Cheltenham Preview, 25/01/20

Cheltenham
Saturday January 24th

Cheltenham 1.15
Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase Class 2
2m4f127y – Going: Soft – Over the New Course – 12 runners

Jarveys Plate
After a promising chasing debut when beating Reserve Tank at Chepstow it hasn’t gone swimmingly since, 4th on both subsequent starts and last time in Kauto Star at Kempton, midfield 11th, niggled along from 12th, ridden into 13th, in touch but not going best 14th, dropped to last of the main group when mistake then badly hampered 4 out (looked like losing place anyway), hard ridden in 6 lengths 4th home turn, looked held when flat-backed slow jump 3 out, weakened further after, tailed off 4th to Slate House. His best form is a stone shy of his mark
Champagne Court*
Mainly placed over hurdles (finished well and made a place late for 4th in the Martin Pipe C/Js Hurdle at the latest Cheltenham Festival), but has won both his chases, and last time at Plumpton went on, flat-backed jump 6th, was joined 3 out, travelled much the best turning out of back straight, niggled along going to 2 out, pushed along on landing and found more to draw clear by last, ridden out, stayed on well to beat Diable De Sivola and the reopposing Mercy Mercy Me. May well be favourite
Simply The Betts*
After winning his first two chases, didn’t impress with his attitude when 2nd – eventually – to Commanche Red at Kempton on Boxing Day, tended to jump left, struggling 9th, hard ridden, headway 10th and in touch with main group racing outer, niggled along before mistake 12th, looked well held when not fluent 4 out, pushed along and stayed on from home turn, put under pressure, stayed on well approaching 2 out, sustained effort to take well-held 2nd last, ridden out, asserted in battle for 2nd last 150 yards, no chance with winner. Having said that his record right-handed in general isn’t good, and he was more straightforward when winning at left-handed Newcastle the start before Kempton (still a couple of iffy jumps but not nearly as bad), so he could be worth the benefit of the doubt
Imperial Aura
Finished alone at Fakenham on chasing debut but we saw much more of what he’ll be about as a chaser when runner-up to Pym at Cheltenham last month, drew upsides leader 12th, led 14th,  upsides 16th, hit 17th, headed, mistake 4 out, ridden into 3 out, moved well enough home turn, pushed along and a neck adrift going to 2 out, put under pressure, outpaced going to last, some 4 lengths behind jumping, driven and kept on run-in. Not quite getting home perhaps last time against one who’s a strong stayer, it’s a good call to drop him in distance
Encore Champs
Progressing chaser put in a best to date over fences when winning at Fakenham on December 17th, chased leader, jumped left 6th, mistake 12th, closed on leader 13th, moved comfortably, mistake 3 out, niggled along bend before 2 out, moved best when drew upsides and led 2 out, pushed clear, put under pressure home turn, some 7 lengths clear when in close to last, ridden out, stayed on well to beat Thomas Todd. Possibilities here
Garo De Juilley
Some improvement on previous runs over fences when 4th to Midnight Shadow in Dipper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day whilst not exactly suggesting ‘next time winner’, not fluent 4th,  dropped legs in water 9th, pushed along 4 out, looked well held approaching 2 out, driven, little impression, passed a beaten one after last, never a factor. Still best watched over fences
Mercy Mercy Me*
Maiden hurdler; an okay 3rd to Champagne Court at Plumpton on chasing debut, then first chase win at Sandown on January 4th, closed up after 11th and within half a length, pecked on landing 12th, briefly niggled along, chased leader 4 out, shaken up 3 out, outpaced, turned for home in 2 lengths 3rd, hard ridden, put under pressure approaching last, stayed on well, led jumping, driven clear last 175 yards, sustained effort to the line, workmanlike and ultimately decisive from Dashing Perk (the third Cap Du Nord won at Fakenham on Thursday). May now be about to progress
Gowiththeflow
Yet to win over fences but best run to date over them when 2nd to Erick Le Rouge at Kempton a fortnight ago, headway approaching 12th, pushed along after 4 out, outpaced as 1st 2 went clear but kept on into 3rd approaching 3 out, sustained effort to go 2nd approaching 2 out, driven and drew clear of the rest, closed on Erick Le Rouge approaching last, hard driven, stayed on well, made up considerable ground run-in but always held. Could do something
Cloudy Glen
Best to date over fences when 2nd to Chapel Stile at Carlisle on December 15th, all fences in the home straight omitted; led in start, chased clear leader, drew upsides 7th (normally 11th), led next, jumped left last 2 fences jumped, led going best home turn, pressed on passing omitted 3 out, 6 lengths up passing omitted 2 out, shaken up passing omitted last, hard ridden, was closed on, driven last 150 yards, headed two strides from the post. Successful in a match at Haydock in December when last seen out, chances here
On The Slopes
Often made the running over hurdles, and did so when good 2nd to Greaneteen at Fontwell in January, his best effort over timber. Not yet at the same level over fences, last time a reasonable 3rd to Commanche Red at Kempton, tracked leaders before 10th, in close to 11th, chased leader approaching 12th where mistake, niggled along approaching 4 out, ridden along home turn, disputed lead approaching 3 out, hit it, chased winner and put under pressure approaching 2 out, left behind by Commanche Red and looked held when jumped right 2 out, was challenged for 2nd last, lost the place to the staying-on Simply The Betts, kept on same pace run-in. Often not strong at the finish, I can’t see this one winning
Sully D’Oc AA
Good run at Newbury on November 29th when 2nd to Fanion D’Estruval, held up, pushed along from 4 out, challenged for 2nd 3 out, chased winner 2 out, hard driven, carried head high, kept on, hit last, faded run-in; however that was over 2m, his wins when French-trained were over up to 2m1f110y and his worst efforts to date have been over around 2m4f, so for me best watched this time
Court Master
On a hattrick after chase wins at Musselburgh and Newbury, in the latter over 2m7f chased leader, niggled along home turn, left in lead 3 out, hard driven from 2 out, led 3 lengths last, driven out, stayed on well till changed legs and was closed on last 100 yards but always holding on from Jammy George and shaping as though this drop in trip is needed. His 121-mark (a lb out) wouldn’t have been good enough for most renewals of this race, but it might this time

