It really feels like the Jumps season is in full swing now with top class action this weekend at Cheltenham, as well as high-class novices returning in Ireland.
Harry Cobden was the star of the day at Cheltenham on Saturday by delivering Burdett Road with a powerful, delayed challenge to land the JCB Triumph Hurdle trial before giving an exhibition from the front on Stage Star in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, even throwing in some last-fence drama for added entertainment! The strength, balance and sheer determination he showed to keep the partnership intact cannot be over emphasised.
In Ireland, all eyes were on the chasing debutant Facile Vega who ran out a comfortable winner at Navan. Post-race opinions varied, but I was impressed. He was sharp with his feet when tight to the fourth fence from home, and was quick and measured when the race turned into a dash up the home straight.
I was also taken by how he lengthened when given a squeeze by Paul Townend after the last. This error-free introduction should mean he will get two more starts ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, most likely at Leopardstown at Christmas, and at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He’d then arrive at Cheltenham with more experience than his most likely rival, Marine Nationale, who Barry Connell is keen to keep away from testing ground. That extra experience will give him a sizeable advantage come March.
I have managed to find three selections for Monday’s action. Best of luck!
It might seem strange to tip a novice chaser that unseated his rider at the first fence on his chase debut but, in truth, Hermino AA did very little wrong at the fence and was unfortunate to stumble upon landing. He is lightly raced but has been consistent, and has a number of pieces of form that mark him out as above average.
His narrow defeat at Sandown behind Howlingmadmurdock, who is now rated 140, in March was an excellent effort, as was his course win at this track in January where he comfortably defeated Goodwin Racing who won his next two starts, and is now rated 125.
General Medrano is a horse that has been very much on my radar for his early starts over fences, and he’s been impressive in both wins, but he’s now 16lb higher in the handicap for those victories, and might find life tougher now, although he could find improvement for this extra trip.
Hermino AA was not without support ahead of his chasing debut at Ascot in what was a deeper race than this, and I’m confident that by the end of the season, he’ll prove vastly better than his rating of 129, and at decent odds, he’s worth siding with against the short-priced favourite.
I was fortunate enough to be at Aintree for the Grand National meeting, and Hashting, a son of Konig Turf, really caught the eye ahead of the Grade Two bumper.
He travelled stylishly during the race and made smooth progress before staying on powerfully to finish third, but just lacked the extra toe of the two in front of him.
As a winner of two AQPS flat races in his native France on testing ground, the forecast heavy ground here should also be ideal.
His dam is a half-sister to Oumeyade (rated 152 at best) and Ladalko (winner of the Classic Chase), so I’m sure in time he’ll be at his best over fences, but he should be capable of making his mark in novice hurdles.
Jonjo O’Neill has publicly spoken about his hopes for what he believes to be a smart crop of novices, and I’m confident this gorgeous individual is amongst the best of them. He can prove it by making a winning start over hurdles.
Plenty of smart mares line up here. Time may show Nurse Susan to be the best of them, as her four-length defeat behind Love Envoi at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival is arguably the best piece of form on offer.
However, on her chasing debut, and her first start for 613 days, the percentage call is to oppose her, especially given the Skelton yard have openly spoken about their horses improving for a run this season.
Lady Adare is therefore the right favourite, but at far bigger odds, I think Galice Macalo is worth chancing. She was just three lengths behind Lady Adare when they met at Worcester in October, and while she’s now technically 7lb worse off, she does have the assistance of David Noonan, where as at Worcester she was ridden by very inexperienced amateur, Peter Summers.
Additionally, the ground at Worcester was good to soft and, without exception, all of her best form has come on testing ground, most notably her win in soft ground at Chepstow.
This is her second start after wind surgery and if that largely satisfactory effort at Worcester has re-instilled her confidence in her breathing, she is a big player in this plus is overpriced at double-figure odds.
Jane Williams has her string in good order, too, and can land another good pot at her local track.