The Showcase meeting is the traditional curtain raiser for Cheltenham’s season, kicking off what promises to be a fantastic National Hunt season at Jumps Racing HQ. We’re treated to an absolutely fantastic card on Day 1, with starts such as Al Dancer, Getaway Trump and Wholestone all taking their chances in Novice Chase events. I’ll be at the track across both Days this weekend, so be sure to Follow me on twitter @JakePriceRacing for updates throughout the day. Cheltenham is back!
14:00 – Novices’ Hurdle (Class 2) 4yo+ – 2m5f
The Irish came over to raid this Novice Hurdle last season when Canardier lead home a 1-2-3, and history could repeat itself here thanks to Doctor Duffy. Charles Byrnes’ six-year-old enjoys this time of year, running in some really nice Bumpers twelve months ago behind the likes of You Raised Me Up and First Approach – a now 144 rated Hurdler whom he reversed form with at Cork almost exactly a year ago. Making his Hurdles debut at Killarney in May, Doctor Duffy ran well to score comfortably, and he followed that effort up a month later at Kilbeggan. Stepped up into open company for his next start, this Craigsteel Gelding ran a cracker to finish three-quarters-of-a-length behind Peregrine Run (159 Chaser), with Rashaan (146) down the field in fourth. Despite suffering defeats in Novice Hurdles on his next two starts, Doctor Duffy bounced back to form at Listowel in September when contesting a decent Novice Hurdle. Bumping into Gavin Cromwell’s Darver Star (145), our selection got within three-lengths of that rival – who’s since gone on to land a Listed event at Limerick, clearly proving to be above average for the time of year. Doctor Duffy was last seen on the track at Navan last month, where he stayed on well to comfortably beat the Gordon Elliot pair of Lethal Steps and Black Tears, in another open company Hurdle race. That run should have him bang on for a big effort here, and the two-mile-five-furlong trip with a stiff finish will be ideal considering he has shown ability over a range of distances, but his best performances have come over this intermediate distance. Top Irish Jockey Davy Russell takes the ride on Doctor Duffy, and it’s worth noting that he’s a full brother to recent Chepstow Grade 3 Silver Trophy winner Flash The Steel.
One Horse who I am really interested in on his Hurdles debut is L’Air Du Vent, who won his sole Bumper for Colin Tizzard at Bangor in April. He looks the type to do well in this sphere, and is the beneficiary of top Irish Jockey Robbie Power. Despite the positives, he may struggle to live up to some of these more experienced and race-fit rivals – but he’s definitely a Horse I’ll be keeping on side going forward if running well. If the rain really does come before racing starts on Friday, then a Horse who would love testing conditions is Fergal O’Brien’s Champagne Well. With very good runs behind Downtown Getaway, Redzor and Third Wind in the Grade 3 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final last season, Champagne Well was last seen when finishing sixth in the three-mile Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree behind the likes of Champ, Emitom and Lisnagar Oscar. If the issue which kept him from running in the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow a few weeks ago has been solved, then he should run a massive race, especially as he has no penalty to carry being a Maiden over Hurdles.
Doctor Duffy @ 10/3
14:35 – Novices’ Chase (Class 2) 4yo+ – 2m
One of my favourite divisions of the National Hunt season is the Novice Chasers, where well-known Hurdlers try their hands at the larger obstacles for the first time. This part of the season is full of intriguing and informative contests, and this is set to be another tantalising Novice Chase. Two extremely exciting prospects line up here in Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Al Dancer and Paul Nicholls’ Getaway Trump. Although on official ratings he has a bit to find, I’m going to side with Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer here. Fourth in the 2018 Grade 2 Aintree Bumper, Al Dancer made his Hurdles debut at Carlisle this time last year, beating the subsequent Grade 2 placed and recent impressive Chase debutant Windsor Avenue. Easily following up in another Novice Hurdle at Ffos Las under a penalty, this half-brother to Grade 3 Chase winner Tzar’s Dancer headed to Cheltenham’s December meeting to contest a Class 3 Handicap. Given an official rating of 129, Al Dancer made a complete mockery of this mark when bolting up by eleven-lengths back to Not That Fuisse (giving that rival 4lbs). Despite a 12lbs rise in the Handicap for this victory, it wasn’t enough to stop Al Dancer from landing the rearranged Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle at Ascot in February. Despite racing fairly keenly, Al Dancer cruised through the race to readily score by three-and-a-quarter lengths, with Getaway Trump a further three-lengths back in fourth. Although he was sent off joint favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Al Dancer ran no sort of race to only finish tenth – but the testing conditions in such a decent race clearly didn’t pay to his strengths. His trainer has also stated that this run probably came a bit too soon after Ascot, so the long break since will have done him the world of good. Back on quicker ground and in a smaller field today should suit, and I really fancy him to confirm form with Getaway Trump if taking to the larger obstacles. Although Al Dancer might not end up being the highest rated of the pair come April, Nigel Twiston-Davies always has his Horses ready this time of year, and he is currently operating at a 27% strike rate. He was also due to make his Chase debut at Newton Abbot on the 13th October, so he’s been race-fit for a while now.
