Mick Fitzgerald: We’re kicking off the jumps season in style at Chepstow

It's officially the start of the Jumps season in the UK this weekend so former top jock turned broadcaster Mick Fitzgerald is standing by to mark your card.

Mick Fitzgerald

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This weekend’s two-day Chepstow festival marks the ‘official’ start of the jumps season in the UK. It’s always an exciting time to see who the superstars of the new season are going to be and this weekend has thrown up plenty of horses to follow in previous years. Let’s hope this year is no different.

Sometimes you get lucky when races are divided but someone will not be happy in the opener at Chepstow 13.55. Philip Hobbs, Nicky Henderson & Nigel Twiston-Davies have all got fancied horses in it. I’m going to take a punt with the Philip Hobbs-trained Umndeni who will be ridden by Richard Johnson.

Sam Twiston-Davies rides Volcano who was very highly regarded by then trainer Christian Williams when beating Acey Milan at Exeter on his debut. That rival reversed the form with Volcano twice after that at Cheltenham, including the Champion Bumper, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses over hurdles.

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The second division at 14.30 looks a weaker contest and Baddesley Knight for Chris Gordon could deliver at a decent price. He finished off last season by winning a bumper at Plumpton.

The 15.05 is a Mares’ Novices Hurdle and Tom Lacey’s Meep Meep and Midnight Referendum from Alan King’s yard have good bumper form to their names. It could come down to fitness and hurdling ability. Alan King is brilliant at readying his horses first time up, so preference is for Midnight Referendum.

The Novice Chase on the card 15.35 is not always won by the best horse. I remember Nicky Henderson’s Cocktails at Dawn beat last season’s Gold Cup winner Native River in this a few seasons ago,

Harry Skelton saddles Spiritofthegames. He’s a very strong traveller and if he takes to chasing could be better over the larger obstacles than he was over hurdles. However, Poetic Rhythm has won twice on this track, is a Grade One winner of the Challow Novices Hurdle at Newbury, so I’m going for him to triumph.

It’s interesting that Robert ‘Puppy’ Power is over to ride for Colin Tizzard and we know how well they teamed up last season. Paddleyourowncanoe runs in the 2m handicap hurdle at 16.10. He was fourth to Veneer of Charm in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham before disappointing at Aintree.

If he can reproduce that Cheltenham here on Saturday he should go close here.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has his team well forward and when I went down to his Open Day, I really liked Captain Cattistock who runs in the 16.45. This lad was unlucky at Cheltenham when last seen in April. This race throws up many winners so keep on eye on the result regardless. Sam Spinner got beaten in this contest before going on to Grade One glory last season.

We’ve two real improvers from the back-end of last season in the handicap chase at 17.20 in Thomas Patrick and Mark Bradstock’s Step Back who went up 14lbs for his Sandown Park win over Rock The Kasbah – but that will not help his cause here.

I think Rock The Kasbah is a cracking bet at a track where he has a great record.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Rosie McQueen has been a model of consistency for connections and she can win the finale at 17.55 after a good second at Market Rasen last time.

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What do you think?