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Cheltenham report: Rouge Vif puts down marker for two-mile championship honours

Fri 23 Oct 2020

Watch and read all about the racing action at Cheltenham on Friday where Rouge Vif, Galvin and Fusil Raffles produced impressive performance. Our report also includes interviews with winning connections.

Watch how Rouge Vif bolted up at Cheltenham

Rouge Vif staked an early claim for some of this season’s top-two mile chases with a stunning performance on his return to Cheltenham.

Winner of the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February, the six-year-old was last seen finishing third in the Arkle Trophy at the Festival in March.

He appears to have improved significantly since, judged on an impressive weight-carrying performance in the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase – travelling with enthusiasm and jumping with aplomb under Daryl Jacob on his way to a seven-and-a-half-length success.

Whittington was claiming the two-mile contest for the second year in succession, having saddled another stable star in Saint Calvados to secure victory 12 months ago.

A delighted Harry Whittington discusses Rouge Vif's impressive success

“He was awesome,” said the Wantage handler.

“He has got a god ground action and is just so slick to jump out of it – on better ground you see him at his best.

“He was in his comfort zone there and has loved it today. I hoped he had improved for a summer break as I ride him myself most days and he feels a more powerful animal.

“He has obviously strengthened up a lot, but to win a handicap off a mark of 156 like that is impressive – he has slightly surprised me.”

Bookmakers were quick to slash Rouge Vif’s odds for both the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Queen Mother Champion Chase back at Cheltenham.

Whittington is keen to let the dust settle before considering future plans, adding: “Today he looked like a proper two-miler. Daryl says he will stay two-and-a-half, but I don’t think we will be going up in trip yet.

“Coming back here for the Shloer Chase in three weeks’ time is a potential option, but we will have to get home and discuss and talk to Andrew (Brooks, owner), as it will be his decision and we will go from there.”

Trainer Dr Richard Newland and conditional jockey Cillin Leonard teamed up to land the squareintheair.com Handicap Hurdle for the second year in succession, this time with Captain Tom Cat.

Dr Richard Newland tells us more about Captain Tom Cat

The same combination claimed victory with Duke Street in 2019, and this year’s candidate appeared to hold excellent claims following back-to-back wins at Uttoxeter during the summer.

Always on the pace, the 15-2 chance kicked clear from the home turn and had enough in the tank to hold Debestyman at bay by two lengths.

Newland said: “He won those two novice hurdles in the summer, I thought he was impressive in the second one and thought he might be reasonably well handicapped.

“We were actually going to run in the conditional jockeys’ race later in the day, but I just decided in the last week or two he would better suited to this as they’d go more of a gallop and the step up in trip has obviously worked for him.

“He’s got a lovely, big stride and a lovely way of doing things – he just gallops and jumps and will make a great chaser.

“It was a very good ride and a super performance from the horse today. There are plenty more races in him, but it is probably more likely over fences where it will get really interesting.”

Locally-based trainer Kim Bailey was delighted to claim the first race of the new season at Cheltenham with the impressive Does He Know.

Watch: Does He Know lands the opener at Cheltenham

The Andoversford handler has his string in excellent form at this early stage of the campaign, with this his seventh winner in the last seven days.

Runner-up on his first two starts over hurdles last autumn, Does He Know had made a successful return from a lengthy absence at Ludlow last month and was a 9-1 shot for what looked a warm renewal of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Ridden confidently by David Bass, the five-year-old powered up the famous hill to score by almost five lengths from Midnight River.

Bailey said: “After he ran his second race last season, I said to the owners I didn’t want to run him again because I think he’s a very nice horse and I wanted him to have time.

“The idea of bringing him back to run in the first week of May didn’t happen, and I was thrilled with him today.

“I’ve always had a high opinion of him. He is very much a chaser, having won a point-to-point as a four-year-old – and with a bit of luck, he will get better as time goes on.

“We will see how he comes out of the race, but I’m not in a great rush. He will be better over three miles, I think.”

David Bass on Does He Know

Irish raider Galvin strengthened his claims for the National Hunt Chase at next year’s Festival with a wide-margin success in the Matchbook Better Way To Bet Novices’ Chase.

Runner-up in the novices’ handicap chase at the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds last season, Gordon Elliott’s charge had since won each of his three starts over fences, including a Grade Three at Tipperary this month.

Stepping up to three miles for the first time, the 2-1 favourite jumped well in the main under Robbie Power and looked better the further he went – passing the post with seven lengths in hand over Soldier Of Love.

Paddy Power make Galvin the 7-1 favourite (from 10-1) for the National Hunt Chase, which Elliott had previously identified as a target.

“I suppose he was entitled to do that. He was fit coming in here and he has got the rating on his run at the Festival last season,” said the winning jockey.

“He hit a few flat spots, but once I gave him a squeeze every time he came back on the bridle.

“The step up in trip (in the National Hunt Chase) will bring about a little bit more improvement. I think he stays all day and I think Gordon has the right target for him in March.

“After that, the Irish Grand National would be right up his street.”

Fusil Raffles maintained his unbeaten record over fences in style

Daryl Jacob discusses Rouge Vif and Fusil Raffles

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