Saturday December 12th
Does Master Tommytucker deserve to be top weight on what he’s achieved; Don’t think so – the BHA have put him on 157, but my mark is 145, in both cases the ratings on the back of beating one rival at Huntingdon and winning a graduation chase that rather fell to bits at Haydock last month. Al Dancer is likely to come out on top in the match between the two, as he did at Newton Abbot in October, when he jumped the better and found much more – that doesn’t mean he’ll be up to winning this though, as between then and now he took in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and made a few mistakes himself – he was arguably moving best after the third last, then quickly came under pressure and couldn’t find more from the second last. What about the Paddy Power-winner, Coole Cody – a slip on landing over a fence, like the one he did at the 4th, and then racing a tearaway loose horse (Siruh Du Lac, who’d unseated at the 1st then hared off ahead of the field), usually ruins a horse’s winning chance; but he stayed in front, and found more under pressure from the second last; however it’s not hard to find more when the horses pursuing are Spiritofthegames and Sky Pirate, who usually don’t go through with their efforts, and sure enough didn’t this time. He had a very hard race in the Paddy Power, so if Coole Cody isn’t winning, who could – well I like the look of Cepage**, who’s only a lb higher than when beating Spiritofthegames over this course and distance in January, making most (reopposing Militarian behind also) – the going’s in his favour and he’s run well in this in the past, chasing Frodon home in 2018; the unexposed Windsor Avenue*, who’s seeing Cheltenham for the first time and ran a stormer to chase home Imperial Aura in the Colin Parker Intermediate at Carlisle on his reappearance, staying on to take 2nd close home; and you might get a run out of Drumconnor Lad*, who had heavy going over 2m when travelling largely comfortably and leading at the fourth last prior to beating Flowery at Ayr in October, but in a better race over the minimum trip the race carried on without him as early as the 2nd against First Flow at Ascot, but he finished with running in him – softer ground and the longer trip are likely to suit him.
Selection: CEPAGE – Alternatives: Windsor Avenue, Drumconnor Lad
No would-be Champion Hurdler here I don’t think, let me get that out of the way at the getgo. That includes Goshen, the unlucky unseater at the last when mullering an otherwise-ordinary field in the Triumph Hurdle back in March; he ran well on the Flat at Goodwood in October but, while everyone – literally everyone – thinks he’s already home and dry here, I think he’s got a tough task. Ballyandy is the first place I’m looking – he was a good 2nd to the reopposing Call Me Lord last year, staying on well at the end and doing well in the circumstances – it wasn’t a truly run race last year, and he’d have won if there’d been another furlong. It will be a good gallop this time with Song For Someone in the field – he seems to be getting better, having made all in the Ascot Hurdle last month, and in theory we’ll have a good idea of where we stand with him after this race, a more competitive heat and at Cheltenham to boot. He beat Call Me Lord at Ascot, the runner-up going okay to the second last but not finding more; he only just held on all out in last year’s International, and I’m not sure he’ll be winning again. However the hurdler who’s arguably been the revelation of the season so far is Sceau Royal**, and there’s no Epatante this time – not only that but he was left in front in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle after the loose Not So Sleepy wiped out Silver Streak, and that doesn’t suit this one, who normally travels on the bit with something in front to aim at – so running 2nd there, against the Champion Hurdler, after having to make his own running, is thoroughly commendable. Here he’s got Song For Someone to chase down, and can add a third win of the season to his victories in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las (defeating Ballyandy), and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. Silver Streak* just had the worst luck possible in the Fighting Fifth, left in front at the 1st then carried out by the riderless Not So Sleepy at the next – he earlier won the Listed hurdle at Kempton in October from Verdana Blue, and it was the best I’ve seen him jump in that race, although he didn’t need to run to his best. Nothing’s expected from Verdana Blue – for a start the ground’s too soft, and in her hurdle races so far this season she’s been shaping like she wants further now; if she were mine I’d be aiming her at the Stayers’ Hurdle, in keeping with the staying-sort she’s become on the Flat (Ascot Stakes runner-up and 3rd in the Ebor). Summerville Boy* dropping to this trip is interesting and the going’s in his favour – he might scrape a place if keeping mistakes to a minimum – and must give Ch’tibello a shout; he was 3rd in this race last year, making a mistake and hanging left after the last, and ran well to be 2nd to Summerville Boy over 2m4f at Aintree in November on his reappearance.
Selection: SCEAU ROYAL – Alternatives: Silver Streak, Summerville Boy