With the flat season drawing to a magnificent close at Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday; it’s time for National Hunt racing to once again take centre stage as the road to the Cheltenham Festival kicks off in earnest with a stellar meeting at Prestbury Park this weekend. With two days of jam packed action, I’ve picked out five early hopefuls for big performances later in the week.
Brillare Momento (Trained by Martin Keighley and ridden by Aidan Coleman) 14:oo Cheltenham, 27/10/17 – 2m5f (2m5f26y) (Old) Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+)
Martin Keighley’s charge looks very well set to throw down a strong challenge in the opening race of this weekends meeting. A horse with previous course form at Cheltenham, something precious and hard to come by at the challenging west country track, the six year old should be primed and ready to run a big race. After a shaky start to his hurdling career, unseating Daryl Jacob, when in with every chance, two from home at Ludlow, in his last three starts he has not been out of the top two. A brave win at 9/1 here at the April meeting stands him in good stead. He can be forgiven for being turned over at odds on at Newton Abbot in May finding the ground a little on the sharp side. With it likely to come up softer on Friday, he should be right in his element. He is also fantastically well treated weight-wise, as the horse with the highest official rating in the race, to see him receiving weight from some strong contenders in the race makes him a yet more inviting prospect. It is likely that he will open up somewhere near the top of the market, but it is equally likely that he will be involved in the first of many tussles up the Cheltenham hill come 14:05 on Friday afternoon.
Sceau Royale (Trained by Alan King and ridden by Daryl Jacob) 14:35 Cheltenham, 27/10/17, 2m (1m7f199y) (Old) squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase (Class 2) (4yo+)
A horse with a slightly chequered past over hurdles, Sceau Royale looks a very promising prospect now switched to fences. A horse that on his day can mix it with the very best of them, looked very slick on chasing debut at Warwick earlier in the month. Beating Ballyhill (also entered here) convincingly into second he jumped quickly and measured his fences supremely well. A horse to likes to go from the front, he will comfortably stay two miles and his so far slick jumping style should allow him to give a bold show out in front. Still only a five year old if he can come out of this with an impressive victory, he will put himself bang in contention for the Arkle in March. His fiercest rival in the race will most likely be Movewiththetimes from the Nichols yard, a horse who has run very promisingly in several big hurdle races. On his only visit to Cheltenham last November he was hampered on the turn into the straight which put pay to his challenge. Sceau Royal against Movewiththetimes could be the first big showdown of this years national hunt campaign.
Dreamcatching (Trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Stan Sheppard) 17:30 Cheltenham, 27/10/17, Experience The Theatre At The Festival Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Challenger Series) (Class 3) (3yo+ 0-140) 2m87y
In a highly competitive and very open race, Dream Catching looks as if he could be a strong candidate for Paul Nicholls. Coming off the back of two victories, admittedly against weak opposition, the champion trainer will no doubt have him fit and raring too go. An impressive victory at Wincanton in February started the ball rolling for this four year old. Beaten 22 lengths in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at the festival in March, this horse is going to improve with age and given the form of the Nicholls string at current, it would be dangerous to write him off. The forecast rain and softening ground will be a bonus for him with his best performance coming on a slightly easier surface. The booking of promising young conditional Stan Sheppard is a sign that the former champion trainer is sweet on his chances.
Singlefarmpayment (Trained by Tom George) 14:00 Cheltenham, 28/10/17 randoxhealth.com Handicap Chase (Class 2) (4yo+) Winner £31,280 25 runners 3m1f Good
Singlefarmpayment looks every bit the type to storm away with this race. Tom George’s seven year old is a chaser very much on the up and this could be the launch pad needed to have another tilt at a valuable race at the Cheltenham festival. Losing out by only a shoulder to the ever game Un Temps Pour Tout over track and trip at this year’s festival makes him a strong contender here. Likely to be given a stiff job by the handicapper when the weights come out later in the week, but a horse on the improve who loves the track and goes on any ground. He’s forged a good partnership with jockey Adrian Heskin since moving to Tom George’s yard and its likely that Heskin will get the leg up again. If he runs to the best of his ability, he will be bang there over the last and give the punters a fantastic run for their money.
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Solstice Star (Trained by Martin Keighley) 15:45 Cheltenham, 28/10/1 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier) (Class 2) (4yo+) Winner £15,640 32 runners 2m7f208y Good
A horse with impressive course form, this bold front runner makes a return to hurdles after a poor season going chasing last year. He was probably rated too highly last year and handicapped out of competitive races such as this one. However, following a poor season last year, his mark has slipped down to something much more workable and their is every chance that he will be in the shake up come the end. A horse that will go on any ground, some rain later this week will do him no harm. A brave horse that will set a strong pace and gallop all the way home, the perfect sort for a big field handicap at the home of National Hunt Racing.
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The showcase meeting at Cheltenham is always a fantastic way to kick off the National Hunt Season. From flag fall in the 14:00 at Cheltenham on Friday, all roads lead to Champion Hurdle Tuesday and that famous festival roar in March.