Shortlist: Champagne Court, Simply The Betts, Mercy Mercy Me

Cheltenham 1.50
Paddy Power 45 Sleeps Till Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase Class 1 Grade 3
2m4f127y – Going: Soft – Over the New Course – 10 runners

Cepage
Sound effort when 4th to Warthog in Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, but below that in the equivalent race here on New Year’s Day, led 3rd, headed 5th, chased leader after, niggled along approaching 3 out, in close to it, put under pressure, weakened, well held approaching 2 out, no more. Not sure what to expect now, particularly off such a high mark
Lalor*
After a period in the doldrums stretching back to December 2018, came back to form from the proverbial nowhere when a short-head 3rd to Oldgrangewood in the Grade 3 handicap chase on New Year’s Day, niggled along to make a start, with leaders, chased leader from 3rd, led 5th, moved comfortably, pushed along home turn, pricked ears and led a length 2 out, ridden and headed approaching last, still every chance jumping, hard ridden, rallied under pressure inside last 150 yards, led a few strides out, headed post in a virtual triple dead-heat. If the cheekpieces work a second time then obvious chance, now he’s back in the room
Spiritofthegames*
Useful and should have won more than the one chase. Had he not rather curled up on the run-in he might well have got the win in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December, niggled along 9th, good ground and midfield 11th, further good ground and prominent 3 out, shaken up and chased Warthog approaching 2 out, put under pressure, effort and went 2nd last, hard ridden, led 175 yards out, went a length and a bit clear, idled and/or tired last 125 yards, was closed on by the rallying Warthog, headed a couple of strides from the post. Would be harsh to call that a found-little, as the horse wasn’t noticeably doing anything wrong. Three times placed in Cheltenham chases, he’s off a maximum mark now but might run well again
Highway One O One
A lot of mileage but consistent, and at this meeting last year led to the last before collared by Kildisart in the novices’ handicap chase. Over a trip further than he normally races over, good 3rd to Just A Sting at Kempton on December 27th, chased clear leader, himself clear of the rest when slowed up into 6th, led approaching 13th, some 6 lengths clear when ridden into 3 out, pushed along home turn, put under pressure and was closed on approaching 2 out, stuck to task but all out, put under stronger pressure approaching last as challengers swamped him, upsides jumping, headed 175 yards out, stuck to task, fading final strides. Likely to go from the front again and back over his best trip, but might end up a sitting duck
Count Meribel
Won his first two chases last season including a defeat of Le Breuil at Cheltenham last November, niggled along and led after 3 out, blundered 2 out and headed, ridden and stayed on approaching last, sustained effort under pressure, led 175 yards out. Best run this season when chasing Lostintranslation throughout the Colin Parker Memorial at Carlisle in November, fighting a losing battle from the second last; not a factor at the business end in Betvictor Gold Cup in November, tracked leaders 12th, lost a little ground and pushed along at the top of the hill, looked held home turn, kept on till steadied into last, driven, no more up the hill, lost positions last 150 yards, 6th to Happy Diva. Not sure what to expect but could do with drier ground
Militarian
Made most for a surprise reappearance-win at Ascot in November; well beaten over a shorter trip next time, but back to form – sort of – when 4th to Doing Fine here over 3m2f on New Year’s Day, mistake 3rd, not fluent 8th and briefly niggled along, blundered 9th, not fluent 12th, mistake 16th, again not fluent 18th, headway before 4 out, ridden along away from it, prominent going down the hill to 3 out, every chance when mistake there, hard ridden, stayed on to chase leader home turn, every chance when steadied into 2 out, hard driven and faded between last 2, well held last. Hard to fancy now, having not jumped well on either of his visits to Cheltenham
Garde La Victoire
Veteran jumper who made his debut in October 2012; last win in 2m handicap chase at Sandown in January 2017. Slipped to a good mark but couldn’t take advantage of it when only 6th to Espoir De Guye at Ascot on December 21st beaten 25 lengths, pushed along 3 out, little impression home turn, kept on a little going to 2 out, weakened between last 2 and beaten 25 lengths, and hard to fancy this now-11 year-old
