We are delighted to have Maddy Playle (@mp_horseracing) on board with us this season and for her first column she picks out seven horses to watch from the three-day Cheltenham Open Meeting...
Rock The Kasbah
The Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase has an illustrious roll of honour, with the likes of Imperial Commander and Denman having won it before going on to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory. This year the race lost some of its gusto when favourite Barters Hill pulled up after the seventh fence, but Nicky Henderson’s O O Seven went on to make an almost faultless chasing debut, scoring by 10 lengths despite drifting up the run in.
My dark horse to take out of this race is Rock The Kasbah and he himself already has an important win to his name in the Totequadpot Novices’ Chase, which has birthed stars such as Cue Card in recent times. Rock The Kasbah was a little sticky at times but jumped well overall, before getting hopelessly outpaced when Its’afreebee lifted the tempo. Before the final turn Richard Johnson was looking behind as if he was preparing to pull the horse up, but he continued to complete, and it was a good job he did. Rock The Kasbah finished best of all, and charged up the hill to grab a modest third on the line.
Make no mistake, I don’t think he has what it takes to cut it in open company, but later on down the line I’m sure he will be another horse the Whateley’s can win those top class staying handicaps with. A longer trip and some more experience will see this talented hurdler at his best over the larger obstacles.
The Neptune Investment Management Hyde Novices’ Hurdle is another race with a glowing history, with names such as Black Jack Ketchum, Diamond Harry and Coneygree gracing its honour roll. This year’s renewal saw Wholestone and West Approach re-oppose after their dual at the Showcase meeting, but this time it was off level weights.
Thistlecrack’s half-brother West Approach took the lead after the fourth flight and insured the race was run at a solid gallop, he battled on admirably up the hill but eventually finished 4 ½ lengths adrift in third. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Wholestone proved he had the beating of Colin Tizzard’s inmate once more, and although he laid down a strong challenge to the winner, it was not to be. Peregrine Run travelled through the race like the best horse and won with something in hand. Trainer Peter Fahy has turned him around this season, and this was his fourth consecutive win. The victory also marked a landmark first Cheltenham win for jockey Roger Loughran.
In the aftermath connections noted the horse enjoyed the conditions and will not be seen running on heavy winter ground, so this win may now conveniently signal a break before they prepare him for something tougher still. I was really encouraged by the way the front three cleared away and think they are smart individuals in their own right. Peregrine Run strikes me as the sort of dour stayer that has the class to run well in an Albert Bartlett. He may not have well known connections or an unexposed profile, but he is clearly improving and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.
Defi Du Seuil
Phillip Hobbs’s Defi Du Seuil put up perhaps the most visually impressive win of the entire meeting. He came into the race after a seamless win at Ffos Las, and looked a really smart horse in the parade ring. So too did Charlie Longsdon’s Lambeau Field, who went on to run an encouraging race to finish third, and should be a nice horse to follow in the future.
Paul Nicholls’s Wealth Des Mottes was ante-post favourite for the race, but he had two handlers in the paddock and failed to sparkle during the race, appearing to be one of the first horses beaten - it was a disappointing run from him despite the fact he was giving the winner 7lb. It was soon clear that the Defi Du Seuil’s main threat was Alan King’s Dino Velvet, and the two quickened away impressively before Dino Velvet took a fall at the last.
The winner certainly had his measure by that point and although I worry about the bare form of the race, especially with Diable De Sivola looking exposed enough, he could hardly have done much more to impress. The Triumph Hurdle will surely be on the agenda for Defi Du Seuil and I wouldn’t put you off. Raw ability is what I value most at this early stage, and he certainly has it in abundance.
The BetVictor Gold Cup once again lived up to expectations this year and produced a thrilling finish, with the classy Taquin Du Seuil just collaring long time leader Village Vic, who ran the race of his life in defeat. The enigmatic Buywise once again hit the frame, running on from the last to finish third.
Village Vic aside, I don’t think the standard of jumping was anything to behold in this race, with many of the main protagonists making mistakes, and Aso is not exempt from that. However, he improved through the race in the style of a talented horse, and despite being far from fluent over the last two; he showed he is more than capable in a race of this calibre. It is also important to note that due to the uncharacteristically dry autumn we’ve had, Venetia Williams has not ran many of her horses at all, and as soon as the rain arrives, I’m sure he will be even better.
Secondly, Charlie Deutsch is a 5lb claimer I really rate, and he rides Cheltenham well, so it would only be a positive to see him aboard again in the future. As a second season chaser, Aso probably has more capacity to improve compared to most of these, and I believe there is plenty of life left in his handicap mark yet. Something along the lines of the December Gold Cup should suit him down to the ground.
Keep In Line
The Skybet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle was a small but select field which saw the two Champion Bumper winners fight again in Ballyandy and Moon Racer. The former really caught the eye in the paddock, but despite his 4lb pull, I thought he would have it all to do at this trip.
It did turn out that way as the race was run at a crawl and Tom Scudamore took initiative on Moon Racer, who has a potent turn of foot. It was a very good performance from the winner, especially giving away the 4lb, but I feel Ballyandy will be much more effective over further. Mirsaale clinched second after making most of the early running, but I feel the two to take out of this going forward are Movewiththetimes and particularly Keep In Line. Both were keen early, but Barry Geraghty managed to settle Movewiththetimes behind horses whereas Keep In Line was a little more anxious to get on with it.
He was hampered entering the straight and then drifted left across the track, whilst staying on powerfully, which is what caught my eye. As the only four-year-old in the race, it will be worth watching Keep In Line as he seemed to show plenty of signs of inexperience, and the better quality race will have taught him a lot.
On a rollercoaster day for Nicky Henderson, the Shloer Chase provided him and all of his staff at Seven Barrows with yet more heartache as his stunning grey Simonsig ran his last race. In his absence it was the vastly improved Fox Norton who gave Aidan Coleman an uncomplicated ride, and another win on a memorable weekend, which saw him crowned leading jockey of the meeting.
I see Fox Norton as a genuine Champion Chase contender in what looks an open division, Douvan aside. Simply Ned ran his usual consistent race in second, and Special Tiara understandably ran out of steam on his first run of the season. In a race like this we already know plenty about the horses, and therefore it is often difficult to learn much, but it may be wise to keep an eye on Module who made a more than satisfactory return to racing after a long absence.
He stayed on best of all up the hill and Tom George and Adrian Heskin have already proved they are a combination to be reckoned with this season. Looking forward, two and a half miles should be ideal for Module, who aged 9, may not be a forgotten hope just yet.
Fergal O’Brien has been having a stellar season, and Poetic Rhythm marked his 29th winner in the final race of the Open Meeting, the Listed bumper. The horse relished the cut in the ground and fended off all challengers to record a brave success.
Ben Pauling’s Boreham Bill stuck to the task in second, but it was O’Brien’s other runner which may be a bit of a dark horse going forward. The race may have been littered with non-runners, most notably Sumkindofking and Bags Groove, but Imperial Eloquence deserves plenty of credit for finishing third. The two horses at the head of the market Brahms Du Clermont and La Cavsa Nostra both failed to fire, and my initial reaction was this race was much more about getting into a rhythm and bravery at the finish, than it was about sheer class, which is a big ask for any young horse.
Aged just 4, Imperial Eloquence rose to the challenge, and made smooth headway four furlongs from home, travelling ominously well in the famous Imperial Racing silks. He picked up very well for Conor Shoemark and was only beaten 1 ¾ lengths. As the cliché goes, he is a big framed horse who has plenty more filling out to do and should progress into a very useful horse with age.