Highlight of day one of The November Meeting was the Steel Plate & Section Novices' Chase, which Count Meribel did well to win after almost parting company with Mark Grant at the tricky second-last fence.
It is a race that often throws up a good horse - Gold Cup winners Imperial Commander and Denman are among the fairly recent roll of honour - and I would not be concerned that the first four finished in something of a huddle. They should all make their mark over the months ahead.
The unlucky horse in the race - and possibly best of the lot going forwards - was White Moon, who crashed out at the last when having little room to manoeuvre in between rivals.
It looked like the Colin Tizzard-trained grey was coming to win, having been given plenty of time to find his feet by Robbie Power, and it will be fascinating to see how he develops over the months ahead after a trunctuated campaign last term.
The action on Saturday and Sunday goes up another gear. Here's where my cash will be going.
There was style and substance to Montestrel‘s win at Chepstow last month and I fancy he can follow up, for all this is the best juvenile race of the season and that Lizzie Kelly is unable to claim her 3lb allowance.
Montestrel jumped superbly and showed a fine burst of acceleration to collar Quel Destin on the run-in after that rival had hung right and rather got in his way heading to the final flight.
The more experienced Quel Destin had previously won in France and has since scored easily at Kempton, while Elysees, a fair stayer on the Flat who was ten lengths back in third, has subsequently won twice.
Montestrel clearly knew his job but he is entitled to show plenty of improvement and I’d have him at the head of the market.
[(full)watch Replay] ()
I’m a sucker for long-distance staying handicap chases and this is my favourite race of The November Meeting. It’s always a good contest in its own right and can also provide an early Grand National clue or two.
The presence of Coneygree in the line-up adds intrigue but the 2015 Gold Cup winner, equipped with a first-time tongue tie, has clearly had lots of issues and, rising 12, it will be some effort if he can defy a mark of 160.
Instead, I’ll be backing both Looking Well and Singlefarmpayment.
The former has a quirk or two, but he goes well fresh and remains unexposed as a stayer. He is also well handicapped, being only 3lb higher than when throwing away victory in the Edinburgh National in February.
That form was franked by Missed Approach, who finished runner-up, and Relentless Dreamer, who was third.
Singlefarmpayment needs little introduction and another near-miss at Cheltenham (traded at 1.08 in-running on Betfair) in April will have been the final straw for many but he has just about everything in his favour and one day he’s going to win one of these races with his head in his chest.
Hardly the most original choice, I know, but Rather Be looks the one horse in this maximum field of 20 capable of bolting up and going on to greater things later in the season. I certainly would not want to be laying 6-1.
He must be pretty good because chart-topping pop singer Jess Glynne even sung a best-selling song about him. I can only assume her ditty was about the horse, anyway.
We know the track, trip and ground suits him, and I don’t think we have to worry about Nicky Henderson having him teed up for the big day.
He was touched off by Mister Whitaker at the Festival Meeting in March but, had the ground been better (as it will be on Saturday), I’m sure he would have prevailed and, in any case, he is somehow able to meet his conqueror on 9lb better terms.
That was not the first time he had shown the demands of a big-field handicap suit him – he also won a 22-runner handicap hurdle at the Grand national meeting last year – and he is still open to improvement.
The each-way alternative, at 20-1, is Happy Diva, a fine jumper who has a lovely way of going about her business. But, with normal luck in running, Rather Be promises to take a lot of beating.
[(full)watch Replay] () Anteros seeks to repeat his win of two years ago
Is it really two years ago that Anteros, advised at 40-1, did this column a massive favour by scooping this? Blimey, time flies.
Plenty of water has flown under the bridge since and Anteros has since become a slightly tricky customer – Timeform describe him as “unreliable” - but he was also a good second in last year’s renewal, when making the well-handicapped Thomas Campbell dig deep, and the demands of Cheltenham clearly suit him.
He has shaped well enough under an amateur in his two race this autumn and, dropped 2lb since last time, is now only 1lb higher than last year.
Moreover, Sean Houlihan takes another 5lb off his back so he will have just 10st 2lb to carry – the same as when cruising home two years ago. At double-figure digits, he is worth risking.
How To Bet £20 on Saturday:
12.40 Cheltenham: Montestrel £4 win at 5-1 with bet365
1.50 Looking Well £2.50 each-way at a general 16-1
1.50 Singlefarmpayment £1.50 each-way at 13-2 with BetVictor
2.25 Rather Be £4 win at 6-1 with Betfair
3.00 Anteros £2 each-way at 10-1 with Ladbrokes
80p Win Lucky Fifteen and 25p each-way fourfold (cost £12.50)
12.40 Cheltenham: Montestrel
1.50 Looking Well
2.25 Rather Be
50p Win Lucky Fifteen (cost £7.50)
Same as above but take out Looking Well and replace with Singlefarmpayment