Cheltenham’s November meeting is the beginning of an epic run of top-quality racing every weekend from now until Christmas.
It’s massive. All the top UK stables are always represented and the Class 2 Novice races are basically Graded races as their trainers are always keen to give their better novices a taste of the course ahead of a possible Cheltenham Festival run in March.
Course experience cannot be underestimated come Festival time at Prestbury Park. It seems even more important these days with owners bordering on the obsessive about wanting runners at National Hunt racing’s showpiece event.
Whatever happens this weekend will tell us plenty.
Who are you looking forward to seeing?
If Defi Du Seuil, Politilogue & Sceau Royal all line up we will be looking at an early season trial for the Champion Chase next March.
Best backed horse in the lead up to the Open Meeting?
The Dan Skelton-trained Humble Hero would be a bad result in the ante-post book for Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle at 3pm and is likely to be well-backed considering his yard’s recent record in top 2m handicap hurdles.
Best bet of the meeting in the Graded races / handicaps?
The Twiston Davies yard is normally red hot in October & November and it has been the same this year. Proving the rule is COUNT MERIBEL (9/1) who has been on my radar for this race for quite a while. He has managed five wins from 20 starts, all coming in November.
His fencing won’t win any prizes for aesthetics, but he is normally pretty safe and ticks nearly all the boxes when looking at recent winners of this race. Having survived a shocking blunder at the second last in a novice chase at this meeting last year he was a very respectable seventh behind Topofthegame in the RSA Chase in March (some of the horses in behind that day have franked the form).
He was always going to want for stamina in the RSA Chase over 3m 1f and Saturday’s 2m 4f distance looks a lot more suitable. While it’s not wise to take a literal reading of his two-length defeat by Lostintranslation at Carlisle last time as that one won with any amount in hand, there’s no denying Count Meribel still ran a very respectable race.
It looks like there will be plenty of pace in Saturday’s contest and if his jumping stands the test he should stay up the hill strongly off what looks a fair handicap mark.
In Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle, I am going to take a chance on QUOI DE NEUF (14/1) for Welsh trainer Evan Williams. Irish point-to-point winners are not normally where I begin looking for 2m handicap hurdle winners, but he does have quite a speedy pedigree.
The fact they are staying over hurdles with this €180k purchase probably speaks volumes. He made the 139 rated Good Boy Bobby work hard at Ffos Las over 2m 4f last April, looking like he didn’t see out the trip as well as the winner. On his handicap debut at Chepstow last month, he finished second to a well handicapped sort in Speed Company, where the third-placed Highest Sun subsequently ran third in a hot novice chase at Newbury behind Champ.
They went no gallop at Chepstow so there was no shame in being out sprinted by the Flat-bred winner. A 2lb rise for that seems very fair and this unexposed five-year-old has the potential to be a lot better than his current mark of 129. While he will have to improve significantly to take a race of this nature – double digit prices seems fair.
A horse to follow even if it’s beaten this weekend?
I am really looking forward to seeing L’Air Du Vent run in the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices hurdle on Friday 3,35pm.
He’s related to plenty of smart winners in France he was running well behind the smart Shinskin when unseating three out in his only point-to-point and run he was a comfortable winner of his bumper on debut for Colin Tizzard at Bangor in April.
Despite being thrown in at the deep end on his hurdling debut at Cheltenham last month, L’Air Du Vent was spotted travelling really well in a slowly run race, but a sloppy leap at the last cost him vital momentum, but he still finished strongly to grab third.
The winner that day Champagne Well (who L’Air du Vent met off level weights) is rated 137, so for Colin Tizzard’s runner being able to run to a mark somewhere in the mid 130’s on his first run over hurdles is very impressive.
There is a really strong chance he will improve further.
This is likely to be a hot race and Thyme Hill will not be easy to beat, but even if L’Air Du Vent comes up short this weekend, he looks a really nice prospect for the season ahead.
Finally, a stable to follow from now until Christmas?
November and December is normally when the Nicky Henderson brigade get motoring and this year should be no different. Evan Williams’ horses have been in good nick over the past couple of weeks too and he looks to have a number of young horses worth following at a lower level towards Christmas and the New Year.
*Prices & entries correct at time of publishing