Cheltenham Showcase 2017 Saturday’s card is a cracking day in a great weekend of racing. We start with an extremely competitive handicap chase (2.00), with Singlefarmpayment – who was nosed out of taking the big three-mile handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival – the current favourite. That is entirely fair, given he has only gone up 4lbs for a great effort when he was second there in a good renewal to the high-class Un Temps Pour Tout. He should go close once again, and is of even more interest for the Hennessy (now known as the Ladbrokes Trophy) off his very good mark.
There’s plenty in this race to look at however, and Doing Fine could be worth another chance. He was sent off 9/2 for the Bet365 Gold Cup after bolting up here in a 3-mile handicap chase at the April meeting, but for much of the way he appeared to be struggling before finding plenty for pressure and then finishing fifth in what was quite a frantic and bunched conclusion to the race. That race came just a week after his fine win here, and the form of his 2 lengths second to Henllan Harri looks strong. He was just beaten by the high-class Veteran Theatre Guide and Benbens, third in the Scottish National beforehand, and he was ahead of the recent Chepstow winner Rock The Kasbah. He’s had a run over hurdles which should put him straight for this and he might not have shown his best yet.
It should be hard to kick last year’s winner Coologue out of the three on the same mark with the same jockey on, and he is one of many dangers.
Cogry, last seen going very close in the Scottish National off just 2lbs lower, is interesting here as he holds a good course record and is adaptable regarding ground. Two seasons ago he was a good fourth on his return at the Open Meeting so it’s possible that he’s ready for this test and if that is the case then he certainly has to be amongst the best-handicapped horses in the field. Viconte Du Noyer was second to his stablemate at Punchestown when last seen off just a 2lbs lower mark over 2m4f. He took the 3m5f handicap at the Open Meeting last year off that same rating and if he’s ready to go, he’s well treated here.
Another overpriced horse might be Perfect Candidate, who was a five-length winner of a strong Veterans Chase at Exeter last February off just 4lbs lower. If he’s ready to go, he can outrun her price. Robinsfirth was still in with a chance when he fell three out at Chepstow and still has potential in this spare so should be on the shortlist.
In the Masterson Holdings Hurdle (2.35), last season’s Anniversary Hurdle third Bedrock is an understandable favourite after two easy wins since then for the red hot Skelton team who took the novice chase with North Hill Harvey yesterday. He ought to take the beating, but the market has him sussed with a price of 10/11 to make it three hurdles wins and that does not look obvious value. Irish raider Twobeelucky managed to run into a very smart prospect in the shape of Le Richebourg at Galway in the summer and is an interesting rival whilst Golden Jeffrey has won his last two as well, the last win coming by 15 lengths. Arthington might be the one to struggle of the quartet.
The Randox Health Handicap Chase (3.10) is a very strong contest for the time of year that wouldn’t look out of place at the Festival – buy your official Cheltenham Racecourse tickets – and it’s two horses who were well fancied for spring contests that make appeal here. Double W’s found 2m5f too far in Novice’s Handicap Chase at the Festival last year but found 2 miles at Aintree just right to take the Red Rum handicap chase. Possibly feeling the effects of that run when pulled up at Ayr, he needed the run at Kelso first time out, and with that behind him, ought to be spot on for this attempt at a valuable prize with positive noises emanating from the Jefferson camp, quoted as saying:
“He always improves from his first run. Last year he was beaten in a handicap hurdle at Hexham. “We’ve been happy with him since Kelso. He worked very well on Wednesday and we’re happy to have a go.”
Foxtail Hill was sent off favourite for the Novices’ Handicap at the Festival before he fell, and then he disappointed at Aintree, but his good second at the April meeting showed he still has a lot to offer off this mark and it could be that this track and trip suits him just right here with an aggressive ride. When he won on trials day, he beat Saphir Du Rheu (a wide margin inner at Kelso, then fifth in Gold Cup), and Tenor Nivernais (since a wide margin winner at Ascot) He won first time out on his stable debut two seasons ago and looks worth chancing to go very well here
The one who was top of the shortlist outside of the pair was Doitforthevillage, who was going well when falling in the Red Rum last season at Aintree and then made amends for that with a fine front-running display when taking a valuable handicap chase at Warwick just two weeks after. That day he beat Abidjan off 129, form that has been boosted well since as he would take a very valuable contest by 16 lengths next time. Abidjan has also won again since, beating Poker School (runs today) by a head to now leave him off 143. Doitforthevillage is now 135 which is just 4lbs higher than his last winning mark and he has had a pipe-opener already which leaves him as a major player.
Le Prezien was heading for a battle with Some Plan when the latter fell in the Arkle Trial last November, and Some Plan did manage to take the Irish Arkle since. However, that has inflated his rating rather artificially and Le Prezien disappointed in the Grand Annual so both can be taken on here. Sizing Platinum romped home at Newton Abbott when well backed in heavy ground, but he has been thumped in the handicap for that result and is upped right back up in class here. Cobra De Mai has been on a roll recently and is considered the biggest threat for the Skelton team.
