big races

Mike Fran­cis looks at the lead­ing con­tenders for the BetVic­tor Gold Cup and Great­wood Hur­dle

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Mike Fran­cis looks ahead to the big races in No­vem­ber


Gary Moore’s seven-year-old is favourite with many lay­ers and he does have some solid form in the book de­spite miss­ing all of last sea­son.

He started off in 2017 with a cou­ple of mi­nor novice wins be­fore go­ing for the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown in Fe­bru­ary.

He was a cred­itable se­cond there — beaten five lengths by Top Notch — be­fore run­ning a cracker when se­cond in the Fes­ti­val Plate at Chel­tenham.

That showed his lik­ing for the track — al­beit the New one rather than the Old he will tackle here — and had no prob­lems with the big field.

He saw out this trip well and there should be a lit­tle im­prove­ment to come as he ma­tures over fences. He has come through his come­back run when beaten a head in good com­pany at Chep­stow on Oc­to­ber 14 when he made one costly late er­ror. As usual he kept go­ing to the line and should come on for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

He is be­low the mark of his Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val se­cond and will be hard to keep out of the frame pro­vided he doesn’t ‘bounce’ af­ter that come­back out­ing.


Mick Chan­non’s six-year-old has achieved plenty in just five runs over fences, win­ning three of those in­clud­ing two at Chel­tenham. The high point came when tak­ing the Close Broth­ers Novice Chase at the Fes­ti­val in a thrilling fin­ish with Rather Be.

He looks the type to im­prove a lot dur­ing his se­cond sea­son over fences and has the type of bat­tling at­ti­tude that you need in these big hand­i­caps.

He starts the sea­son a fair 8lb higher than for that win and the only con­cern is that he has never per­formed on ground quicker than good to soft. You would ex­pect some cut in it at Chel­tenham in No­vem­ber but, with the weather we have these days, you can’t be sure.

There should be more to come and he would seem to have more scope than Baron Alco and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if Chan­non gives him a run be­fore the race. At this stage, he looks the likely win­ner at around the 12/1 mark.


Nicky Hen­der­son’s seven-year-old was a qual­ity hur­dler who won a Grade 3 at the Grand Na­tional meet­ing be­fore go­ing over fences. He took a cou­ple of small novice chases at Towces­ter and Fak­en­ham be­fore mak­ing a big leap in grade to be beaten by head in the Close Broth­ers by Mis­ter Whitaker. Both horses have a sim­i­lar pro­file and both have showed a lik­ing for ground with some cut. He will cross swords with Mis­ter Whitaker on slightly bet­ter terms at the weights and he de­serves his place near the head of the bet­ting. He won af­ter a break last sea­son so it

wouldn’t be an is­sue if he came here on come­back.


Had a busy time over hur­dles be­fore tak­ing well to chas­ing last term al­though he was well off the pace be­hind Baron Alco in the Scilly Isles. He bounced back from that to fin­ish an ex­cel­lent third in the Sil­ver Tro­phy at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val where this trip seemed to be ideal. He was sent to the front a bit early there and gave the chas­ing pack a handy tar­get, al­though he kept go­ing well once headed. He is just 3lb higher than that which makes him com­pet­i­tive al­though a fall at the Gal­way Fes­ti­val is a slight neg­a­tive even though he was go­ing like the win­ner at the time.


Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old was en­tered to run at Mar­ket Rasen as we went to press in the kind of race he would have to go close in to re­main a con­tender for this. He per­formed with credit in some hot races last sea­son with­out hav­ing enough qual­ity to re­ally fig­ure. He was mid­field in the Fes­ti­val Plate be­fore be­ing well backed at Ayr where he again came up short. He likes this trip but has def­i­nite im­prove­ment to find.


Won the 2018 Fes­ti­val Plate which is ex­cel­lent form in the con­text of this race and he can be for­given a poor ef­fort at Fairy­house in April where the ground was bot­tom­less. He showed that was a one-off by com­ing back to win the 3m Cham­pion Novice Chase at Punchestown — al­beit with a huge stroke of luck. The two horses in front of him both fell at the fi­nal fence and he cashed in. He seemed to en­joy the ex­tended 3m dis­tance there but the Plate was over this trip so it shouldn’t be an is­sue.

He could be a lit­tle high in the hand­i­cap but Gor­don El­liott will have him primed for this and a late mar­ket move would be a good clue.


He’s mixed chas­ing and hur­dling since his last win, which came in the 2017 Close Broth­ers at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val. Not a lot has gone right since then and he has been moved around in dis­tance from 2m to 3m with­out a lot of suc­cess.

Clearly he is suited by this trip and likes Chel­tenham. He is also drop­ping to the sort of mark that should make him com­pet­i­tive again. But he was poor at Gal­way last time out in Au­gust and needs to show his old spark be­fore be­ing con­sid­ered. Looks a lit­tle short in the bet­ting.


