Countryside Day at Cheltenham Races – Preview and Tips

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This great National Hunt game of ours lost a big friend and a real giant in the shape of Alan Potts, the co-owner of so many famous horses including the Gold Cup winner Sizing John, earlier this week. The mining industry titan made his name with Sizing Europe – trained by Henry De Bromhead to win eight Grade 1’s including an Arkle and Champion Chase – but reaped huge rewards for Jessica Harrington and Colin Tizzard as well last season with the likes of Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar.

Thoughts and prayers are with Alan’s family, including his children. Indeed, according to the Guardian, Potts’s daughter, Julie led horses around the paddock before races and had already given the permission needed to connections to run their horses this weekend.

The November meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse (biggest outside the Cheltenham Festival) with its centre piece of the BetVictor Gold Cup is a traditional highlight of the jumping calendar before Christmas. is all the better for this decision.

The meeting starts with Countryside Day and it will be a fascinating treat to see Finian’s Oscar once again in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase (2.25). One of the best novice hurdlers of last season, he took some time to warm up on his chasing debut at Chepstow, and will need to have improved and quickly if he is to win here, facing three decent rivals and giving 8lbs away.

William Henry, a six length winner over hurdles on the New Course when last seen, is a fascinating contender, albeit one without the benefit of chasing experience or a run. Chasing should come easily enough to him, and the market vibes will be very important as a marker to what one can expect, although he looks to have improvement to come still.

That is certainly the case for Movewiththetimes, the Betfair Hurdle winner. He was in need of the run as much, if not more, than the chasing experience first time out here at the Showcase meetings, and in that light, didn’t run too badly in what was a well contested novice chase taken by last year’s Greatwood winner along with the 154-rated runner up Secau Royal. Stripping fitter and with this step up in trip unlikely to be a problem with such a small field, better ought to be expected.

Coo Star Sivola, a Listed Novice Hurdle winner on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham Racecourse, looks useful but didn’t enjoy chasing first up and may be outclassed here.

We’re a long way from the Ballymore Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival 2018, but the series leading up to that big day starts with the Hyde Hurdle (3.35) which looks a very interesting but tricky getting out contest. Vison Des Flos. He landed a valuable bumper at the Punchestown Festival in April, and was sent into Grade 2 company in the Persian War at Chepstow. He moved well into the race, but understandably didn’t jump as well as Poetic Rhythm and appeared to shape as if needing the run. He ought to do better here, and is better off with Poetic Rhythm, but it’s not a given that he will reverse form; He’s only 5lbs better off for what was close to a seven length beating, and Poetic Rhythm was also having his first start of the season too.

There’s also stiff opposition. On The Blind side won his only point-to-point start in Ireland and looked a useful prospect, so it was no surprise that he managed to get the job done on his hurdling debut at Aintree. That looked a good contest on paper beforehand and the clock, courtesy of @StopwatchRacing – backs it up; Between 3 out and the line, they were 4 seconds faster than in Bags Groove’s handicap hurdle win and nearly 10 seconds faster than in the 3-mile handicap hurdle. He needed very yard of the trip there in what was a steadily run race, so this course ought to suit and he can progress from a strong start. He had Aye Aye Charlie.

Momella has barely been off the bridle to win both her hurdles starts at Newton Abbot and Fakenham and should be involved, whilst the staying chaser Calett Mad has been switched back to hurdles and is making it pay. He was always travelling best in a similar event at the Showcase meeting here when sent on a long way out and similar tactics ought to get the rest of the field properly racing early.

Brexit is set to make it much more difficult for foreigners to take the best prizes this country has to offer, but we’ve not left yet and the Cross Country Chases here are still ripe for export. Emmanuel Clayeux won the Cross Country Chase on trials day with Urgent De Gregaine, who would then go onto be a very close second in the Velka Pardubicka on his next start. He’s gone up only 6lbs in real handicap terms for that and he looks a sure bet to go very well in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (3.00) given his sure footed jumping style and reserves of stamina.