The first Pertemps Qualifier here of the season sees a lot of faces old and new who catch the eye. One of them is Anteros, who bolted up at the Open Meeting last year in a Listed handicap hurdle and then struggled after, but who has now dropped to a mark of 128; Only 3lbs higher than his last winning mark then. That is worth noting and he also comes here fit from chasing, even if he didn’t take to it particularly well.
Of the rest, Stick To The Plan did anything but when dislodging Bridget Andrews with the race at his mercy when set to win at Southwell and has to be of interest after just five runs, although the form of that contest is desperate and the same has to be said about Quarenta’s Warwick win when stepped back down in trip at Warwick last time.
The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices’ Chase (4.20) is a very strong contest where one horse catches the eye early. Cultivator has always looked a horse who should enjoy chasing, so his two wins over hurdles were a bonus last year and we can expect more from him this term. He gets a lot of weight and the market is going to be a good indicator as to what we can expect although he will be doing well to beat either of Two Taffs or Alcala.
There’s not much the Skelton’s can do wrong at the moment, and the way that Two Taffs cleared away to take the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase suggested that he can still keep on improving. However, Alcala has been striking whilst the iron is hot and making into a very useful chaser indeed over the summer, winning Market Rasen’s Summer Plate and then taking two easy opportunities at Newton Abbot straight after that. He was travelling well at Chepstow when slipping up around the bend (he would likely have beaten Tintern’s Theatre had he stood up), and he ought to take the beating here if he hasn’t been left any the worse for that effort. Midnight Shot and Double Treasure both won handicap chases in convincing style last time and shouldn’t be too far away in what looks an exciting race.
Robbin’Hannon and Calett Mad are the only two the market wants to know about in the Junior Jumpers Novices’ Hurdle (4.55) and it’s not easy to separate the two. Robbin’Hannon has plenty more to give after just four starts, the third of them a good second to the experienced Gayebury in a Listed contest at Perth over the summer before warming up nicely with an easy win at Worcester.
Calett Mad had a wonderful debut campaign over fences at such a tender age, his best effort coming when he nearly took a novice’s handicap chase at the Scottish National Festival last year, and it should be close between the pair although Dashing Perk, Mon Palois, and Ballymountin Bay have shown plenty of ability so far.
It is recommended that one take the notebook to the Jockey Club Venues Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (5.30), with plenty of well-connected and well-bred horses taking to the track for the first time. There’s a useful form marker too in Way Out West, who was a taking winner of his bumper debut at Sedgefield.
For those who enjoy both codes and still want to ring the last juice from the flat season, we have a fine renewal of the Racing Post Trophy (3.25 Doncaster). Aidan O’Brien is just one more top-flight victory away from beating Bobby Frankel’s top-flight record of 25 Group or Grade 1 wins in a single season and in Saxon Warrior (Beresford Stakes winner) and The Pentagon (Tyros Stakes winner) he has two big chances but he might have to wait as Verbal Dexterity is a serious threat to the party. A deeply impressive winner at the Curragh on soft ground by nearly 10 lengths, he then dropped down to 6 furlongs for the Railway Stakes on quicker ground and found Beckford just a tad too quick for him, but returned to seven furlongs and a deep surface he was dominant in the National Stakes when he reversed that form emphatically to run out a deeply impressive winner.
He missed the Dewhurst thanks to a dirty scope, but Bolger’s praise for him was startlingly effusive following his Curragh romp. “I can see him as being champion European two-year-old. He’s the real deal. He’s as good as any of the two-year-olds I’ve had,” said Bolger, a man who has trained five winners of the Dewhurst, including New Approach, Dawn Approach and Teofilo.
A mile should be right up his street and whilst he is in a deep race with threats all around, he is worth backing for the Trophy and the Guineas right now. Roaring Lion and Seahenge area are also worthy of respect.
You might also like to read our my preview of the Betfair Chase 2017 at Haydock.
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2.00 Cheltenham – 1 pt each/way Doing Fine (7/1 Betfred, Boylesports)
3.10 Cheltenham – 1 pt win Double W’s (11/2 general)
3.10 Cheltenham – 1 pt each/way Doitforthevillage (20/1 SkyBet*, 18/1 Hills, 16/1 general)
3.45 Cheltenham – 1 pt each/way Anteros (20/1 SkyBet*, 25/1 general)
4.20 Cheltenham – 2 pts win Alcala (15/8 general)
3.25 Doncaster – 2 pts win Verbal Dexterity (4/1 general)
Ante Post – Flat
1 pt each/way Verbal Dexterity, 2018 2,000 Guineas (12/1 general)
1 pt each/way Verbal Dexterity, 2018 Derby (33/1 Boylesports, 25/1 general)
*5 places ¼ the odds.