Cheltenham’s Open Meeting saw the first major days of the season at Prestbury Park and the occasion was marked by a tremendous finish to the feature Paddy Power Gold Cup. The best of the action from the first two days is discussed the week, and there’ll be another bulletin next week taking in Sprinter Sacre’s destruction of the Shloer Chase on what is one of the sport’s feature Sundays. Stay tuned…
ANNACOTTY STRIKES GOLD
The Grade 3 Paddy Power Gold Cup is the first big early-closing 2m4f handicap chase of the season, writes Mark Olley. This year there were no “well-in” horses, as all the runners raced from their current handicap ratings, and I don’t think I can remember such an open race.
There was a full field of twenty runners and the lowest rated horse was Generous Ransom on 140, compared to King Massini on 131 last year.
Next Sensation took the field along at a brisk pace and that played into the hands of the patiently ridden horses, with the first three finishers all sitting mid-division or further back through the main part of the race.
Any number of horses looked like winning at one stage or another, notably Irish Cavalier who loomed up travelling ominously well two out, but in the end the race went to Annacotty. He had been on and off the bridle, but responded magnificently to pressure and battled on gamely for a famous win. Alan King’s gelding has a great record at Cheltenham around 2m4f.
There were just over six lengths between the first six horses home so there are no major changes in any of their ratings. Annacotty moves up 5lb to a new figure of 152 and he must be a strong contender if he returns to Cheltenham for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup next month.
Buywise was the real eye-catching horse of the race and it didn’t escape many people’s attention how unlucky he was. Coming into the home straight on the first circuit he slipped quite badly, and that combined with his usual less-than-slick jumping meant he was still in last place in the main bunch three fences from home.
He flew up the run-in but the line came just too soon and he had to settle for second, three places better than last year. Evan Williams’ gelding moves up 4lb to a new rating of 152 and he surely has a big handicap in him if, one of these days, everything falls right.
Sound Investment had beaten Buywise by three and three-quarter lengths in the Old Roan at Aintree in October, but on 4lb better terms Buywise reversed those placings. Paul Nicholls’ gelding ran a superb race under top-weight and moves to a new figure of 162 (up 3lb) and has shown a level of form that deserves a crack at the 2m4f graded races. Incidentally, Graeme Smith has revised his initial view of the Old Roan and Wishfull Thinking got a 2lb rise on the back of Buywise and Sound Investment’s efforts here.
Double Ross did best of those that raced prominently and after some deliberation I decided to leave his rating unchanged on 153. His rating hit a peak of 160 at this time last year. Most of his racing in the past twelve months has been done over 3m, but he is clearly very effective at the shorter 2m4f distance.
Favourite Kings Palace travelled into the race very strongly just after halfway on this first try in handicap company. All his racing over the past two years has been at three miles or further so stamina clearly wasn’t to blame for his weak finish. This was similar to several of David Pipe’s runners on Saturday and I have no doubt there will be other days for this talented young chaser.
VILLAGE IN BLOOM
Only four runners faced the starter for the Neptune Investment Management Hyde Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Open meeting at Cheltenham, writes Martin Greenwood.
The good news however is that the winner Shantou Village looks well up to standard, and looks a good prospect.
Those comments applied to odds-on shot Penglai Pavilion going into the race following his impressive course and distance victory the previous month. However on this occasion he never looked particularly happy and was quickly beaten when coming off the bridle. He had won twice on heavy ground when a high-class Flat horse but maybe he prefers a faster surface these days, though the jockey reported the horse ran ’flat’. Whatever the reason for Penglai’s well under par effort, he is worth another chance to prove his 146 rating.10
That same figure is now attached to Shantou Village, who had impressed enormously at Carlisle on his hurdling debut and was nearly as visually impressive at Cheltenham, coasting clear from expensive bumper winner Champers On Ice. Things will get tougher from now on for Shantou Village but he is yet another good prospect from the ever more impressive Neil Mulholland stable.