Kempton – Monday 13th November
A real pity that two of the races were matches (only two horses ran), with a further race only attracting three runners. That said the finishes to all three races were competitive. Whisper was the biggest name on show and despite some poor jumping and looking beat three out, he dug in and showed that he has a pretty good engine. In the end, he did win a little snuggly from Clan Des Obeaux, who still looks as if he has maturing to do. Up into open company, Whisper is unlikely to be able to get away with the kind of errors he put in here and it could be a difficult season ahead for him over fences, especially off a mark of 157. In the other match race, Give Me A Copper put up a good display of jumping to get the better of Three Ways. The pair hunted around until three out and it became a bit of a sprint after jumping the last. The winner did it okay though and looks an interesting sort for staying chases. He could be targeted at a Grade 2 Novices chase at Doncaster next month as long as the ground isn’t too testing. Given his size and potential scope he would go there with a good chance. There was also a competitive handicap hurdle on the card – a qualifier for the Pertemps Final at the Festival – where Bags Groove went off a well-supported favourite. He looked a little bit flat-footed turning in and was about four lengths down on a track that may have been a little too sharp for him. That said, he kept on well and jumped to the front at the last to win by just over a length. Harry Fry has reported that he wouldn’t want soft winter ground so qualifying him here for Cheltenham in the spring has looked a very good move. He’s been quoted for the Pertemps Final as a 16/1 shot. Way Back Then is also worth mentioning as a winner of the novices hurdle over the same distance as the Qualifier. He was actually quicker than Bags Groove from two out to the line and given a lead in a more competitive race he could win again under a penalty.
Huntingdon – Tuesday 14th November
Theclockisticking followed up his easy Fakenham win quite impressively here giving 3lb and a good beating to promising sort Cause Toujours. That may have been accentuated by that rival blundering at the last but he had already put the race to bed at that point an won as he liked. He is unlikely to come out again with a double penalty so will find himself being given an opportunity in Graded company. His trainer Stuart Edmunds also thinks there will be more to come from him when he is stepped up in trip as he is by Gamut out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. He is worth keeping a close eye on.
Bangor-On-Dee – Wednesday 15th November
There was quite a nice prize on offer for mares in the Listed Chase and it was Lady Buttons who captured it on what was her chasing debut. The winner of three handicap hurdles last spring, she made her seasonal reappearance just 11 days previously when chasing home the smart Le Bague Au Roi in a Listed Hurdle at Wetherby. She jumped well enough here and battled on gamely the get the better of the very consistent Dusky Legend, who is hard to win with. She will find things easier kept to her own sex and will pick up more black type if aimed at similar events. The mares programme has been greatly improved over the past few seasons so there will be suitable targets to be aimed at, and it helps that she is proven over further. The Rooney’s (Paul and Clare) have invested a fair bit in the National Hunt game in recent seasons and they look to have picked up a useful sort in If The Cap Fits. A dual “Bumper” winner, he also managed to run a cracking race when fourth in the Grade 2 National Hunt Flat Race at the Aintree Festival last April. He travelled strongly here carrying a 7lb penalty for his impressive win in an Exeter Novice Hurdle, before pulling away to win cosily again. His jumping was good enough in the main, and although he did get in a little close to the last, he lost minimal ground. As a long-term prospect, he definitely looks up to running in Graded races and has already proved he will stay beyond two miles.
Exeter – Wednesday 15th November
The star of the show at Exeter was Yanworth, who was taking in his second start over fences. It didn’t last as long as expected though as although he jumped the fence well he failed to get his landing gear out quick enough at the seventh, hitting the deck. Up until that point, he had been jumping economically and it was a very soft fall in the scheme of things. It’s not an ideal situation but Alan King will likely allow him to continue his career over fences and he will be found another opportunity, probably away from graded company. The race was eventually won by Briery Queen who took full advantage of the favourite’s fall. She was a four-time winner over hurdles, including at Listed level so was no back number. Whether she would have won with Yanworth standing up is unlikely though. White Moon took the concluding Novices Hurdle on the card in impressive fashion. Carrying a 6lb penalty for winning a Maiden Hurdle at Wincanton he jumped nicely and pulled away with minimal fuss. Whether he has the gears to be a real top class hurdler is unlikely but he has the size and scope to be a really nice chaser and that is where his long-term future is likely to lie.
