For many - especially in the south - the National Hunt season got underway properly at Chepstow on Friday with the first of their excellent two days fixture. Twelve months ago, Paul Nicholls dominated the fixture and the champion trainer kicked off the meeting in the best possible way with high-class bumper performer Knappers Hill scoring on his hurdles debut. Unbeaten in three starts last term, including the Grade 2 championship bumper at Aintree, the five year old was workmanlike rather than spectacular in victory here but his connections expect him to improve signficantly for the outing. A length winner, he is likely to head next to Wincanton (6th November) for another two miles novice hurdle before stepping up in grade.
Former English pointer Does He Know was rated 142 over hurdles and he made an excellent start to his fencing career when beating the well regarded Threeunderthrufive by five and a half lengths in the two miles seven novices' chase. Sensibly ridden by David Bass, the six year old sat off the strong pace set by Ask Dillon before being produced after the third last. With hindsight, the runner-up probably would have been seen to better effect had he been ridden with more restraint, too. The winner, who is unexposed over staying trips, was a Grade 2 winner over hurdles and connections will be harbouring similar hopes over the larger obstacles. There is no doubt he is a talented horse but I suspect he will fall short at the highest level.
Philip Hobbs, who had two Grade 1 winners last season, has his string in splendid form and the Minehead team were responsible for the first and second in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle. The ex-French gelding Camprond, who is rated 134, got the better of stablemate Luttrell Lad by a handful of lengths. Owned by J.P.McManus, he had been placed at Aintree in April before finishing third in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May. However, his hurdling had let him down at Market Rasen during the summer. It was much slicker here though as he ran on strongly to win in convincing fashion. Only a novice until the end of this month, the step up in trip appeared to suit him. Featured in the Top 40 Prospects in OJA last term, he enjoys decent ground, too, and is likely to have a mid winter break.
Nina The Terrier was arguably the most impressive winner on the card when taking the mares' novice hurdle by four and a quarter lengths. A daughter of Milan, she was maintaining her unbeaten record over timber having scored at Warwick in May and it was a good performance under her penalty here. Alan King's filly jumped particularly well - she was quick and economical at her obstacles - and was always travelling better than market rival Runwithtide in the homestraight. Sent to the front between the final two flights, she quickened away in the style of an above average mare. There is a Listed mares' novice hurdle at Newbury (27th November) which could be on her radar, although her trainer feels she could be even better over two and a half miles. Either way, she looked a quality mare at the Welsh track.
It was another very productive afternoon for followers of One Jump Ahead with the Talking Trainers section producing four more winners at SP's of 5/1, 4/1, 11/8 and 2/13. Day two at Chepstow promises to be equally informative provided the drying conditions don't result in a host of non-runners, as was the case last year (there were 44 non runners on the Saturday card, including the unraced My Drogo).
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