Alex Hammond has her best bets for the Cheltenham November Meeting and her thoughts on Footpad too.
Roaring Lion was crowned horse of the year at the Cartier Awards. Would you have voted for him?
Well last week I said that I hoped that Enable would be voted Cartier Horse Of The Year, despite the fact she hadn’t quite run to the form she showed last year. Her history-making win at the Breeders’ Cup swayed it for me, but I can see that Roaring Lion deserved to win the prestigious accolade. So, I’m afraid my vote would have been wasted. What is incredible is John Gosden’s record over the past five years, when on four of those occasions it has been his horses that have come out on top for this prestigious accolade. Kingman, Golden Horn, Enable and Roaring Lion; that’s quite a cast list!
John Gosden – enjoying a golden period
How concerned were you by Footpad’s defeat last weekend?
Well, one thing is for sure, he hasn’t become ordinary over the summer and it’s worth bearing in mind how spectacular he was in winning at Cheltenham and particularly at the Punchestown Festival last season. His jumping was slick, quick and he looked an out and out a champion chaser in the making.
It’s a little reminiscent of Samcro in that you don’t write a horse off for one bad run and particularly on their reappearance. He returned with a slight overreach injury, which he may have sustained when he departed at the last, but is likely to have happened in the earlier part of the race which would have affected his performance.
Like Samcro, I think we’ll see him back to his best when he hits the track again and he’s now 9/2 with Sky Bet to win the Betway Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March, behind Altior who is the even money favourite.
Sheer joy for Ruby Walsh as Footpad wins the Racing Post Arkle
Verdana Blue was impressive in the elite hurdle at Wincanton. How high can she fly?
She looked good didn’t she? I was impressed the way she skipped away from the second and third on Saturday, showing a nice gear change. We know she has plenty of pace as she’s a winner on the Flat and apparently a return to the level isn’t out of the question in the future.
In the meantime there is the small matter of a Unibet Champion Hurdle to prepare for and if she got decent spring ground at Cheltenham in March there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be able to hold her own. She is 25/1 for that showpiece, but has so much speed that the two-and-a-half miles of the mares’ race at the Festival would be stretching her, so the Champion is her only option.
I’m not saying she could win it, but if she ran in the first four it would be a great performance. She is in the Greatwood at Cheltenham this weekend, but with the penalty she picks up for the Wincanton win, could have too much weight if Old Guard doesn’t turn up.
Verdana Blue pulls clear in the Elite Hurdle
Trainer Nicky Henderson wouldn’t ask her to go again in that case. Old Guard is ‘jocked up’ with conditional Lorcan Williams down to ride, which indicates he is on target for the race, so watch this space. Verdana Blue is very ground dependent and doesn’t want it soft, so that is another factor when considering backing her. I think she could be the type to run in some of the big staying handicaps on the Flat next summer and she’s effective on the all-weather too, which gives her connections even more options.
The big betting race of the weekend is the Bet Victor Gold Cup. What’s your best bet?
I would naturally try and find value against the favourite in a race as competitive as this, but there is plenty in Rather Be’s favour. Henderson’s seven year-old is two from four over fences and is favourably weighted to reverse the placings with Close Brother’s Novices’ Handicap Chase winner Mister Whitaker, who beat him just a head at the Festival in March. The ground this weekend should be better than it was back then and that will suit the selection, who is 5/1 with Sky Bet.
What else catches your eye over the three days of the Cheltenham November Meeting?
On Friday I like the look of Doitforthevillage for Paul Henderson in the Betvictor Handicap Chase. He won this race last year and while two pounds higher now, he could run well again. His trainer has won the race for the past two years and is targeting it again, but my slight concern is that he had had a couple of runs before the race 12 months ago, but comes here cold after a seven-month break over the summer. He has won off a layoff in the past though, so it’s not impossible. At 7/1 he is a more attractive proposition than Modus at 11/4 and his stable have been amongst the winners recently.
Doitforthevillage wins at Cheltenham
The Cross Country race on Friday would often be overlooked by some punters, but if Grand National winner Tiger Roll comes over to try and win over these fences again it will be all eyes on the race that can be a navigation nightmare for jockeys! He would have to lump top weight around if he does run, which would also mean that some of the field would be running from out the handicap.
The Worlds End is a horse I followed closely last season as I thought he was capable of winning one of the big staying hurdle races. It didn’t happen for him, but the Tom George-trained seven-year-old has already got off the mark over fences, on his chasing debut at Chepstow, where he looked superb. He should make amends for drawing a blank last term and if he runs in Saturday’s three-mile novices chase I’ll be hoping he can continue his progression.
I mentioned the Greatwood Hurdle earlier, well I fancy Global Citizen to run well in Sunday’s red-hot contest. Whilst Verdana Blue didn’t appear to have a hard race at Wincanton last weekend, I’m happy to take her on in this. Ben Pauling’s horse is 14/1 with Sky Bet which looks like a bit of each-way value in a tricky contest.
Global Citizen wins at Kempton – can he repeat the feat in the Greatwood?
He has had a run already this season when finishing second in a decent handicap hurdle at Ascot a couple of weeks ago and that might just have helped take some of the freshness out of him as he has run freely in the past. Just cast your mind back to his win last season in the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton in February where he showed so much promise and you’d hope there is more to come, providing the ground isn’t too testing.
Also on Sunday, another horse I hoped would hit the heights last season was Palmers Hill and I see he is entered to run in the opening race, the conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle. Actually, he has a few entries over the weekend (Saturday over hurdles at Wetherby and also in Cheltenham’s intermediate handicap hurdle). He cost £310,000 in March 2017 after winning an Irish point-to-point and if he’s to live up to that he will need to win some decent races. His dam is related to Mighty Mogul, so he has the pedigree to.
Olly Murphy is a rookie trainer that has made a very favourable impression since he took out his licence. Gordon Elliott’s former assistant has an interesting runner in Sunday’s Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle.
Itchy Feet is an 11/4 shot with the sponsors to win his fourth race this autumn to go along with his victories in a Stratford bumper and over hurdles at Southwell and in Listed company at Kempton last time out. He needs decent ground, which he should still get this weekend, and is improving with every run.
There’s so much fantastic racing at Cheltenham I could go on, but let’s just hope the horses I’ve mentioned give us a good run for our money; have fun and good luck to all.
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