Killarney National winner Auvergnat ought to take all the beating, having since finished second in the Munster National afterwards, with Donal McInerney taking 5lbs off. Cantlow, second in the LA Touche Cup at Punchestown, also ought to take the beating and bothy look to be readier than Grand National second Causes of Causes, although JP McManus’s charge has at least had his ground.

It is interesting to note that the first selection is not Clayeux’s only runner in the race. Vicomte Du Seuil was a comprehensive winner of the Prix Des Amourettes when last seen at Lignieres, having taken the Prix Groupe Carrus beforehand in good style in July. The good ground ought not to trouble him too much – he won the Carrus on a decent surface – and it is a surprise that he is as a big as 33/1.

The BetVictor Handicap Chase (1.50) does not look strong and a 10lbs rise might not be enough to stop Exitas, a seven-length winner of a handicap chase at Ascot when Quite By Chance (a useful yardstick who does not reopposes here) was second. He is fair at 3/1, and perhaps no more than that.

This is a lot weaker than the race that Doitforthevillage finished sixth in last time, when he could never get into the 2 mile handicap chase that was dominated by Foxtail Hill (near favourite for the Paddy Power after that) and Le Prezien, and it’s tempting to back him once again for all that he will need to be ridden more positively there (that race, as with so many at this course and distance, were dominated by front runners).

Most interesting of the bigger prices is Un Beau Romain, who was successful 12 months ago from 2lb higher in the ratings and then went onto finish second in a similar event at the December meeting. Exitas does look well treated off the same mark as when runner-up at Ludlow for the red hot Ian Williams yard, but this race does look for the taking.

The Fairlight Books Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (1.15) is a big field with many of them making appeal and if County Shy can handle the hustle and bustle of an 18-runner field then he ought to go close following his defeat of Banditry at Worcester in September, he ought to take the beating here. Banditry, the horse he had behind in second, has won at Southwell when beating the useful marker Brahms De Clermont before finishing second at Ludlow last time. A big field handicap on this decent surface looks up his street and he can go well for each/way players.

Oxwich Bay is 6lbs well was and was returning from nearly a year off when going down narrowly at Warwick last week so has to be respected along with Magic Dancer, unpenalized for scoring well at Kempton just four days ago (5 if you’re reading on Friday). Coeur Blimey last bumped into the extremely progressive Air Horse One when last seen at Exeter and if fit, would be a fascinating contender here. Slanelough was a good winner at Kelso last time and faces a different surface. Or De Vassy, for the connections that have Air Horse One, was a very comprehensive winner of a Southwell Novice Hurdle last time over 2m4f. Dropping back to this trip could be ideal for him here and he’s one of many who are serious each/way contenders.

The Markel Insurance Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase (12.40) is well contested as always. Phil’s Magic ran a good race on his comeback after a break in the Munster National when third. He was beaten 11 lengths but the winner that day was the very well handicapped Total Recall – now quite short for the Hennesssy – and the second was Alpha Des Obeaux, who would be fourth in the JNWine Champion Chase and then won the Clonmel Oil Chase yesterday in good style. Finishing 18 lengths third to those two was no disgrace, and the last time he got good ground over fences he took the Midlands National when he pulled out all the stops to get up on the line by a head, and he appears to have improved since on the bare ratings. He can go very well, with recent Amateur Handicap Chase 1-2 What Happens Now and Indian Castle high on the shortlist. Dueling Banjos was a fine second on his reappearance at Exeter for Kim Bailey and ought to go well too.

Don’t forget that Cheltenham Festival 2018 ticket prices go up on Sunday so grab yours for Champion Day, Ladies Day, St Patrick’s Thursday and Gold Cup Day  – BUY NOW


1 pt each/way Phil’s Magic, 12.40 Cheltenham (7/1 general)

1 pt win Urgent De Gregaine, 3.00 Cheltenham (6/1 general)

1 pt each/way Vicomte Du Seuil, 3.00 Cheltenham (25/1 general)

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