Racing returns to Cheltenham for the first time in five monthsPICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Irish raiders add spice as Cheltenham returns
THE leaves are turning yellow, brown and maroon but what really marks the changing of the seasons is the return of action at Cheltenham today.
The track emerges from a dormant five months to host its two-day Showcase meeting, which promises to throw up clues for those already thinking of the festival in March.
That was the case four years ago when The New One landed the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle that kicks off today’s card en route to landing the Grade 1 contest under the same name the following spring.
The eyecatcher in the 2m5f event (2.10) is Grade 2 winner El Bandit, who made it four from four for Paul Nicholls when winning the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow this month.
The champion trainer has won this twice in the last three years and is in blistering form with 14 winners from his last 23 runners.
El Bandit faces four opponents but Nicholls warned: “The race the other day was his target and this comes quick enough. But it’s his last chance to run in a novice hurdle and when the race was cutting up I decided to let him take his chance. I hope it’s not too soon.”
Among the threats is Black Warrior, trained by Charles Byrnes, who said: “He did it well in a handicap hurdle at Cork in August. The key to him seems to be nice ground, which he’ll get at Cheltenham.”
Tiger Roll 'in good form'
Half of the six runners in the 3m½f Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Novices’ Chase (3.55) are Irish-trained, including recent Munster National winner Tiger Roll.
The 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner scored at this meeting two years ago and trainer Gordon Elliott, who won this race in 2010 and 2011, said: “We were thrilled with the way he won the Munster National. He surprised me there but as a Triumph Hurdle winner he’s always had ability. The ground will suit and he’s been in good form since Limerick.”
Henry de Bromhead brings over Full Cry and Heron Heights, and said: “Heron Heights comes into the race high on confidence after winning nicely at Clonmel last time. I think the track, trip and ground will suit them.”
The trainer’s best chance of the day, however, could be in the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase (2.45) with Ridestan, who captured a Grade 3 at Gowran this month.
De Bromhead said: “He’s an excellent jumper and if he can jump as well around Cheltenham as he did at Gowran we’ll be delighted. He’s made a bright start over fences. This looks quite a hot race but I’m very happy with him.”
Strong Nicholls team
One of those hot ones is Marracudja, trained by Nicholls, who said: “He’s nice and the one he beat at Newton Abbot last month has won since. The ground’s ideal, he’s fresh and has a good chance.”
Cliffs Of Dover is tasked with making it three wins in eight days for Nicholls in the Racing UK Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (5.40).
Nicholls said: “He’s had some stick but seems quite well and has no weight with 10st. This is a different class of race but he seems progressive.”
Elliott, introduced by Betfred at 25-1 for the British jump trainers’ title, also has a strong hand in the 2m½f Ryman Stationery Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase (5.05) with Cecil Corbett.
“He won nicely at Punchestown, where Davy Russell gave him a very good ride,” said Elliott. “I think he’s in great form again and it’s a big bonus having Jamie Codd on board. The trip is a slight concern but hopefully he’ll stay.”
A total of 150mm of water has been applied to the Old course in the last nine weeks to keep the going good after what clerk of the course Simon Claisse described as “the driest autumn since 2003”.