Al Dancer Vs Getaway Trump in the 2m Novice Chase at Cheltenham tomorrow!
Who are you taking?🤔
— Jake Price (@JakePriceRacing) October 24, 2019
Getaway Trump clearly improved at the back-end of last season after a mid-season slump, but I still feel he will have a bit to find with Al Dancer (assuming both Jump well). Caius Marcius has been running well over the Summer, and I’d expect him to capitalise on any Jumping errors should they occur from the front two in the market. Every drop of rain would hinder his chances, however.
Al Dancer @ 1/1
15:10 – Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) 3yo+ 0-140 – 2m5f
One Horse that I am really looking forward to seeing on Friday is Jonjo O’Neill’s Tedham. Owned by new stable sponsor Martin Tedham, this five-year-old enjoyed a successful Novice campaign last season, and seemingly has what it takes to make the step up once more. A decent third behind Umndeni on his sole Bumper start in April 2018, this Shirocco Gelding made his Hurdles debut in the same Carlisle race as Al Dancer, finishing a credible fourth just over twelve months ago. Third behind The Big Bite (140) a month later at Chepstow, Tedham once again ran into an aforementioned runner at Exeter in December, finishing five-lengths second to Getaway Trump. This was another very decent Novice Hurdle, with the likes of Samarquand (135), Remastered (133) and Musical Slave (131) in behind. Stepped into Handicap company for the first time at Wincanton in January, Tedham stayed on strongly under Nick Scholfield to carry 11-11 to ultimately a cosy success. Put up 6lbs for this victory to a mark of 131, Tedham was last seen in April when stepped into Graded company for the first time at Aintree. Running in the two-and-a-half mile Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle, Tedham was sent off favourite – but he could only manage a seventh place finish. This was by no means a poor effort however, as Festival Handicaps are always extremely competitive affairs. The winner Three Muskateers ran a blinder on debut for Gordon Elliot, whilst top Handicappers Point Of Principle (141), Canardier (143) and Sternrubin (142) filled the top four. Connections must have felt that his breathing was holding him back that day, as he has undergone a wind operation over the Summer, which is another positive to his chances. Back in much calmer waters, Tedham looks to have a great chance from his mark of 131, especially as he is still such an unexposed Horse. His Jackdaws Castle stables are in good form, currently operating at a 20% strike rate over the last fourteen days, and he shouldn’t be inconvenienced by any going description.
Tedham Each/Way @ 8/1
15:45 – Novices’ Chase (Class 2) 5yo+ – 3m½f
Nigel Twiston-Davies is seemingly never far away from the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham, and the trainer boasts a 16% strike rate at this meeting over the past ten years. He could be set to swoop a double in the Novice Chases on Friday, with 2016 winner at this meeting Wholestone taking his chance in the three-mile contest. Already a three-times Grade 2 Hurdles winner at Cheltenham, his biggest success to date came when landing the 2018 Relkeel Hurdle by three-and-a-quarter lengths back to Agrapart, before running a mighty race in the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle to finish third behind Penhill. Last season started off well when taking a Class 2 Hurdle at Aintree in November, but he never really hit the heights of his previous season – despite finishing second in the Relkeel Hurdle behind the very useful Midnight Shadow in January. With this Simon Munir and Isaac Souede Horse not getting any younger, connections decided to send Wholestone Novice Chasing this season, making his debut at Perth at the end of September. His appearance up in Scotland sadly scared away all but one rival, meaning he essentially had a racecourse gallop to get off the mark. Despite jumping to the left throughout, he did get better as he went on, finishing alone as his sole rival pulled up. Although Wholestone quite literally beat nothing that day, the fact that he has already been out on the racecourse will be a huge advantage here, with many returning from their Summer breaks. Already the highest rated over Hurdles of these rivals, I am expecting a big performance from Wholestone – especially as he returns to his favoured left-handed track where he has already won four times.
