Welcome to The National Hunt Diary 2019/20 Part One by Chris Price…
The first big clash of the new national hunt campaign took place at Ascot last weekend, where the two highest rated chasers, Cyrname and Altior, locked horns. This was Altior’s first try over any trip over 2m 2f, but judged on his previous exploits over the minimum distance, it was well worth a shot.
As expected, Cyrname set off at a decent clip, with Altior tracking two lengths behind. As they turned for home the champion chaser could not pick up as Nico De Boinville had hoped, and would lose his unbeaten record over the larger obstacles. After the race, Nicky Henderson ceded that the best horse on the day had won, while his charge may just have been found out on soft ground first time out.
The King George on Boxing Day will be Cyrname’s next point of call, with Harry Cobden now facing a tough choice as Paul Nicholls can also rely upon last year’s winner, Clan Des Obeaux, who ran a fine race in defeat at Down Royal at the start of November. If Cyrname turns up at Kempton in the same form, he will surely take all the beating.
Another to throw their hat in the ring for December 26th is Lostintranslation, who stayed on well to land the Betfair Chase from Haydock specialist, Bristol De Mai. It was another step in the right direction from the Colin Tizzard trained runner, after impressing with a slick effort at Carlisle just three weeks earlier. Stamina appears his forte, and if his jumping was to continue to be foot perfect, he must seriously enter the Gold cup picture come March.
Cheltenham’s November meeting is for many, the start of the National Hunt Season proper, and once again fans flocked to Prestbury Park for what would have been three days of top class action, but with the Friday sadly abandoned due to almost biblical rain, it was reduced by a third.
Happy Diva won the feature contest, the BetVictor Gold Cup, and made amends for being brought down when travelling strongly four out in the race last year. The Kerry Lee trained mare held off Brelen D’As in a pulsating finish up the hill, whilst the favourite Slate House suffered a fall two out when bang in contention. Raised 6lb for the spill, it seems logical to go back down the novice chasing route for the rest of the campaign, having only registered his first win over fences at the October meet.
Cheltenham bumper third, Thyme Hill, made it two from two over hurdles when winning the Ballymore novices hurdle from the useful yardstick and previous course winner, Champagne Well. It’s still early days in the novice division, but he does appear to be near the very top of the home challenge. Races like the Challow at Christmas have been touted on route to the festival.
Regular Cheltenham performer Wholestone got his head in front in the Mallard Novices Chase over 3 miles, going one better than he did at the previous meeting. It’s hard to imagine he’ll improve much over fences compared to some, but his record gives him an each-way chance in March should he go down the staying chase route.
Al Dancer and Getaway Trump tackled one another for the second time this season in the Arkle Trial, and whilst Al Dancer once more came out better in that contest, he was beaten by Irish mare, Put The Kettle On. It was a pleasing effort, but it’s difficult to see
her being at the very top of the Irish tree, especially when both Laurina and Fakir D’oudaries appear to have stronger form in the book, the latter especially appears to have taken to fences extremely well, and must hold a big chance in the Arkle.
If you are after a British trained runner to stick in your notebook, Angel’s Breathe did nothing wrong in a competitive novice chase contest at Ascot last weekend, pushed out
to beat First Flow and Birchdale, who are certainly no cannon fodder.
In the big race of the final day Defi Du Seuil finished strongest to see off the charge of Politologue in the Schloer Chase. A strongly run 2 miles seems ideal, though could step back up to intermediate trips in the spring.
A showdown with Un De Sceaux at Sandown awaits in the Tingle Creek, where Barry Geraghty once more will look to deliver late on. Simply Ned ran on to take third from Saint Calvados, and you wouldn’t rule out another strong effort over at Leopardstown after Christmas from the popular 12 year old.
Elsewhere there was another trip to the Cheltenham winners enclosure for Paisley Park owner, Andy Gemmell, with Hang in There successful in the Supreme Novices Hurdle Trial. It’s possibly stronger form than can be the case in some of these trials, with both Pacify and Ecco already showing themselves to be above average well beaten.
Words by Chris Price
Pictures – File