Tom Williams reports on an action-packed weekend from Cheltenham on November 16-18
Tom Williams report and photo-special from BetVictor meeting
Trainer Gary Moore revealed post-race that he had considered pulling the winner out, as he was concerned the ground was too quick
Baron Alco delivered the prize he was always threatening to win when taking apart a classy field in an incident-packed BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham. The seven year old was always at the head of affairs, making an almost pillar to post victory from the rallying top weight Frodon and Bryony Frost, staying on stoutly up the hill to score by two lengths. Guitar Pete was eight lengths behind in third, while favourite Mister Whitaker took fourth.
Jockey Jamie Moore came in to ride Baron Alco after his intended mount Benetar was withdrawn on the morning of the race after an abnormal blood scope, replacing brother Joshua, injured the previous day when unseated from Graasten, stablemate of the winner.
At the first there was drama as Whoshotwho fell and Romain De Senam unseated after a bad blunder. Further drama occurred when Kalondra, well supported before the off, dived at the fifth last and unseated Noel Fehily. At the last ditch, four out, Willie Boy fell and brought down not only the favourite Rather Be but also Happy Diva. Incidents continued as King’s Socks unseated Tom Scud- amore at three out, and at the last Move with the times fell after a steep landing, hampering Shantou Village who unseated Robbie Dunne. In the end only six finished, but thankfully all horses and jockeys were up after their incidents, although Tom Scudamore and Richard Patrick both went to hospital for further assessment.
Trainer Gary Moore revealed postrace that he had considered pulling the winner out, as he was concerned the ground was too quick, given he had suffered a suspensory injury in March 2017 when second to Road To Respect on the same ground. In the end, owner John Stone convinced him to run him, and it all paid off as they celebrated their first win in the coveted race.
He added it was Baron Alco’s jumping and the fact that Jamie kept him at the front and out of the way that were the reasons he was victorious, wise tactics given the melee that occurred at the fourth last and further incidents at various obstacles towards the end.
A return to Prestbury Park for the Caspian Caviar looks likely for the winner, while Paul Nicholls aims to step runner-up Frodon up in grade, potentially in next month’s Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon. A long term view for him is that he could become a Ryanair horse, and with age on his side, it looks like this could be a possibility. It is also feasible to note that if the winner continues to improve as the season goes on, then he too could line up in a championship race at the Festival in March.
REST OF THE ACTION
Friday saw a treble for jockey Paddy Brennan and a double for local trainer Fergal O’Brien.
The duo struck with Red Hot Chilly in the Swanee River Supports Countryside Alliance Novices Handicap Hurdle, before combining again to
score with Coolanly in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle, putting an unlucky fall in the Persian War at Chepstow last month well behind him.
Paddy secured his treble with the help of Bun Doran, who looked an ideal type to land the two mile BetVictor Handicap Chase, having shown some good form in competitive races last season without ever getting his head in front. That changed on the day as he strode away up the Cheltenham hill to rapturous applause from the assembled crowd.
Friday also saw the first race of the new season over the cross country course, and featured the return of cross country specialists Josie’s Orders, Bless The Wings and Tiger Roll, who had also landed the race of the same name at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival en route to a memorable success in the Grand National a month later. This time it was Josie’s Orders who tasted victory, swinging into the straight in front towards the last, before battling back up the Cheltenham hill to deny Fact Of The Matter and Gavin Sheehan, who had snuck up the inside to challenge after the last.
Saturday began with a fantastic-looking JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle, the favourite being Never Adapt in the famous green and gold colours of owner JP McManus. Trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty, she was from the same connections who had sent out Apple’s Shakira to score impressively in the same race last year. However, she was extremely keen going to the start, and continued as the race began, pulling her way to the lead and storming 10-12 lengths clear going into the country. She was eventually passed by the majority of the field, and despite rallying up the hill could manage only third after her early exertions.
The race turned into a titanic battle between the Paul Nicholls-trained Quel Destin and the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned Cracker Factory. It was the former who prevailed by a length under jockey Harry Cobden, with a further two back to Never Adapt. Quel Destin was following up a win at Kempton in October, coming a week after his short defeat to rival Montestrel at Chepstow. In this case he more than handled the step up to Graded company, turning the tables on his Chepstow conqueror, who finished last of the six.
Philip Hobbs was left dreaming of potential National glory with Rock The Kasbah after he produced a great round of jumping to take the BetVictor.com Handicap Steeplechase under champion jockey and regular partner Richard Johnson.
Always prominently positioned at the head of affairs during the almost three and a half mile trip, he was produced around the home turn to take up the running, and after two great leaps at the final obstacles, he stayed on gamely to repel Royal Vacation by a length.
Afterwards, Philip Hobbs noted that he would be working backwards from Aintree with the eight-year-old, with many firms shortening his price for the Becher Chase next month to a general 14/1.
The limelight belonged to another horse, however, as 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree made his seasonal reappearance in the same race. The 11-year-old jumped with
The race turned into a titanic battle between the Paul Nichollstrained Quel Destin and the Simon Munir and Isaac Souedeowned Cracker Factory
his usual aplomb and enthusiasm, and despite getting tired towards the end, stayed on to claim third place, in a race that left connections overjoyed, and looking potentially at a tilt at the King George on Boxing Day.
Sunday began with a commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice, with a parade of modern units, both cadet and regular, accompanying the spectacle of the Great War Display Team dogfighting over Prestbury Park. The racing was of epic quality, too, with a superb looking Arkle Trial Novices Chase whetting the appetite for the day ahead.
Lalor took the spoils with a superb round of jumping for a novice on their first time over the larger obstacles, pinging the last and barely touching a twig all the way round. He stormed up the Cheltenham hill under Richard Johnson to produce an emotional victory for trainer Kayley Woollacott and score by seven lengths, and also drawing some similarities with another novice chaser who took the course by storm, Vautour in the 2015 JLT.
Sceau Royal advertised his credentials for the Tingle Creek next month at Sandown Park and the Champion Chase in March with a determined victory in the Shloer Chase.
Forced to miss the rest of the season due to a suspensory injury sustained in January, the Henry VIII Novices Chase winner continued his excellent form over the larger obstacles by outpointing the gutsy Simply Ned by two lengths.
The favourite was settled in the rear by jockey Daryl Jacob, and crept into contention coming down the hill, scything his way past rivals to line up a shot at the long time leader. He was pushed all the way by Simply Ned however, so while not as facile as many had hoped, he still got the job done, and trainer Alan King believes he will be better still next month at Sandown.
Nietzsche took the feature race of the day, the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, in what was something of a surprise, given he had started at odds of around 20/1 for the two mile contest.
The race lost some momentum as the hurdles in the home straight were removed prior to the off due to the low sun, meaning in the end only five hurdles were taken by the field.
Bottom weight at 10st and with a further 7lbs coming off due to jockey Danny McMenamin’s claim, Nietzsche was prominent along the trip and after heading over the last, the usual two out, he kept on gallantly on the long run in to score from Welsh Champion Hurdle winner and hat-trick-seeking Silver Streak by a neck, in what was only his jockey’s third ride at the course.
Speaking afterwards, trainer Brian Ellison stated that the winner would be entered in races such as what was the Ladbroke at Ascot, so it can be assumed he may also get an entry for the Betfair at Newbury in February. All pictures by JTW Equine Images