Count Meribel enhances reputation by showing steel at Cheltenham

Fri 16 Nov 2018

Watch a full replay of how Count Meribel won a dramatic renewal of the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase plus Lydia Hislop's interviews with the winning connections.

Nigel Twiston-Davies predicted a bright future for Count Meribel after he maintained his unbeaten record over fences in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

The Naunton trainer took the two-and-a-half-mile contest back in 2007 with subsequent Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, and has high hopes this year’s representative can climb through the ranks.

Kept close to the front throughout, Mark Grant did extremely well to keep the partnership intact following a blunder at the second-last and the 4-1 shot rallied up the hill to defeat long-time leader Le Breuil by a neck.

It was Grant's first win at Cheltenham.

Favourite Mr Whipped was a further half-length adrift in third.

The winner was introduced at 20-1 for the RSA Chase at the Festival in March with Unibet and 25-1 for the JLT Novices’ Chase by Paddy Power.

Twiston-Davies, who had seen stablemate Jameson suffer an ill-fated fall in the opening race, said: “I hope he can get to the top. He will definitely stay three miles. He is a lovely horse, and with a bit clearer round he might have won more easily.

“I think he is a very nice horse and well done Mark Grant for hanging on. He is a super jumper.

“We are very lucky to have him. When Jim Old gave up training he brought the owner with him. I think we will probably move him up to three miles next time.

“He might even be back here at the next meeting. The plan is the RSA and that is the dream, although I’m sure a lot of very good horses will pop up.”

Old, who bought the now-six-year-old as a yearling at Tattersalls in February 2013 for 3,500 guineas, said: "He's much better on this sort of ground. He's a serious lepper and Mark was top-class to stay in the saddle after he made one mistake at the second-last. But I knew he would pick up and go again, and he did.

"If he comes here for The Festival, it would probably be the RSA Chase or the JLT, not the Arkle, and we will choose our route there very carefully."

Grant said: "We got a bit outpaced coming down the hill, and I thought I would send him to the second-last just to save the race, and it was the one fence where he put down on me. He was good to find a leg, and actually quickened up after the last and did really well to get back up and win.

"Last year he made the running over hurdles, and today it probably just helped him to get a lead and give me a chance to fill his lungs up - that is probably why he finished so well. He had a lot of racing last year which maybe flattened him out a bit, but it toughened him up. It could be he doesn't want much racing.

"I think he's very good, and certainly as good as any I've ridden. If the ground was right for him he could be good enough for The Festival.

"He was brilliant everywhere and I just kept sending him. At two out, he didn't know what to do but did well to stand up. Credit to him, to battle back and win.

"He is an incredible horse because he has been doing all the donkey work over hurdles and actually loved getting a lead today - I was able to fill him up everywhere. That's probably why he won because he had loads left. Hopefully, he is very smart.

"For me, to ride a winner here is quite amazing. It's my first winner at Cheltenham - everyone in racing wants to win here - and it's amazing."

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