Clonmel – Thursday 16th November
The Clonmel Oil Chase is a Grade 2 that has been won by some very talented individuals in the past including Beef Or Salmon, War Of Attrition and Sizing Europe. It is probably safe to say that this years winner Alpha Des Obeaux is unlikely to scale the same heights but it was good to see him get his head in front. He has had his issues (broken blood vessels) in the past which doesn’t make him easy to catch right but the issues may be ironing themselves out. He travelled well here, jumping to the front three out. There was a slight mistake at the second last where he got in a little tight but he flew the last to win nicely from some good yardsticks also owned by Gigginstown. The winner wouldn’t be up to winning an open Chase at Grade 1 level, especially with so many good sorts around currently, but another Grade 2 with a penalty or even a drop down to Grade 3 seems to be his level. The Gigginstown Stud colours were also carried to victory by Dinaria Des Obeaux in the Listed Mares Chase. Only a four-year-old, she took full advantage of the weight-for-age allowance to win impressively. Her jumping was very much on the exuberant side at times as she gave her fences plenty of daylight but that bodes well in the long-term and with further experience there will be more to come. The plan would be to keep her to her own sex and a Graded Chase would no doubt be the next step. She could be very good!
Cheltenham – Friday 17th November
Friday brought us Day 1 of the November meeting at Cheltenham where Finian’s Oscar was an impressive winner of the Novices’ Chase. It was a typical novices chase with all four fiddling over the first and making a few “novicey” mistakes throughout, but the race really heated up when they headed down the hill. Finian’s Oscar moved to the front after three out stalked by Movewiththetimes and Barry Geraghty, who jumped two out with more momentum and even went a few lengths up. Bryan Cooper didn’t panic though and reeled him back in up the hill to win by 2 1/4 lengths going away. It was a very taking performance, especially considering that Movewiththetimes, who was getting 8lb, is highly thought of by Paul Nicholls at Ditcheat. Finian’s Oscar looks a JLT sort but could be targeted at the Arkle (a more prestigious race) if the ground comes up on the softer side. Whether his jumping would be slick enough over two miles is questionable but he definitely has the raw ability. He will likely be found another opportunity around Christmas and will be difficult to beat. The Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle was won by On The Blind Side, who took his record to a perfect three out of three. It certainly didn’t look the case coming down the hill, as he looked a little outpaced and was under pressure a fair way out. However, he stayed on strongly up the hill and eventually won a shade cosily at the line. There is no doubt that he would cope with a step up in trip and he also looked as if he would appreciate a stronger end to end gallop which he would get in a race like the Albert Bartlett at the Festival, a race that was mentioned by connections after, and for which he is a best priced 20/1.
Cheltenham – Saturday 18th November
The big betting race of the day was the BetVictor Gold Cup where Kylemore Lough was a well-backed favourite. He looked a little keen/fresh early but was performing well until he left his back legs in the water jump. The finish itself was fought out by Splash Of Ginge and Starchitect, with the former coming out on top by a diminishing neck. The winner, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, is a former Betfair Handicap Hurdle winner and was 11lb lower than when winning a similar chase on the new course back in 2015. Conditions need to be testing for him to be seen at his best but he has the ability follow-up in the winter months if found a suitable target. The runner-up is a lightly raced sort who is still progressing and he too looks to have a big handicap in him. He’ll go up a few lbs for this performance and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup next month seems the likely target. The most impressive winner of the day was Nicky Henderson’s mare Apple’s Shakira who took the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial. She is a full sister to top mare Apple’s Jade and jumped around Prestbury Park well. She was off the bridle at one point to close down the runner-up but soon came back on it and pulled away to win nicely. The runner-up, Gumball, is well-regarded by the Philip Hobbs team and looked a strong type before but got tired jumping the last and was no match for her in the end. She will be difficult to beat wherever she turns up next. On the same card, Thomas Campbell showed that he is a progressive sort to be keeping an eye on by winning the Listed staying Handicap Hurdle. That is his second victory of the 2017/18 campaign and he could possibly make another quick return at Haydock this weekend in the Betfair Stayers Hurdle. It would be a big ask taking in three races in the space of just four weeks, but he would get in here with just a 5lb penalty instead of the 10lbs he’s been alloted by the handicapper. That would put him on a mark of 158 which suggests that he is Grade 1 class – something he isn’t just yet.
