Cheltenham November Meeting Handicappers Blog
Irish challenger A Plus Tard passed his first exam of the season in exhilarating fashion, writes Martin Greenwood…
An obvious favourite for the Betfair Lancashire Chase at Haydock following his second to Minella Indo in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, A Plus Tard didn’t give his supporters an iota of worry.
A rare runner in this event from across the Irish Sea, A Plus Tard was patiently ridden as Betfair hero Bristol de Mai and Royal Pagaille duelled for the lead. Nothing much changed until Imperial Aura fell halfway down the far side on the final circuit when close up, at which point the favourite had moved smoothly into contention. Still tanking as he took over the lead at the third last, A Plus Tard accelerated away to score in style, barely coming off the bridle. Royal Pagaille did much the better of the pacesetters (with Bristol de Mai dropping away quickly) but was still some twenty-two lengths adrift of the winner at the line.
Early-season form is often full of potholes and it’s usually – but not always – best to take a pragmatic view, at least in the short term. The time comparison with the later handicap is very impressive, suggesting a figure in the high-180s, but an average of historical standards suggest a mid-170s number. The latter approach seems the most sensible course of action at this stage, while fully acknowledging that the ‘actual’ figure could be much higher.
Now rated 175, the same as his Cheltenham conqueror Minella Indo, that pair have only Clan des Obeaux and Al Boum Photo anywhere near them in the staying division as things stand. Still unexposed over staying trips, this was only A Plus Tard’s fourth run at around three miles plus. He seems to have the unique blend of relative speed and ability to stay the trip, the only caveat being that he has yet to prove his stamina in very searching conditions and races almost always left handed.
Nube Negra fires the first shots of 2m campaign
The best 2m chase of the season so far was run at Cheltenham last Sunday in the shape of the Grade 2 Shloer Chase, writes Chris Nash.
Although only four went to post, the field included the first and second from last season’s Champion Chase, Put The Kettle On and Nube Negra, as well as the 2020 winner of that race, Politologue, so it looked a strong renewal.
It was the latter who set the pace and he appeared to make the race an honest enough test. Nube Negra raced in last, travelled best for longest and saw it out well up the hill to win by six lengths from Politologue, with Put The Kettle On a further four and a half lengths back in third.
The winner has a very good record fresh and I rated this a career best effort at 168 (up from his pre-race rating of 165). Politologue also has a very good first-time-out record but was a touch below his very best here – I had him running to a figure of 162 and I trimmed his official rating from 167 to 165. Put The Kettle On was unbeaten on her four previous visits to the track but surrendered that record here. She actually looked a little tapped for toe down the back straight and was the first to come under a ride but she did stay on gallantly up the straight.
The 2m chase division promises to be very exciting in 2021-22 with the aforementioned trio joined by the leading horse of the last jumps season (Chacun Pour Soi, rated 176) as well as the two leading
novices (Shiskin and Energumene, both rated 169). The next meeting point for this group is the Grade 1 Tingle Creek chase at Sandown in early-December.
Corker for the Skeltons
The feature handicap on the final day of Cheltenham’s November Meeting, the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle, attracted an ultra-competitive field of 19 and the success of West Cork was a notable feather in the cap for trainer Dan Skelton, with the gelding defying an absence of some 631 days, writes Andrew Mealor…
Recent renewals of the Greatwood have typically seen rises of between 5 and 7 lb for the winner and between 3 and 5 lb for the runner-up. With West Cork chased home by another pair of unexposed sorts in second-season hurdler Adagio and novice No Ordinary Joe in a big field (the biggest for the race since 2019), and the form also underpinned by recent winners Camprond (fourth) and Glory And Fortune (sixth), I’m happy to take a positive view and rate at the high end of recent standards. That results in a rise of 7 lb for West Cork (to 141) and he’ll presumably be targeted at the other big 2m handicaps, starting with Ascot’s Betfair Exchange Trophy just before Christmas.
Beaten just half a length in second, Adagio clearly ran a belter off top weight and is up 5 lb to 152. He still has work to do in order to become a genuine Champion Hurdle contender but further progress is far from out of the question given his overall profile. Adagio was second only to Monmiral (153) amongst last season’s British-trained juveniles, and the latter may get a further chance to land a blow for the four-year-olds in next weekend’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
No Ordinary Joe (up 3 lb to 136) didn’t settle fully and deserves plenty of credit for hanging on for third, especially given his overall lack of experience. He’s another who will presumably be aimed at the top 2m handicaps.
In contrast to the Greatwood, the Grade 2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial thirty-five minutes later attracted a field of just three, and only two completed with Pikar falling at the last when looking outpaced in third. Runner-up Washington (129) looks promising having won well in a novice at Bangor on his sole previous run over hurdles, but the likelihood is that I Like To Move It (138) didn’t need to better the form he had shown at the previous Cheltenham meeting (when beating Greatwood fifth Tritonic) to prevail by a comfortable two lengths.