You know it’s December when Doncaster are kicking off with a first race time of 11.55am!
Short days and fading light means the day’s real top quality National Hunt racing will be squeezed into a window of little more than a couple of hours this Saturday afternoon, with part two of Cheltenham’s prestigious pre-Christmas meeting taking centre stage, with four of their seven races live with us on Channel 4.
Star names are one thing you can bank on, with the 13-runner December Gold Cup – run this year as the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at 2.00pm – throwing up a nice handicap puzzle, while in the Grade 2 International Hurdle (3.10pm) last year’s winner The New One is odds on for a repeat for the local Twiston-Davies team.
The New One might at least have a race on his hands though, as although he’s no bigger than 7/2 second favourite for March’s Champion Hurdle, he is up against Nicky Henderson’s Vaniteux amongst others, third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March and himself available at no bigger than 25/1 for the Champion next spring.
An open looking Caspian Caviar-backed Gold Cup, run over 2m 5f on the New course, is where we’ll head for an attempt at swelling the coffers though, with the betting headed by the Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old Caid Du Berlais.
Four of the last nine winners of this prize either won or were placed in the race he won last time out, last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, in which he bravely got up to nail Johns Spirit in the shadows of the post from a five pounds lower mark.
That was a brave, brave effort, especially on just his fourth run over fences, and Caid Du Berlais bids to become just the fourth horse after Pegwell Bay, Senor El Betrutti and Exotic Dancer to complete the Paddy Power/Caspian double.
Furthermore, the Nicholls stable has won three of the last five runnings of this prize, with Poquelin (2009 & 2010) and Unioniste (2012) the horses responsible.
However, only once in the past decade has the favourite managed to win this prize, and for one so experienced Caid Du Berlais might be short enough at no bigger than 7/2 at the time of writing.
A popular winner would be former jockey turned trainer David Bridgwater, who brings No Buts to his local track off the back of a runaway win in handicap company at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting.
He’s a horse on the up and has only had seven outings over fences, and with the hugely in-form Jamie Moore booked to ride he must have a live shout, though that Newbury victory didn’t exactly escape the attention of the handicapper, plus 10 was the verdict – up to a mark of 140!
The other question mark about No Buts is how he’ll handle Cheltenham – this’ll be the six-year-old’s first taste of the track of any form whatsoever – and you have to go all the way back to Kings Fountain in 1991 to unearth a horse winning this prize on their first visit to the venue.
That’s no something that’ll be a hindrance to the one I fancy, with Malcolm Jefferson’s eight-year-old Attaglance practically able to make his way around blindfolded, having run three absolute corkers from four lifetime outings at Prestbury Park.
A winner here over hurdles at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, he didn’t fire in this race 12 months ago, but prior to that was a massively creditable fourth in the Paddy Power.
Most encouraging though was his performance after that in the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase at March’s Cheltenham Festival.
Blocked in his run at a vital late stage, he summoned an even greater effort close home, flying at the eventual winner Present View, failing to reel him in by the width of a coat of paint.
That mighty effort earned him a rise to his current mark of 143, but if that sounds high then stop and remember Present View was sent off 5/1 clear favourite for the Paddy Power not so long ago off 144, running a big race to finish third.
Much has been made of the north’s lack of challengers in the big races, but Attaglance can help address that with a win in the hands of Brian Hughes.
Malcolm Jefferson’s horses have largely been running well of late, with a winner and four places from just 11 runners in the last fortnight, and he could be tasting more Cheltenham success here.
Any of bet365, Betfred, BetVictor, Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Unibet or William Hill will lay you the top price of 9/1 each way.
Elsewhere on the card the £30,000 Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase (1.25pm) can go the way of the Philip Hobbs-trained Bold Henry.
Hobbs made hay at last month’s Open meeting, recording a stunning six winners over the course of the three days, and he was back for more on Friday, with 13/2 chance Al Alfa doing the business.
Bold Henry (one of those six) looks poised to give him even more Cheltenham success, with Paddy Power prepared to lay us 11/4 about an animal who struck convincingly here 29 days ago.
On that occasion he had the re-opposing Sew On Target, Astracad and Karinga Dancer in rear, but given that it was only his second start in two years he looks open to any amount of progress.
Finally, if you’ve still got the bit between your teeth after an afternoon of quality jumping action, then switch codes and head for the All Weather card at picturesque Wolverhampton.
In the early shows for the staying Conditions race at 8.45pm bet365 have chalked up even money about Godolphin’s Hidden Gold, and getting weight from all comers Graham Lee’s 98-rated mount looks tough to beat stepping up in trip to two miles.
Saturday’s best bets:
1.25 Cheltenham – Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase – 6 Bold Henry (win) @ 11/4 (Paddy Power)
2.00 Cheltenham – Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Handicap) – 6 Attaglance (each way) @ 9/1 (bet365)
8.45 Wolverhampton – 32Red Conditions Stakes – 7 Hidden Gold (win) @ Evs (bet365)