Cheltenham’s three day November meeting kicks off in cracking style on Friday.
Whilst always tempting to view through the Festival-lens with March in mind, these are quality races in their own right.
The opening amateur riders chase sees What Happens Now looking to follow up a recent course run. We prefer Nicky Henderson’s top-weight Sugar Baron.
He ran a blinder when finishing well in the Kim Muir after being hampered. He doesn’t want the ground too soft, so with mid-Winter beckoning it’s likely Henderson will have him pretty sharp for this seasonal debut as it may be a rare run pre-Spring.
The second race looks a mine field with lightly raced Counter Shy and Oxwich Bay as well as eye catcher War On The Rocks. On a strict handicapping point, Magic Dancer reappears just 4 days after an easy Kempton win and gets to run off the same mark and in fact 5lbs lower once the jockey claim kicks in.
This is a stronger race and a very different track, but we are getting rewarded for that in the price and he could be a handicap steal.
The 2m handicap chase has a disappointing look. A lack of strength in depth should help favourite Exitas under teen jockey ace James Bowen who jumped so well in winning his 3rd race from 4 starts last time . He is narrowly preferred to novice Kapstadt and gamble Shanahan’s Turn.
Finian’s Oscar is worth watching rather than backing in the 4th race which certainly does have more of an eye to March.
The day’s best bet is in the cross-country. The Irish/JP McManus stranglehold on all things cross-country was briefly broken by French challenger Urgent de Gregaine when he won this race last year in its January slot. He was a cosy winner then, and is just 6lbs higher here which barely counts on this course.
A recent second in the legendary Czech slog the Velka Pardubicka shows the horse is in good form and he could sink the Irish again here.
Sugar Baron, 1240 Cheltenham, 1pt win, 9/1 Paddy Power
Magic Dancer, 1315 Cheltenham, 1pt win, 13/2 generally available
Exitas, 1350 Cheltenham, 1pt win, 3/1 generally available
Urgent de Gregaine, 1500 Cheltenham, 2pts win, 5/1 generally available
All the above, 4 x 0.25pt win trebles, 0.25pt each way accumulator
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