The National Hunt season has been underway for a few weeks now, but there is just something about Cheltenham’s November meeting that makes it feel like we’re truly back in business.
Of course, the return to action of some of the sport’s best horses helps, as does the recent rain, which comes as a big relief to trainers, owners and racing fans alike.
But there’s a real buzz at this three-day meeting and with some great rides to look ahead to, including Lalor and Western Ryder, I’m just as excited as the racegoers.
Cheltenham on Saturday
I kick off Saturday’s action onboard Rock The Kasbah (1.50pm) for Philip Hobbs. It’s a very open race and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the field come home in front.
Philip’s horses are in great form at the moment and he arrives with a great each-way chance having already had a pipe-opening run at Chepstow in October.
I take the ride on Colin Tizzard’s West Approach in the Gold Cup Handicap Chase (2.25pm).
He is another trainer who has his yard in fine form and the eight-year-old ran really well for a long time last time out here at Cheltenham.
I rode him quite positively that day and expect to do the same on Saturday. The ground and trip won’t be an issue and he holds an each way chance.
Mick Channon’s Mister Whitaker has won four of his previous five appearances and it would be no surprise to see him go close again.
Weebill has only finished outside the places once from seven starts but still looks unexposed in the three-mile handicap hurdle (3.00pm).
He doesn’t have that many runs under his belt so isn’t the most experienced in the field and I would still expect improvement to come from him.
Reunited again with Philip and Westend Story looks another than can progress this year over the longer trip, starting with the 2m 5f handicap hurdle (3.30pm).
I know connections think the world of him and he won really easily when last seen at Hereford in March. I think we would all be disappointed were he not to go close. He is probably my best ride of the day.
I ride Cedar Valley in the mares bumper (4.00pm). She should come on for her third-place finish at Carlisle last time out in what looks a fairly decent race.
Cheltenham on Sunday
It will be great to get back in the saddle on Lalor in the Arkle Trial (1.50pm) for the first time since winning the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree back in April.
This is very much the starting point for him this season but he appears to be going well at home and I know connections are happy with him.
Defi Du Seuil was obviously disappointing at times last season but it would be dangerous to overlook him this season.
He is still very much the one to beat for me. It’s a small field but it looks a strong one and it should be a good starting point to see how Lalor goes.
Sizing Granite should go well in the Shloer Chase (2.25pm) based on the weights and has a chance in what looks a tight race.
It’s another fairly small field, but again it’s one full of big dangers, Brain Power for Nicky Henderson especially.
Western Ryder was a smart novice last season and schooled really well on Friday morning ahead of his run in the Greatwood Hurdle (3.00pm).
There should be improvement to come this season and I know connections feel the same way.
The ground and trip both suit and he has won at Cheltenham before having beaten Lalor last December.
Nicky Henderson’s Verdana Blue looks a smart act as she bids for her third win on the bounce and she will love the ground.
My final ride of the weekend is on Thyme Hill in the bumper (4.00pm). He won fairly easily on debut at Worcester in October and looks a nice individual.
This is obviously another step up but we will learn a lot from this and he’s an interesting prospect.
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