Chris Wilson looks ahead to the International Meeting and shares five names to note on an exciting card from the home of jumps racing this Saturday, live on Racing TV.
Winter is officially here – but jumps fans should not crack open the mulled wine just yet. Cheltenham’s executive will no doubt be monitoring the Met Office app with as much regularity as England have scored goals in this World Cup given the Arctic blast that has been forecast to move in over the weekend.
Cheltenham clerk of the course Jon Pullin and his team will of course do everything within their powers to defy Mother Nature’s icy touch, with the hope being that the two-day International meeting defeats the elements. We nominate five horses that could bring winter warmth to viewers watching the action live on Racing TV.
12.05 Cheltenham: JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle. Odds: 10-3
Rated 102 on the Flat for Aidan O’Brien, Milton Harris’ three-year-old is clearly going places in a hurry.
Having secured a routine triumph on debut at Sedgefield in October, he was sent to Cheltenham for another Triumph trial at the November meeting. The manner in which he ripped up the hill was most impressive that day – as was the pace he showed along the run-in.
Scriptwriter was not foot-perfect in the jumping department, but there is a strong likelihood that Paddy Brennan’s mount will now be far sharper with two runs over hurdles in safe-keeping. Odds of 33/1 about him winning the Triumph could look generous if he does what is expected of him.
12.40 Cheltenham: bearrene.com Novices' Chase. Odds: 4-11
There was no “ducking and diving” at Warwick last month when Monmiral lined up alongside Jonbon in a three-runner novices’ chase that also featured last season’s Greatwood Hurdle winner West Cork.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Paul Nicholls’ Grade One-winning hurdler was outmuscled by Jonbon, who is hot favourite for the Arkle after having franked the form at Sandown last weekend.
Despite that reverse, Monmiral clearly has a future over fences. He jumped sweetly at Warwick – West Cork was a mile adrift – and would surely have won any bread-and-butter novices’ chase without breaking sweat.
The five-year-old is entitled to come on a bundle for that, on what will be his first career start at Cheltenham. He only has two rivals to contend with and has a fine chance to open his account over fences.
1.50 Cheltenham: Ais December Gold Cup Handicap Chase. Odds: 10-1
Will this first run over an intermediate trip spark big-race success?
Frero Banbou has plenty of decent form over a testing two miles and was one of the first runners of the season proper for Venetia Williams, one of two representatives for the stable at Ascot back in October nearly five months after the yard's most recent runner.
He shaped quite nicely in that contest and went with zest but, after a quiet start, the stable is going much better now with already half the winners this month as those achieved in October and November combined - and from less than half of the runners.
Williams has one winner from 15 runners in this race, but she has trained the runner-up three times and has saddled a third and a fourth-placed finisher in that sample.
2.25 Cheltenham: Unibet International Hurdle. Odds: 15-8
Nigel Twiston-Davies must strongly fancy his chances of maintaining his Unibet International Hurdle love-in. Having won the Grade Two with Khyber Kim back in 2009, The New One then rattled off three triumphs for Naunton handler.
Just for good measure, Guard Your Dreams showed a lovely shift of gear 12 months ago to give Twiston-Davies a fab fifth International success.
Now it’s time for I Like To Move It to stick to his end of the bargain.
It's fair to say he might have his work cut out after participation has been confirmed for top-class mare Epatante, while bang-in-form Knappers Hill also represents a significant threat having won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton with such authority. But there was something about I Like To Move’s recent Cheltenham success that suggests Twiston-Davies has once again unearthed a real gem.
It is fascinating to see him follow the same route as Khyber Kim, who won the Greatwood en route to International glory.
3.00 Cheltenham: Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. Odds: 2-1
It’s fair to say that Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old hardly ripped up too many giant oaks last season. He might have won a small Worcester bumper, but three subsequent starts over hurdles hardly suggested a superstar in the making.
That might still be the case, but, as is the Ditcheat wont, wind surgery on one of their residents has brought with it a sizeable uptick in fortunes. Outlaw Peter could even have won the Persian War at Chepstow in October, but he seemed to blow up late in the piece.
Redemption was as swift as it was satisfying at Exeter when he battered into submission a reasonable field by upwards of 19 lengths. That form perhaps deserves to be questioned, but Outlaw Peter was slick and, crucially, mature in the jumping department.
There is clearly much more to come and it would be a minor surprise if he did not win a Graded race this winter before part-owner Sir Alex Ferguson et al construct a Cheltenham Festival gameplan.
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