Wholestone @ 11/4
16:20 – Maiden Hurdle (Class 3) 4yo+ – 2m½f
In what admittedly looks a very competitive Maiden Hurdle, the selection is one of my Horses to Follow in Fred. This French recruit placed twice over Hurdles at Auteuil in March, including when second to the very impressive Franco De Port, who has since joined Willie Mullins. With experience under his belt, I’d expect this Nicky Henderson charge to run extremely well on his UK debut, with much bigger targets during the Winter to follow.
Read more about Fred in my National Hunt Horses to Follow 2019/20 guide below!
Fred @ 7/4
16:55 – Riders’ Handicap Chase (Class 3) 4yo+ 0-125 – 3m1f
In what is always an extremely tricky puzzle to solve, a tentative vote goes to Garrane in the Amateur Riders’ Handicap. Seen finishing second behind the likes of Glen Forsa (150) and The Two Amigos (142) last season, you’d think this Jeremy Scott charge would be a certainty off a mark of 122 – but that didn’t quite transpire when sent off favourite twice in 2019. He does however stay extremely strongly, having finished a close second over three-mile-six-and-a-half furlongs at Exeter in December last year – so the more rain that we get on Friday, the better Garrane‘s chances. Jockey Martin McIntyre takes off a handy 3lbs to lower his racing weight down to 11-6, and he should be a horse who relishes the stiff finish of the Cheltenham Hill. In what looks a very weak race, connection must be very hopeful of a big run.
Garrane Each/Way @ 10/1
17:30 – Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) 3yo+ 0-140 – 2m½f
Day 1 of The Showcase meeting concludes with an ever-competitive Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Philip Kirby looks to have a great chance of breaking his Cheltenham duck here, sending ex-Gordon Elliot charge Whoshotthesheriff. Indeed this five-year-old ran some fine races when trained across the Irish sea, finishing behind Royal Rendezvous and Drop The Anchor in Bumpers before winning on Hurdles debut at Ayr in January, when lowering the colours of recent impressive Wincanton winner Sebastopol. Back in Ireland for his next start, Whoshotthesheriff finished second to then stablemate Galvin (140) at Navan, a Horse who subsequently finished sixth in the Ballymore before running behind Getaway Trump at Ayr’s Scottish National Festival. Switched to Philip Kirby shortly after that Navan run, Whoshotthesheriff landed two Novice Hurdles at Sedgefield and Carlisle, the later being an impressive six-length victory despite carrying a double-penalty. Although his official mark of 130 was unchanged despite these victories, I still think there is a bit of improvement to come from this half-brother to Gunnery Sergeant (135). Conditional Jockey Thomas Dowson takes off a further 3lbs here thanks to his claim, and I’m hopeful of a good performance.
If the potential rain really gets into the ground and makes conditions testing, then another Horse who should be capable of running well is Philip Hobbs’ Oakley. This six-year-old ran some cracking races in Bumpers during the Spring last year, finishing behind Mister Fisher and Emitom at Kempton and Warwick respectively. Fifth in a very decent Maiden Hurdle at Sandown behind Eldorado Allen (145) on his first start over timber, there were some very nice horses such as Finawn Bawn (133) and Sevarano (130) ahead of him, and he followed this effort up when finishing second to the classy Rouge Vif (142) at Southwell in December. Finally getting off the mark over timber just fifteen days later, Oakley comfortably beat Cervaro Mix (130) by a couple of lengths under Tom O’Brien. Pitched into a first time Handicap at Kempton in January, Oakley was handed a mark of 127 – which he defied in good style. Chasing the leaders, Oakley took second before the second last and then jumped into the lead at the final flight, keeping on well under pressure to score by one-and-three-quarter lengths back to Magic Dancer, with recent Chepstow winner Speed Company in third. Put up 5lbs in the Handicap to 132 for that win, conditional Jockey Sean Houlihan takes off 3lbs, meaning effectively Oakley is only 2lbs higher for that Kempton win. Considering this is probably a weaker race, you’d have to fancy him to run extremely close.
Oakley @ 10/3
Whoshotthesheriff Each/Way @ 8/1
Good luck! – Jake Price