Ross Millar's Cheltenham November Meeting Preview

14 November 2023

For me the Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham is the start of a really exciting winter schedule. The series of 2m4f handicap chases at Cheltenham are among my favourite of the whole year and the Paddy Power Gold Cup is the first of these.

Cheltenham is often spoken about as a stiff track, suited to horses with an abundance of stamina, and I’d certainly agree that a horse that stays well is high on the list of criteria when trying to find a winner. However, it’s important to recognise that this meeting is held on the Old Course (as used on days one and two of the festival in March) which rides far sharper with a shorter run in, as a consequence I think tactical speed and the ability to travel are of the utmost importance when searching out a selection.

Although without a winner at the festival itself, Cheltenham is a track where local trainer, Fergal O’Brien, does well, as does his former boss, Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The chase course is, in my opinion, one of the most demanding in the country, I’m therefore always inclined to give horses ridden by the likes of Nico de Boinville, Harry Cobden, Brendan Powell and Charlie Deutsch a second look, such is their mastery at positioning a horse to a fence.

With the five day declarations in, I’ve taken a look at the Friday card.

13:10: Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle 2m5f

Gavin Cromwell enjoyed a tremendous weekend at this course back in October and won this race last year. He has one tremendous advantage in that for my money his conditional rider, Keiren Buckley is the best on either side of the Irish Sea.

His representative Fathom Two arrives here with an attractive profile. His maiden win at Downpatrick has been boosted by the third placed Yeats Star winning on his next start. Fathom Two would also have got much closer to winning on his handicap debut but for crucial mistakes at the last two hurdles. Given how well he stuck to his task there this extra trip should suit and he’s high up on the shortlist.

Ben Pauling isn’t enjoying the same rich vein of form as Gavin Cromwell but does have an interesting contender in Skytastic. He didn’t take to fencing last year when with Sam Thomas but a switch of yards and reverting to hurdles might reignite his spark, particularly as he now finds himself 10lb below his highest mark. He’s another worthy of serious consideration.

13:45: Handicap Chase 2m

Triple Trade shaped well over this course and distance on his last start. Off a conservative ride he got outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on well to be a never-nearer second. The handicap didn’t hit him hard for that run and with the Tizzard yard in fine form he can go one better in this, especially if given a more aggressive ride.

Ballybreeze was still travelling ominously well when taking a heavy fall on his final start of last season. He’s lightly raced and maybe coming here for a first start after a fall isn’t ideal but his mark of 120 wildly underestimates him and would make him of real interest if his trainer Sam Drinkwater elects to run him.

14.20: Novice Chase (grade two) 2m

A race that’s been won by some smart performers in previous years. Though the entries this year might not be quite of the same calibre.

Current market favourite Unexpected Party is almost certain to take up his alternative entry on the Saturday which makes this an interesting contest.

JPR One is a gorgeous looking individual and although lightly raced he took to chasing in exemplary fashion at Newton Abbot in October jumping impeccably and quickening up smartly in the home straight. That run will have certainly brought him forward and while on official ratings he has a bit to find with a few of these he has the most scope for progression now chasing.

14:55: Cross-Country Chase Handicap 3m5f

Being a handicap makes this race a much more interesting spectacle compared to its festival counterpart which is run off level weights (so to those in charge I plead, please change it).

Lieutenant Rocco appeared to really enjoy himself when finishing a distant fourth over this course at the festival, travelling and jumping with an enthusiasm that had been previously absent for a number of seasons. Upwards of 32lb ‘wrong at the weights’ with the three that finished ahead of him it was no disgrace that he finished a distance behind them. Most horses improve for their first experience of the fences and if that’s the case he must surely have an excellent chance of winning this.

15:30: Novice Hurdle (grade two) 2m5f

Captain Teague faired best of the home contingent in last year's festival bumper and as a result was highly touted ahead of his hurdle debut at Chepstow. He duly delivered, running out a ten-length winner. While there is no doubting his engine I did feel his jumping could have been far better. He’ll have to improve in that department to beat the vastly more experienced Space Tourist, if she’s sent over by Willie Mullins. However, at a double-figure price it’s Alfie’s Princess that interests me most. She was far too free on testing ground at Chepstow on her hurdle debut, yet was able to find seemingly limitless reserves to pull clear up the home straight. The form is untested but given how keen she was I’m prepared to chance she is blessed with a tremendous amount of ability. She carries just 10st9lb and this extra distance and a better race (and therefore a stronger pace) can bring about further improvement. She rates a good each way bet.

Horses to Follow

Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle: Fathom Two & Skytastic
Handicap Chase: Triple Trade & Ballybreeze
Novice Chase: JPR One
Cross Country Chase Handicap: Lieutenant Rocco
Novice Hurdle: Alfie’s Princess

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