THE HOME OF JUMPS RACING IS BACK IN BUSINESS
Cheltenham’s three-day Open Meeting has over the years played host to some of the most iconic performers in the sport and the fixture attracts high-class fields year after year to fight it out.
Best Mate, winner of three Cheltenham Gold Cups in 2002, 2003 & 2004, gained his first race under Rules in Britain here in 1999 and recorded the second chase win of his career at the same meeting in 2000, while 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Imperial Commander won the 2008 BetVictor Gold Cup.
This year’s meeting offers over £800,000 in prize money, with much to look forward to on all three days.
HENDERSON TEAM SHAPING UP STRONGLY FOR BIG RACES
Reigning champion trainer Nicky Henderson is out to make an impact at one of the most important meetings in the first half of the season and could saddle the favourites in the two most valuable contests of the weekend.
Rather Be is set to be Henderson’s sole representative in the £160,000 BetVictor Gold Cup and the trainer is upbeat over his charge’s prospects, saying this week: “Rather Be is in good form and everything has been great with him. He took a bit of time to come hand, but he has been good in the last couple of weeks. He has progressed every year and his work of late has been good. His run at last season’s Festival was very good, and two and a half miles around Cheltenham suits him very well. Good ground will not be a problem either.”
In Sunday’s Unibet Greatwood Hurdle, Henderson is set to be represented by Verdana Blue and Charli Parcs. The former was in action only last weekend when impressively taking the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and before the worst of the winter weather starts to bite, there is an obvious temptation for connections to go back into battle given that she obviously appreciates the likely good going.
Henderson said: “She was very good when she won at Kempton and very good at Wincanton on Saturday, but it would be a tough ask. It is an interesting conundrum because I was under the impression that a penalty would not take her weight above 11st 12lb but that isn’t the case in this particular race so we will have to see what remains in the field at the final declaration stage. She has come out of Wincanton fine and while the ground is good, you have to keep going really. This ground is not going to last forever.
“Charli Parcs is in good form at home. I think the Greatwood Hurdle is a race that he comes into fresh and that could really suit him. He will have plenty of weight in the race, but he will definitely go for it.”
Arguably the most celebrated of all of Henderson’s stars is ace steeplechaser Altior, but the trainer has decided to sidestep the Grade 2 Shloer Chase as he waits three weeks for Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase.
Stablemate Brain Power lines up in his place on Sunday. Henderson said: “Altior is in terrific form, but I just feel with three weeks until the Tingle Creek, he does not need to run. Brain Power is the only horse who can go with Altior anyway. He is a quality horse and I am really happy with him.
ADDEYBB THE CLASS ACT ON ALL-WEATHER
The All-Weather Championships step up a gear at Lingfield Park on Saturday with two Listed Fast-Track Qualifiers on Polytrack offering free and guaranteed places for £1-million Finals Day on April 19.
The William Haggas-trained Addeybb (pictured below left) captured the Group 2 bet365 Mile at Sandown Park in April and could make his All-Weather debut in the 2000m Betway Churchill Stakes, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £200,000 Betway Easter Classic over the same course and distance. The four-year-old failed to live up to expectations when last seen on British Champions Day, but had previously been off the track for most of the season, with Haggas reluctant to risk him on quick ground, and comes here fresher than some of his rivals.
He must concede weight to some smart horses in this line-up though, with the irrepressible Big Country and last year’s winner Master Of The World (below right) - the reigning Winter Derby hero - among the opposition.
Yorkshire-based David O’Meara is set to be doubly-represented, with Frankuus on course to make his second appearance for the handler after coming home fourth at Newmarket on November 3. He is set to be joined by stable-companion Primero, who has won three times on Polytrack and heads to Lingfield Park after a decisive win in a Chelmsford City handicap over 10 furlongs on November 8.
Saturday’s other Fast-Track Qualifier is the 1200m Betway Golden Rose Stakes. The contenders include Kimberella, successful in the 2016 All-Weather Sprint Championships, and Corinthia Knight, who took the £150,000 Three-Year-Old All-Weather Championships on Good Friday last season. This year’s Stewards’ Cup winner Gifted Master readily took this contest 12 months ago and boasts obvious prospects of scoring again.
HIGH-CLASS HURDLERS IN ACTION AT PUNCHESTOWN
Gordon Elliott is on weather watch ahead of Samcro’s next possible start in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday. Despite no less than 32mm of rain reaching the track in the last seven days, the going is still only just on the slow side of good.
Elliott is keen to run Samcro, who was surprisingly beaten on his recent return to action at Down Royal by Bedrock, and that would mean a possible clash some smart performers. The trainer reported: “He’s come out of his race very well, but he’d need a bit of rain. If the ground was too quick, we wouldn’t take a chance on him so we’re hoping for rain. Ideally, Mother Nature will do her thing.”
Among the other possible starters in the Morgiana Hurdle is the winner of this race 12 months ago, former Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen, who was last seen producing something like his brilliant best over 4800m at the Punchestown Festival in April. Punchestown Champion Hurdle victor Supasundae, representing Jessica Harrington, is another possible contender in what promises to be a most informative contest.