Just about anything that could go wrong on the opening day of Cheltenham's November meeting did so with some very disappointing performances from my selections. I felt For Good Measure had an excellent chance in the opening staying handicap chase and Derek O'Connor's mount travelled and jumped well for a circuit. However, the full brother to Balthazar King was soon in trouble and dropped tamely away. There must have been something amiss with the seven year old because we know he is much better than that. Stablemate Dostal Phil wasn't much better in the next, the handicap hurdle. Barry Geraghty was pushing his mount at the top of the hill and, while he made some progress between the third and second last, his effort didn't last much longer.
Then to cap it off, another McManus/Hobbs runner Jerrysback finished a tailed off last in the two and a half miles novice chase. Having his first start for 633 days, the six year old drifted alarmingly beforehand and ran accordingly. Positioned at the rear, his jumping was sound but he gradually lost touch and came home in his own time. Like For Good Measure, he is much better than what he showed on Friday.
It was Count Meribel who took the novice chase and made it two out of two over fences. Nigel Twiston-Davies' gelding won a novices' handicap at Carlisle earlier this month (Mister Whitaker won the same race in 2017) and he overcame a mistake at the second last at Cheltenham before staying on well to beat Le Breuil by a neck with half a length back to the third Mr Whipped, who I think will turn out to be the best of these. Nicky Henderson's charge stayed on well and is likely to come into his own over three miles as the season goes on.
Following the shambles which occured at the showcase meeting last month when two horses ran through the tape on the run-in, I honestly feel Cheltenham should rethink the position of the second last fence. It was moved a number of years ago for safety reasons (before the bend) but I think it is in a more dangerous position now - it comes too soon after the final turn. Statistics may suggest otherwise but there have been so many fallers there since the fence was moved.
Let's hope for a much better day on Saturday. Indeed, it can't be much worse than Friday.
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