work rider for my entire career. Therefore, my strength is the development of a keen eye when assessing a horse's physique, their body language through a race and what set of conditions would ideally suit a horse's needs.
This column will aim to tap into those approaches and give another perspective when analysing a race.
But enough about me and back to the main business. Don your tweed and gear up the markets, it's the return of Cheltenham after all.
Take on Paul Nicholls' Samarrive
We begin with race one at Cheltenham which is a 2m 0-140 Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle where Paul Nicholls sends out the hot-favourite Samarrive. Due to Samarrive's take-up of the market, there is each-way value about the rest of the field. At this stage of the season, in a conditional jockeys' race over two miles in the opening race of Cheltenham's first meeting back when the blood will be rushing, he has to be worth taking on at his current price.
In terms of the trends we've seen in this race for the past seven years, there are a few factors to consider. It's worth siding with a horse aged six or younger who has run in the last two months with no more than two hurdle wins coming into the race. A horse carrying 10st 11lb or more is also favoured and it's an extra bonus if that horse has sighted Cheltenham before.
There are three runners who fit these trends: those being Sarasota Star, Pasvolsky and Bashful Boy. However, neither of the latter two have run at Cheltenham. Therefore, the horse to focus on is Sarasota Star who is a five-year-old and has run within the last eight weeks.
He also has just two wins to his name from 10 hurdle starts. He has an ideal weight of 10st 11lb and he's already run twice at Cheltenham. Those runs at the track haven't gone smoothly but he can certainly be forgiven for the latest unseat when hampered by a faller.
It's interesting that this horse is reverting to hurdles following a win over fences on his latest start at Worcester. However, judged on the visual impression when winning, I don't think a return to smaller obstacles will be a hindrance to him.
He is a quick horse, this is shown by his head carriage which may look ungainly to some but to me suggests he is a horse with a lot of pace. He powered through his latest start in the 2m110y Handicap Chase on good ground at Worcester. That should mean he can hold his position in what is likely to be a very strongly run race.
He is also small in stature yet that lack of size makes him nimble on his feet so he should have no problem in reverting to hurdles. He also takes his fences like a hurdler, just getting enough height and jumping with agility and speed rather than scope and power. Yet further reason to think that this return to hurdles won't be a hindrance.
Martin Keighley has had a very good summer and hopefully, that form can translate into the autumn.
More to come from smart stayer
The second race on Cheltenham's card is a 3m1f Handicap Chase, a race won last year by subsequent King George winner Frodon.
The top weight in this year's race is Cloth Cap, last season's Ladbrokes Trophy winner, and there would hardly be a more fitting winner at Cheltenham following the passing of Trevor Hemmings. With Frodon winning this race last year off a mark of 164, it's not inconceivable that Cloth Cap can win this off 156. I like the class angle in this race but I think there is another very talented horse in here who is also better handicapped than Cloth Cap.
That horse is Domaine De L'Isle who again fits all the trends for this race. This horse has already won over at least 3m, achieving that last time out when successful over 3m2f. That effort also came at Cheltenham which is another box ticked. This will be Domaine De L'Isle's reappearance and he is running off a revised mark of 149. He is nicely weighted in the context of this race on 11st 5lb and there should be more to come from this eight-year-old.
He's a big horse in terms of height and the filling of his frame. He's certainly one who can give weight away which is what he's doing in this race to all bar Cloth Cap after jockeys' claims are considered. Domaine De L'Isle barely touched a twig in his latest win at Cheltenham showing scope when necessary but mostly, he was clever with his feet and conserved energy as a result. His jumping style and the way he travels through his races is that of a stayer.
Brian Hughes had a slight loop in his reins throughout the 3m2f contest last time out which is exactly how a horse running over a stamina testing trip should travel. He's going to get that test again here but his jumping style and rhythm through a race suggests there could be more improvement from him over 3m+.
This horse not only looks smart but he races smart and remains well handicapped to be taking a race of this nature on his reappearance.
Skelton can steer Stepney to victory in tactical battle
The third race at Cheltenham is a 2m Hurdle for four-year-olds with only four runners. Alan King's Tritonic currently heads the betting as the odds-on favourite and, despite the great run of form the King yard are enjoying, I think he's a horse to take on.
Tritonic has been sighted back on the flat in his last two runs where he's posted respectable efforts in handicap company. However, as evidenced by his run last time out in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot, he is a keen going horse. That latest run was over 1m3f211y and even in the hands of Ryan Moore, Tritonic showed his heavy headed tendencies.
Instead of being an awkwardly keen horse with his head up in the jockey's face, he is a numb, neck stretched out kind of keen. The difference between these two ways of going is significant. A horse who is an awkward keen can often be settled within the first few furlongs if piloted by the right jockey. The more subtle, 'numb' horse can be far more difficult to manage. For a horse who races in this way, a strongly run contest in a big field is the best set of circumstances in getting them to settle. Tritonic doesn't have that luxury here with just three rivals which will likely turn into a tactical affair.
Even in Tritonic's final hurdle start which came in the Triumph Hurdle, the pace still wasn't strong enough to settle him. That race, despite the small field of runners, was taken along at a good clip by Talking About You. Yet Tritonic still showed those numb tendencies throughout the race before being outpaced and fading into fifth.
I hope that Harry Skelton can ride Stepney Causeway with as much restraint on the front-end as possible. This horse has been a revelation since he's been sent forwards in his races where he's won his last four starts after making all. On the face of it, it may look as if Stepney Causeway might also fall victim to being keen on his reappearance start but he is a very different keen to Tritonic.
This horse ran in a four-runner race at Ayr last time out where he was enthusiastic but by no means uncontrollable on the front-end. Harry Skelton had his hands buried on the horse's withers which settled him nicely. The more racing this horse has, the better he settles so hopefully that trend will continue this season.
He is also a quicker horse than Tritonic, evidenced by the turn of foot shown at Ayr. When Stepney Causeway turned into the home straight, he switched his lead leg and in doing so, went up a gear within an instant. Harry Skelton should get an uncontested lead in this race and provided Stepney Causeway consents to race economically again, he can steady the pace before quickening and catching Tritonic for a turn of foot.
I certainly think Stepney Causeway represents the value against Tritonic and is getting 8lb from that rival also.
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