This weekend sees Cheltenham take centre stage with its three-day November Meeting, which used to be known as the Open Meeting until someone couldn’t tell the difference between a golf club and a horse.
Plenty of familiar faces will battle their way up Cleeve Hill this week, including Grand National winner Tiger Roll, who makes his seasonal reappearance in the Cross Country Chase on Friday (15:00). Gordon Elliott’s charge enjoyed a stellar season last year, but he’s still as unpredictable as Mario Balotelli in a training bib, and more than capable of the odd stinker.
He is, however, particularly accomplished at this discipline, winning the Cross Country race at the Festival in March, and while a follow-up bid in the National will ultimately be the aim next April, he stands out as the class act here.
Like Prince after he became a symbol, Saturday’s feature, the Paddy Power or some other bookie’s Gold Cup (14:25), hasn’t quite felt the same for the last couple of years, though I can’t put my finger on why…
Name changes aside, the race is still one of the most highly competitive handicap chases of the entire season. Preference, though, is for Clean Bandit’s biggest fan, Nicky Henderson, whose sole hope is Rather Be. Nominated by Timeform as one of our ‘Fifty to Follow’ this season, Rather Be was craftily campaigned as a novice chaser last term, having just three starts over fences before producing an excellent effort to finish second at the Festival.
His subsequent absence isn’t a worry, and there’s every chance that he will prove better than his current BHA mark of 149.
The best could well be saved until the final day, with no less than four Graded contests, starting with the Grade 2 Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase (13:50). It’s Nicky Henderson who once again holds all the aces in this, and he can triumph with Claimantakinforgan. A smart novice hurdler last season who was fifth in a strong renewal of the Supreme, Claimantakinforgan made the perfect start over fences at Uttoxeter at the beginning of the month, and looks the best prospect in the field, for all pronouncing his name makes you feel like you’ve been on the pop all day.
The weekend’s final fancy comes in the Grade 2 Supreme Trial (15:30), and I don’t think I’ve ever been more confident about a horse’s chance. As far as I’m aware, Seddon isn’t named after me or the Stevenage Town left back Steve Seddon, but Tom George’s charge has leading claims, showing useful form in two bumper starts last season before creating a good impression when an easy winner on his hurdling debut at Stratford last time out.
With more to come, he is chanced to win what should prove to be a highly informative contest.