His sole chase win came at the first at­tempt when he took a novice con­test at Fon­twell in the style of a classy per­former. He was quickly upped to Graded com­pany with lit­tle suc­cess and has looked short of this level. He fell in a Grade 2 at Ayr’s Na­tional meet­ing and it’s hard to get too ex­cited about his chances here.


An­other Close Broth­ers win­ner — this time from 2016 — and all his best ef­forts have all come at Chel­tenham de­spite the fact he hasn’t won since. He was fourth in this 12 months ago and filled the same spot in the Fes­ti­val Plate ear­lier this year. He then went to the Topham over the Grand Na­tional fences and was an ex­cel­lent fifth be­fore a poor run at Ut­tox­eter last time out in July.

He has a win and three fourths from his past five runs at Chel­tenham and they have all been in top races. Given that he’s now off his low­est chase mark and loves the track so much, he looks worth an each-way in­ter­est.


Looks a pro­gres­sive chaser who

goes well at Chel­tenham. He likes a big field and there should be a lot more to come — pro­vided the ground isn’t on the fast side.

For an each-way punt Ballyal­ton’s record in big-field chases at Chel­tenham speaks for it­self and he looks a fair price.


Claimant ak­ingf or­gan has risen to a mark of 151 af­ter some top-class ef­forts last sea­son. He was fifth in the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle and went close to land­ing a big hand­i­cap at Ayr last time out in April. His best win came in an As­cot Grade 2 in De­cem­ber and, de­spite not scor­ing since, has im­proved.

His mark would match the high­est ever car­ried to win this which has to be a slight worry but ante-post of­fers around 12/1 re­flect that.

Harry Fry has a nice prospect in If The Cap Fits who has had just three runs over hur­dles so far, al­though he was en­tered at Kemp­ton just af­ter we went to press. That run will tell us a lot about how he has pro­gressed.

Last year he cut his way though the mi­nor novice hur­dle ranks and fin­ished on a high by win­ning a classy con­test at Kemp­ton on Box­ing Day.

It’s a con­cern that he hasn’t run since then but a good come­back at Kemp­ton would go a long way to al­lay any fears. If he comes through that then he has the scope to get near the top as a hur­dler.

Hav­ing run so well at Kemp­ton and Ain­tree when close-up in their big bumper, tack­ling the dif­fer­ent chal­lenge of Chel­tenham could also be an is­sue.

Wil­lie Mullins could play a strong hand and his Shar­jah is trad­ing at around the 16/1 mark at the mo­ment.

He ran well in sev­eral tough races last sea­son in­clud­ing a fair eighth in the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle. His finest hour came in Au­gust when win­ning the Gal­way Hur­dle from a mark of 146. Vic­to­ries in big races don’t come much eas­ier and he had three lengths in hand cross­ing the line with plenty left to of­fer.

He’s had a cou­ple of runs on the Flat since then so there will be no fit­ness is­sues. His Ir­ish hur­dles rat­ing of 155 could be a stick­ing point though.

Ap­ple’s Shakira landed a hat-trick of smart wins at Chel­tenham be­fore flop­ping when 6/5 favourite for the Tri­umph Hur­dle. She ran a sim­i­lar race at Ain­tree when fin­ish­ing third and it could just be that it was the end of the sea­son, al­though she didn’t ap­pear to be over-raced.

Al­though the class is there, she is shap­ing as more of a 2m4f per­former and is likely to have other tar­gets.

Hun­ters Call hasn’t run since his blis­ter­ing win on de­but for Olly Mur­phy at As­cot last Christ­mas. He cruised through the big field there and won go­ing away. It was the kind of per­for­mance that saw him touted for the County Hur­dle but he ob­vi­ously didn’t get there.

This trip is ideal and he would be an in­ter­est­ing con­tender if lin­ing up.

Off You Go has been per­form­ing well in slightly lesser races than this and showed prom­ise for this sort of grade when win­ning at Leop­ard­stown in Fe­bru­ary. He is open to lots of im­prove­ment but has clearly had a set­back to have not run since then.

Early Doors is only five but has al­ready picked up a Grade 3 win at Naas and was an ex­cel­lent third in the Martin Pipe at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val.

The ground was on the test­ing side there, which suited well, and he wouldn’t be out of this if it comes up soft on the day.

VER­DICT: This is very tough to call at this stage and it’s prob­a­bly not a race to be too in­ter­ested in un­til we have seen the fi­nal field. Shar­jah is the most ex­cit­ing prospect in the race judged by the way he won the Gal­way Hur­dle but he could be hand­i­capped out of this. If The Cap Fits is an­other in­ter­est­ing per­former who is worth keep­ing a close eye on this sea­son and could eas­ily be good enough.

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