Saturday’s Horse Racing Tips: Fugitif can escape Cheltenham with an overdue victory

16 November 2023

Cheltenham’s November meeting ranks very highly in my list of favourite weekend jumps ventures over the course of a season. That’s not just due to the impressive and historic venue or the exciting time of year, but also the quality and quantity of horses that will look to get their campaign started on the right note.

The majority of contests on offer during the three-day mini festival will feature fantastic punting opportunities, with a vast selection of differing formlines ready to test your handicapping skills. A fine example of this is Saturday’s featured Gold Cup Handicap Chase (2.20 Cheltenham), where two Cheltenham Festival winners will look to make their mark in open company.

Those two horses in question are Stage Star, who won the Turners over two-and-a-half miles in March, and three-mile Brown Advisory winner The Real Whacker. The pair return to the track after 219 and 248-day absences respectively and will lump hefty weights thanks to their lofty handicap marks. There is no doubt about their talent, but to win first-time-up on testing ground in these circumstances will take a monster performance and they are both short enough in the market.

For those reasons I have to look elsewhere, but the next two in the betting - recent Chepstow winner Unexpected Party and the race-fit Notlongtillmay - don’t do it for me either. The former was primed for his comeback and beat a nice type in Knappers Hill, but he was a fair way behind Stage Star in two runs last year and a form reversal seems unlikely. Notlongtillmay is low over his fences and similarly needs to find some improvement to beat Paul Nicholls’ runner.

Consequently, I ended up siding with 10/1 shot Fugitif, who will relish the testing underfoot conditions and performed well in three runs at this track last season. It’s also important to note that he has far more experience over fences than the majority of these, which will undoubtedly stand him in good stead. 

Although he also comes back after a layoff, his previous form when fresh is strong and this will be a main target whereas the two jollies’ season will be building up to the festival. You are also getting much better value at his current odds.

My only other bet on Saturday’s Cheltenham card is Read To Return, who will carry a light weight for shrewd trainer Tony Martin in the 3m1f Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase (1.10 Cheltenham). Martin struck on this card last year with a very similar type who was heavily punted, so watch the market.

Read To Return won a three-mile point-to-point in February 2022 before joining Martin, who decided to campaign him in maiden hurdles and beginners’ chases over totally inadequate trips. They finally let the handbrake off when he was punted into 5/2 favouritism at Tramore in April and he was unfortunate not to get off the mark.

He filled the same runners-up berth on his reappearance this season when he was just given a little too much to do, but he quickly made amends with a facile success back over fences at Killarney last month. The winning margin was officially three lengths, but it could have been 30 if rider Phillip Enright wanted to extend him.

Read To Return has been kept fresh and comes here off a UK mark of 115, which still surely underestimates his ability. Providing he jumps well, he has a huge chance of racking up the second success in what could be a sequence of victories.

It’s over to Lingfield now for my ‘good thing’ of the day. Island Native runs in the second division of the 0-65 handicap (11.45 Lingfield) on his first start for trainer Mick Appleby and The Horsewatchers. That combination has had great success with horses-in-training sales purchases and this three-year-old could prove to be a snip for the 20,000gns price tag.

Formerly trained by Heather Main, this son of Caravaggio has been well found in the market on his last four starts and has just come up short over a variety of trips despite having the opportunities to break through. He seems to have one short burst of acceleration and he quite clearly didn’t stay the extended 1m1f last time out, so I like the drop back to a mile on Saturday for him.

 Despite going up 2lb in the weights for his latest effort, Island Native still looks well handicapped on this year’s efforts and it’s interesting that Oisin Murphy retains the ride despite the change of connections. This race hasn’t come up overly strong and I’d be disappointed if he didn’t get off the mark at the 12th attempt of asking.

Finally, I will be having a wager on the Lucinda Russell-trained Readysteadybeau in the 3m handicap chase (3.39 Wetherby) with the idea that the step back up in distance will see him in much better light.

Russell has always been adamant that this horse needs a thorough stamina test so it would be unfair to judge him on his comeback sixth over 2m4f at Carlisle, where he set the pace before failing to accelerate between the final two obstacles. 

Go back to April and this horse recorded an easy 30-length score at Perth on testing ground, which earned him a Racing Post Rating of 130. If that’s to be believed, his mark of 113 should be extremely fair. Now back up to three miles, he has the chance to prove it.

Saturday’s Horse Racing Tips

Island Native (11.45 Lingfield) @ SP
Read To Return (1.10 Cheltenham) @ SP
Fugitif (2.20 Cheltenham) @ 10/1
Readysteadybeau (3.39 Wetherby) @ SP

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