Racing Preview for Cheltenham’s International Meeting Friday 11th & Saturday 12th December 2020
Mid December and it’s time to return to the Prestbury Park track at Cheltenham, the spiritual home of National Hunt horseracing in the UK.
Known as the International Meeting such a description could not really be further from imagined reality in these Covid affected days.
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase is just one of the races that will have lost it’s international flavour with the decision that Easyland will not make the trip across the English Channel to defend his crown.
Trainer David Cottin and owner JP McManus made the decision following the handicapper’s assessment of their star chaser over this unique course put the six year old on 4lb worse terms than when behind two of the declared horses, Beau Du Brizais and Kingswell Theatre despite finishing behind that pair in the November running of this contest at the Autumn Festival.
An odds on favourite for the race in November, Easyland took the prize in 2019 before being snapped up by JP McManus to feature in his famed green and gold hoops. Whether David Cottin’s stable star needed the run as he had last year we will now not know and will have to wait until March’s showpiece to see Easyland again who currently holds an early entry for the Gold Cup at The Festival.
In Easyland’s absence there will no doubt be plenty of support for November’s winner of this corresponding race, Kingswell Theatre, who relished the challenge and will find similar conditions on Friday but will not be a starting price of 22/1 this time!
Beau Du Brizais also went off at odds of 22/1 and is another that will be well fancied at a much shorter price. Philip Hobbs’ eight year old grey is a solid stayer who can once again feature now prepared for the individualities of these unique obstacles and has good each way claims.
Preference this time though has to go to Mark Bradstock’s Step Back who seems to have found a little extra this season with back to back wins at Wincanton and Sandown. Arriving here in a bid for the hat-trick, Step Back had Beau Du Brizais behind him all the way at Wincanton and may improve again. His determination in the Veterans’ Chase at Sandown last time out shows there’s plenty left in the tank and he gets the vote for Friday’s penultimate race.
The Peterborough Chase, transferred from it’s normal venue at Huntingdon looks a top class renewal now featuring in Friday’s card of the two day meeting. Tom George’s Bun Doran features way down the ante post market yet has winning form around here and that just goes to show the strength in depth in Friday’s feature.
Dual winner of the Peterborough Chase, Top Notch heads the ante post markets and is once again partnered by the excellent Daryl Jacob who is the owner retained jockey for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Trained by the irrepressible Nicky Henderson, Top Notch is joined by stablemate Mister Fisher, fourth here in the red hot Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival back in March.
Amy Murphy will be making the trip over from her Newmarket base to bring out the big guns, so to speak, in Kalashnikov who went so very close to taking the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle here at the 2018 Festival. His very best form over fences gives the trainer’s stable star a great chance and a recent outing over hurdles should bring him on.
Paul Nicholls has been sending out winners for fun this term and in Dolos he has a classy chaser that should also come on for the run around here back in October while Tom George is double handed with Clondaw Castle accompanying stablemate Bun Doran.
Clondaw Castle looks the most progressive of these this season and is given a tentative thumbs up though he has yet to win here after three past appearances. However, in a tight looking race Clondaw Castle does appeal as the least exposed and the most improved while Top Notch always gives a good account of himself.
Saturday features both the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase and the Unibet International Hurdle in a seven race card. Leading the betting in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is Paul Nicholls’ Master Tommytucker who so impressed at Haydock in the Graduation Chase last month. It can be a bit of heart in your mouth action if your money is on Master Tommytucker as he seems to either win or fall but he’s undoubtedly talented and has to be high on the shortlist.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ grey, Al Dancer comes with solid claims too, having finished third here in the Grade 3 Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase at the Autumn Festival over C&D and should improve for that run. Brian Ellison is also well represented with Windsor Avenue who looks sure to have more wins in him and can act on a variety of ground so also gets noted while Alex Hales’ Huntsman Son took a Listed contest at Wetherby last time out and is relatively unexposed.
Despite concerns over his jumping, Master Tommytucker gets the vote in this column and there’ll never be a dull moment if that’s where your hard earned cash lies!
The Unibet International Hurdle is all about Goshen and whether he make amends for his calamitous blunder at the last in the Triumph Hurdle here back in March when 10 lengths clear of the field and in no danger. Though his first two runs this year were nothing to write home about, Gary Moore’s four year old was one of the most exciting finds of last year and should be race fit coming into this with those two runs under his belt.
In Sceau Royal he will meet a quality opponent but Alan King’s classy dual code performer had a hard race trying to run the finish out of Epatante in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle just a fortnight ago which could count against him.
Of course, there can be no unluckier horse than Evan Williams Silver Streak, carried out by a loose horse at the second in the Fighting Fifth and he can be set up for a big run on a track he runs well on.
In a great looking renewal, Silver Streak is taken to lay down the gauntlet to Gary Moore’s Goshen but it is Goshen that has that something extra about him and jockey Jamie Moore will be desperate to make amends for that ghastly last fence error back at The Festival in March. Silver Streak can continue his good work under Cleeve Hill to take minor honours.
This preview has been brought to you by our regular correspondent, Hector Steiff