@SeanRaymond provides the low-down on those runners who caught the eye over the course of Cheltenham’s three day Open meeting.
The Open Meeting at Cheltenham is often seen by many as the real start of the National Hunt season in the UK and once again it proved to be a brilliant three days of jumps action. Thousands of fans descended on Prestbury Park over the weekend to catch some top class racing and we saw some very taking performances to scribble in the notebook along the way. The Festival may still be four months away but we saw plenty of eye catching action from some improving young horses who are sure to be back here in the spring with every chance of running big races.
There were a number of particularly interesting performances from one of two novice chasers over the weekend including Champagne West who made a real mark for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson on Friday. The Steel Plate and Sections Novices Chase has been won by the likes of Denman and Imperial Commander in recent years and while it remains to be seen if Champagne West will turn out to be as good as either of those two, it certainly was a likeable performance from an improving six-year-old who now looks one to follow.
Champagne West travelled and jumped like a very good horse indeed before pulling clear of stable-mate Colour Squadron up the hill and the RSA Chase now looks very much on his radar. He remains a relatively lightly raced horse who is sure to improve again as we see him through the winter and he is now as short as 12/1 for the RSA Chase with one firm which might look a decent price come the spring.
One horse who Champagne West may well end up taking on in the RSA Chase come March also made a favourable impression during the Open Meeting this past weekend. The David Pipe trained Kings Palace won the Cheltenham Club Novices Chase on Saturday with impressive style and he looks like a strong stayer who was more than at home on his chase debut. The six-year-old was a very good hurdler for Pond House but he was bought as a chaser and connections are convinced that the best of this horse will be seen over the fences. The highly rated Sausalito Sunrise was no match for Kings Palace on this occasion and Bet365 were impressed enough to cut the Pipe horse from 16/1 into 8/1 favourite for the RSA Chase which highlights the regard that this horse is held in.
The main talking point from the Open Meeting was the success of Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs who shared a stunning six winners over the three days. The aforementioned Champagne West was just one of those winners and they enjoyed a number of other high profile wins together including on Sunday when Garde La Victoire claimed the Greatwood Hurdle in very taking fashion. The five-year-old remains lightly raced and should have more improvement to come although this was clearly a career best off of a big weight. One or two quietly fancy Garde La Victoire to run well in the Champion Hurdle after this latest success with 33/1 a more than fair price at the moment about a young horse who clearly acts on the course and will enjoy the trip.
Caid Du Berlais is also worth a mention, as he produced a thrilling finish under a good ride from Sam Twiston-Davies to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday. The Paddy Power is considered the highlight of the Open Meeting and it certainly gave the fans a cracking finish this season. As they came over the last it was Johns Spirit who looked the winner all over in his bid for a second successive win in the race but he was collared in the shadow of the post by the Paul Nichols trained Caid Du Berlais. The Ryanair Chase remains a possibility for the Ditcheat in-mate and he certainly enjoys the course and distance at Cheltenham as he showed on Saturday although a tilt at one of the middle distance handicaps at the Festival is also likely to be considered for a horse who has proven himself to be top class.
Credit to @SteveChambers86 for dragging himself away from the betting ring to grabs these snaps on Friday…