Thank you very much to those clients who have emailed in the last couple of days following a highly successful Open meeting at Cheltenham for the Update. Following on from Taquin Du Seuil's success in the BetVictor Gold Cup on Saturday, North Hill Harvey (advised @ 12/1) won the other weekend feature, the Greatwood Hurdle, on Sunday. Then, just for good measure, Behind Time (9/2), who is featured in the Half A Dozen Handicappers section of One Jump Ahead, won the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle later on the card. In total, there were 5 winners (if counting Le Prezien) from the 8 races covered over the two days.
Winter Escape was a big disappointment in the Greatwood Hurdle and I am hoping it was due to the testing conditions. Alan King had expressed concerns beforehand and the fact the previously unbeaten gelding came under pressure so far from home suggests either he wasn't handling the ground or something was amiss. The run was too bad to be true and the lightly raced five year old should be given the opportunity to atone. Dan Skelton is becoming something of a two mile handicap hurdle specialist with CV now including a Ladbroke Hurdle, County Hurdle, Scottish Champion Hurdle and Greatwood Hurdle. I thought Harry Skelton rode the perfect race aboard North Hill Harvey - he was never far away and was then quick to bag the stands' side rail turning for home and, in doing so, shutting the door on the menacing Song Light, who had moved smoothly into contention. The winner produced a terrific jump at the last and then he showed a very good attitude to get the better of Modus. His trainer has already indicated the former pointer will be put away and prepared for next March's County Hurdle, a policy which paid off handsomely with stablemate Superb Story last season.
Behind Time had been given a chance by the handicapper having been allocated a mark of 115 following a very encouraging run at Exeter last season. Upped in trip, Harry Fry's gelding still looked green in the conditonal jockeys' handicap hurdle but he was firmly on top at the finish winning by two and a quarter lengths. The fact it was a 'boys race' (what a horrible expression), means the Stowaway gelding escapes a penalty and he is likely to be in action before his revised mark kicks in (within the next 12 days). Stablemate Unowhatimeanharry won this event last year off a mark of 123 and ended the campaign with a Grade 1 win against his name and an offical rating of 149. Behind Time will be hard pressed to match that but it will be a major surprise if he doesn't win two or three more races this season. He is a tremendous inclusion in One Jump Ahead. In fact, Harry Fry has done Half A Dozen Handicappers proud because three times winner Innocent Girl is featured in the same section.
Le Prezien was workmanlike in victory in the Grade 2 novice chase over two miles. Paul Nicholls' gelding had run well on his chasing bow at Uttoxeter and built on it here. While his jumping requires more practice, it is worth remembering this run came only sixteen days after his reappearance and he may not have been at his very best. I also feel he will be seen in a better light when returning to two and a half miles. He doesn't look Arkle material but ought to develop into a useful novice.
As discussed, I was on the panel for Racing UK's jumps preview in London yesterday. It was great to be working alongside Ruby Walsh once again - he is a class act in every respect. His knowledge is second to none, he doesn't waste words and he passed on some interesting information off camera. It was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours. Judging by the entries in Ireland this weekend, Ruby is set for a busy couple of days. I think it is fair to say Willie Mullins' string is all set to burst into action.
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