It was a fascinating weekend at the home of the jumps scene, as racing stopped off at Cheltenham once more for the November meeting. Over the three days, we saw the return of some of our jumps favourites in Tiger Roll and Coneygree, along with the first key trials ahead of the festival in March.
On Friday, the meeting opened with an Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase, in which The Young Master sauntered to an eight-length victory, and despite Sam Waley-Cohen dropping his whip halfway round, it was never required as he was unchallenged throughout the contest.
Count Meribel took the Steel Plate and Sections Novices Chase for Nigel Twiston-Davies and Mark Grant, holding off the challenge of the Ben Pauling-trained Le Breuil, with the Nicky Henderson duo Mr Whipped and Jenkins a close third and fourth respectively.
Later in the day, last season’s Cross Country and Grand National Winner Tiger Roll returned to the scene, but found the weight on his back just too much. In fact, he was giving almost a stone to the winner, and two stone to many other rivals. He still finished a creditable fourth on his seasonal reappearance, behind Josies Orders, who won the race for the second time for Enda Bolger and Mark Walsh.
On Saturday, Rock The Kasbah won the G3 BetVictor Handicap Chase for the formidable duo of Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. However, all eyes were on the 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree, who was another who had to contend with a big weight due to his exploits earlier in his career, and he finished an excellent third, on his first run in almost a year, and first since a wind op.
Baron Alco then took the BetVictor Gold Cup for the Moore’s, in a race where only a third of the field finished. Frodon ran another blinder in second for Bryony Frost, and Guitar Pete and Mister Whitaker – third and fourth respectively. There were lots of tired legs resulting in lots of collisions, but all horses returned unscathed.
On Sunday, Lalor took an emotional Arkle Trial for Kayley Woollacott and Richard Johnson. Kayley’s husband sadly took his own life at the beginning of the year, but named this horse as his best opportunity of success in the future, and bought him for chasing. This was his first start over fences, and he beat some useful hurdlers virtually on the bridle.
Sceau Royal made a winning return in the Shloer Chase, out muscling Simply Ned up the run-in, before Nietzsche landed the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle for Brian Ellison and Danny McMenamin. All but five hurdles were omitted due to low light, but Nietzsche broke free on the home bend, and just held on from the late challenges of both Silver Streak and Old Guard. Favourite Verdana Blue was back in fourth.
Elsewhere on the day, Elixir De Nutz provided Colin Tizzard with yet another winner in the week in the Supreme trial, beating the Olly Murphy-trained Itchy Feet into second, with Tom George’s Seddon back in third.
Racing returns to HQ for the International meeting in around four weeks’ time.