Warthog*
Improved chaser this season ran well when 3rd to Happy Diva in Betvictor Gold Cup, led 12th, moved comfortably till pushed along home turn and soon strongly challenged, not totally done with when left 3rd 2 out, ridden, weakened before and after last, and went two better in Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, disputed lead 4 out, niggled along 3 out, narrow lead approaching home turn, sent clear approaching 2 out, steadied into it, hard ridden between last 2, just about all out last, was closed on, hard driven, headed 175 yards out, looked beaten, hard driven, rallied last 100 yards, led again a stride from the post. Likely contender for the early lead with Highway One O One, could go well again
Cool Mix
One win over fences; showed little over hurdles at Wetherby on November 16th – a bit of headway halfway but that was it in race won by Sakhee’s City – but bounced back in Auld Reekie Chase at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day, up with the pace, not fluent at several fences, disputed lead 12th, pushed along chasing leader home turn, mistake 4 out, pushed along, drew upsides going to 3 out, every chance, hard ridden, faded going to 2 out where stumbled on landing, 3 lengths down and held last, driven run-in, all out and no more last 150 yards, lost ground on 1st 2. Don’t think this one will jump well enough, seeing Cheltenham for the first time
My Way
Yet to win since joining Paul Nicholls; some may think he’d have won at Plumpton on October 21st but for falling but I doubt it, moved upsides Legal Eyes 3 out travelling much the better, 1st 2 pulled clear, sent on 2 out and in close, hard ridden, didn’t stay on, upsides eventual winner and looked as though he was about to be pulled back when fell heavily last. When last seen out was an okay 2nd to Espoir De Guye at Ascot in December, midfield 5th, closer order going to 9th, raced wide,  pushed along and outpaced from 3 out, niggled along and made ground going to 2 out, moving into 3rd when pushed along, went 2nd last, ridden, kept on, no chance with winner but stuck to task. Even approaching the second last at Ascot the jockey wasn’t going for everything, and it’s hard to see this happening on his first visit to Cheltenham

Shortlist: Lalor, Spiritofthegames, Warthog

2.25 – Cotswold Chase
With no Cheltenham wins to his name Bristol De Mai is ripe for taking on, but who with? After Santini made a pig’s ear of winning the intermediate chase at Sandown in November from Now McGinty – who on official ratings at the time he was 19 lbs superior to – I don’t fancy him for anything. This might imply that you could back any of the others. De Rasher Counter* is the least exposed in the field – up with the pace the whole way in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury he just kept finding, so presents possibilities, as does the progressive novice Slate House*, whose defeat of Black Op in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day looks strong. The Rowland Meyrick winner Top Ville Ben is likely to function as a setter-upper only – for me though, the rest of the field at Wetherby that day didn’t turn up, and quite where the official handicapper has got his rating of 164 from is anyone’s guess. That leaves the exposed Mister Whitaker, who a few times has shaped as though three miles and more is what he needs, but for me has a bit to find – so De Rasher Counter and Slate House would be my two against the rest.

3.35 – Cleeve Hurdle
The eagerly-awaited clash – perhaps not as eagerly awaited as the one with these two and Benie Des Dieux that it looks as though we’ll get in March – between If The Cap Fits and Paisley Park still looks likely to result in another victory for the latter. Like Big Buck’s, he needs the jockey to get after him early enough but he gets it done, sometimes not by much – as was the case when he beat Thistlecrack at Newbury on his only start so far this season – but do the job he does. Relkeel Hurdle winner Summerville Boy is interesting over this new longer trip and he could easily be in line for the bronze medal, but – winning no prizes for originality – I reckon Paisley Park wins.

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