Ballyoptic bidding to confirm promise of smart chasing debut

Sat 18 Nov 2017

There may only be three runners in the Novices' Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday but what the race lacks in quantity, it certainly makes up for in quality.

None of the three have a rating lower than 150, with Ballyoptic, West Approach and Black Corton all looking sure to be back in March for one race or another, barring accidents.

Ballyoptic was not far behind the best staying hurdlers on several occasions last season, finishing second to Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury, but once it became clear he was not quite going to reach the top in that sphere, the switch to fences was made.

He looked a natural first time at Exeter, but faces two smart opponents now.

"It was a perfect chasing debut, he looked very good and hopefully he can do the same again," said trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

"We've had some very good novice chasers, but he was as good as any of them (first time).

"We made up our minds to go chasing with him when he was beaten first time out this season at Stratford in a handicap hurdle. It looked clear he wasn't quite going to make it to the top over hurdles.

"So we made the switch and it's going all right so far. The ground will be perfect for him."

In the £50,000 BetVictor Handicap Chase over three miles and three furlongs, Neil Mulholland feels everything looks in place for Doing Fine to go close.

He was a staying-on third over two furlongs less at the October meeting behind the Twiston-Davies-trained Cogry.

"The extra couple of furlongs we've got here will definitely suit compared to the race in October," said Mulholland.

"He's got the ground he likes and the trip won't be a problem, so everything looks good for him.

"We're very happy with him at home so fingers crossed he should make his presence felt.

"He's a little out of the handicap but that doesn't bother me, he'll be fine."

Doing Fine is out of the weights slightly due to the presence of Gold Cup runner-up Minella Rocco, who was only fourth on his return to action at Punchestown.

Scottish National winner Vicente represents Paul Nicholls, and owner Trevor Hemmings' racing manager Mick Meagher said:  "With a rating of 150 he's high enough in the handicap, but he's not quite good enough to run in the conditions races."

Course specialist Perfect Candidate and Philip Hobbs' Three Faces West will also be popular.

Hobbs' Gumball has been impressive in two races to date in Britain, but faces a different calibre of opponent in the JCB Triumph Trial in the shape of Nicky Henderson's Apple's Shakira, impressive on her only start in France and now in JP McManus' colours.

"She's a full-sister to (Gordon Elliott's) Apple's Jade and is a lovely filly," Henderson told At The Races.

"When you put a hurdle in front of her she is electric, she's done everything nicely.

"She's already won in France so she has a penalty. So, we'll jump in here and be brave about it."

Later on the card, Henderson's Thomas Campbell will aim to defy a 10lb rise in the Regulatory Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle, with the excellent James Bowen offsetting seven of that.

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