We’re all chuffed to see Cheltenham back on our radar, but my colleague Owen will literally be dancing around his desk at the mere thought of it.
ITV cameras are present for the first four on an outstanding card, and competitive racing is very much the theme. The ground looked beautiful on Friday – a safe, ideal, soft-side-of-good surface for jumping. The Clerk of the Course expressed himself to be absolutely delighted with it.
As for Doncaster … it must pass a precautionary inspection on Saturday morning, after racing was cancelled on Friday, and the Course Clerk Paul Barker said: “Conditions have improved. We have moved some rail to help remove some of the challenging areas. Hopefully the 7.30am inspection is only precautionary. If the weather forecast is accurate we should be fine in the morning.” (Racing Post)
So – it’s the Futurity at Donny, a straight mile clash of 2-yr-olds, and a chance for someone to lay down the gauntlet to imperious Dewhurst hero City Of Troy. Who’ll be dreaming of Guineas glory over the winter? Time to fasten those seat belts …
13.15 Cheltenham – Notlongtillmay each-way @ 10/1
A two-mile handicap chase for 4-yr-olds and upwards. Notlongtillmay is a 7-yr-old gelding in the care of Laura Morgan, and he ran a blinder in the Turners at the Festival (second) to Stage Star, Paul Nicholls’ Paddy Power Gold Cup hope.
Not seen on the racecourse since, the selection is also entered up here for the PP, and has shown admirable and progressive form since debuting in a Warwick bumper (May 2021).
He’s won no less than 4 times, three of which have been over the larger obstacles. His form entitles him to be extremely competitive here, and I guess stepping down to the minimum trip could be an issue, but his prominent run-style means a likely bid from the front.
He’s earned his top-weight spot in the handicap, and he’s gone well fresh in the past. An excellent each-way punt for me at the likely price, especially as we’re paying FOUR places.
13.50 Cheltenham – Blueking D’Oroux @ 11/8
A classy-looking 4-yr-old hurdle, with two dominating the early betting exchanges. The Moore’s field a likely type in Spirit D’Aunou, but I’m rather taken by Paul Nicholls’ Blueking D’Oroux.
This French import joined Paul nearly 12 months ago and was initially disappointing – but after 2 runs was given a wind op, and his fortunes soared accordingly. An Ascot win was followed by a sterling effort at Aintree, finishing second in a field of 20. His mark that day was 134, and he’s up to 138 here.
Still top-rated though, and given the race conditions meets his rivals at level weights (even gets 4lbs from one). So in theory he’s got a bit up his sleeve, and the master trainer will surely have him cherry-ripe for this reappearance. He’s in the Greatwood here in a few weeks, and an impressive showing could see him contract in price for that.
Quite simply, a cracker.
14.25 Cheltenham – Twig @ 15/2
A handicap chase over 3m 1f – stamina required then. Twig has run well here before, and arrives off an 118-day layoff since winning two Uttoxeter events at this level in the summer. One hurdle, one chase – this 8-yr-old is rated 140 in both spheres, and is well worth a stab at this for me.
That last Staffordshire win was a career-best, so this could be a really crucial season for Twig – can he step up for trainer Ben Pauling and threaten in some of the better staying handicap chases? 3m 2f was the trip for that last success – so there’s every hope that he’ll stay, though the Cheltenham hill is another kettle of fish at the end of a tough race.
Claimer Beau Morgan again takes the ride, and gets on very well with this son of Sulamani, a very fine Grade One-winning horse himself for Godolphin around 20 years ago.
We’re paying FOUR places again, and I wouldn’t put anyone off exploring that avenue if you’re so inclined. Another absolutely fascinating affair.
15.00 Cheltenham – Hugos New Horse @ 7/1
A wide-open 3m Pertemps Hurdle qualifier – 6/1 the field material. My selection Hugos New Horse is another P Nicholls-trained hopeful, this time running in the famous colours of the Stewart family.
Up at Ayr for the Scottish National meeting in April he rather dotted up in a nice novice hurdle, after finding heavy ground at Sandown in a £45k contest perhaps a little too taxing the previous month. Prior to that he’d been making hay, and is obviously a talent.
A bumper winner on debut, the 6-yr-old has plenty going for him and as we’re paying FIVE places each-way here that’s possibly the eminently sensible way to go. He’s beautifully bred too, by Coastal Path, whose own sire was the great Halling; and there’s Sadler’s Wells influence present, too.
Hard not to mistily think of Big Buck’s, seeing these colours in a staying hurdle at jumps HQ. What a gem he was. Just wow.
14.10 Doncaster – Ancient Wisdom @ 6/5
This son of Dubawi produced a monster performance at flat HQ last time, powering clear in a Group 3 over today’s trip of a mile. Two comfortable summer wins when introduced to the racecourse (7f) were followed on his third start by a Listed defeat at Ascot, again over 7f.
Stepped up to a mile at Newmarket, and on soft ground, Ancient Wisdom was visually very impressive indeed, to this observer at least. His fifth career start then is this Group 1, and for me, though Frankel colt Diego Velazquez could be very smart too, I’m happy to row in with the old firm of Appleby and Buick.
Staying power is just what’s required given the deep ground, and he looks to have it in abundance. Smashing race. Last big hurrah for the juveniles, domestically.
14.45 Doncaster – Ballymount Boy @ 5/2
A very trappy sprint, again for 2-yr-olds, over 6f. Ballymount Boy gets further than this, which could be very important for all the reasons alluded to about the nature of the ground.
Trained in N Yorks by Adrian Keatley, he didn’t fire in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium) at the Arc meeting, but steps down from that Group 1 to Listed company here. He goes on the ground and ran subsequent Middle Park victor Vandeek close at Goodwood in the Richmond.
Another top-drawer affair; and in deep ground there’s always that sensible caveat to keep stakes on the smaller side, to allow for the odd slightly potty result as a consequence of the mud flying around – as with Champions Day at Ascot last Saturday.
15.20 Doncaster – Desperate Hero @ 7/1
5f Class 2 handicap, 3-yr-olds and up. Nice prize of £25k to the winner, and it’s attracted some in-form flyers, notably Vintage Clarets and Glorious Angel. I’m hopeful of dashing both though with Desperate Hero.
Trained by Jack Channon, quietly making his mark after taking over from Dad Mick, he gets the spectacular win-machine Rossa Ryan on top, after Hollie had steered him to a cosy success last time at Nottingham at the trip.
Has it to do on York form to lower Vintage Clarets’ colours but I think this one relished the heavy at Notts last time and will again encounter such underfoot conditions on Town Moor. Expect a late, power-packed Rossa drive to claim the spoils close home.