Punchestown – Saturday 18th November
The Beginners Chase here saw quite a few of last years promising novice hurdler’s turn up such as Monalee, Any Second Now, Invitation Only and Sutton Manor. Monalee led from start to finish over a trip that would be towards the lower end of his scale as being by Milan he will get three miles and beyond in time. He will be aimed at the three-mile Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novices Chase over Christmas, a race that has been won by Our Duke, No More Heroes and Don Poli over the past three years. You couldn’t knock his jumping here and he looks an exciting recruit to chasing for Henry De Bromhead. There was also a Listed Mares Hurdle on the card where Let’s Dance was sent off a red-hot favourite. She was travelling well up until falling four out and Forge Meadow took full advantage to win carrying a 10lb penalty. She is obviously a useful sort but will find life difficult taking on the likes of Apple’s Jade and Limini.
Cheltenham – Sunday 19th November
After the deluge on Saturday conditions dried and the ground at Cheltenham was on the tacky side. It was very apparent that the best place to be over hurdles was to travel wide and finish down on the stands rail where. The big betting handicap of the day was the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle and it was won in grinding fashion by Elgin who, turning in, managed to bag the rail from Misterton, who had beaten him at Chepstow. The winner was having his third race of the season so was race fit and although he was caught in a bit of a barging match at the off, he got a nice run around widest of all. Trainer Alan King has suggested the two-mile Wessex Youth Handicap Hurdle at Ascot will be his next assignment. He’ll be rated in the low 150s after this but has the potential to progress and contest some of the better-graded races. The Grade 2 Shloer Chase attracted the first two home in last seasons Champion but with ground conditions on the testing side, it was always going to suit Fox Norton more. He has proved himself to be the number one two-miler in the UK and if dodging the likes of Douvan, Min and Altior he could clean up in the division. His jumping here was good in the main and he drew away between the last two fences. His next target will be the Tingle Creek for which he is a best priced 2/1. Slate House gave the Tizzard team a Grade 2 double on the day when taking the Supreme Trial Novices Hurdle and looks an exciting prospect. His future is likely to be over further and he would be seen to better effect on nicer ground. He looks a real big strapping type who will make a chaser in time. There was also a good Novices Chase on the card where last years Greatwood Hurdle winner North Hill Harvey followed up last months course and distance win. His task was made easier with main rival River Wylde (3rd in last years Supreme Novices Hurdle) looking uneasy on the ground. That rival can fare better than this when the ground dries out and may prefer a flatter, less demanding track. Going back to the winner, he was kept fresh for the County Hurdle last year but disappointed. His trainer, Dan Skelton, stated that it was a mistake as he loves his racing and he will be kept busy. The two-mile Wayward Lad Novices Chase at Christmas is an option as is the Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown in a few weeks time.
Punchestown – Sunday 19th November
All eyes at Punchestown were on seven-time Grade 1 winner Faugheen who was making his return to the track after nearly two years off. To the naked eye, he looked to be carrying a little bit of condition, which he was entitled to be after such a break. Considering how well he won it bodes well for the season ahead and he looks as if he retains the majority, if not all, of his ability. His jumping here, on the whole, was also pretty slick other than when he “bunny-hopped” the last. He will be kept to two miles for now and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton or the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas will be next. It is difficult to weigh up the form of the two Grade 2 Novice Chases that took part on the same card. Woodland Opera took the Craddockstown over two-miles from Tombstone and Jury Duty got the better of Shattered Love in the Florida Pearl over an extended two miles six furlongs. The pair had finished second and third to Bamako Moriviere last time out. If the form does work out then it really bolsters his chances for the rest of the season.
Performance Of The Week: Finian’s Oscar – Was out jumped by a class rival who had more momentum going into the obstacle in what would normally be a race winning move. However, he picked that rival back up with minimal fuss and went away from him.