RAchael Blackmore has a long list of achievements during one of the greatest careers in show jumping, including victories in the Grand National and Gold Cup as well as the leading jockey award at the Festival in March. But she has yet to ride a winner over the cross-country course at Cheltenham – a small gap in her record that could potentially be filled by another Gold Cup winner, Minella Indo.
Minella Indo, who competed in the 2021 Steeplechase Championship, finished fourth behind Latenightpass in her first outing over the track’s unusual obstacles at Cheltenham on Friday. But few horses win the first time on this track, and those that rise to the challenge tend to improve significantly over the course of the experience.
A clear example of this is Latenightpass, who finished a strong second on his cross-country debut in November before being guided to a comfortable four-length win by Gina Andrews on Friday. But he got 20 pounds from Minella Indo, who was about six lengths behind him at the finish line after making conspicuous progress from the back of the field in the final three-quarters of a mile.
“He ran great, really well,” Blackmore said. “After the training we had done at home (at Henry de Bromhead’s farm), we were hoping that he would produce such a jumping performance. He had to carry a lot of weight, so I thought it was a really good run.
“He handled the fences really well and it was a very pleasant ride around them.” He was definitely competitive from the penultimate moment, but there’s still a long way to go. Henry and the Maloneys (the owners of Minella Indo) will decide (on whether to run at equal weights in the festival’s cross-country race in March), but I still really enjoyed riding him.”
Latenightpass, meanwhile, seems certain to return to the festival’s cross-country event, but Dan Skelton, his coach, knows life with balances will be more difficult. His main target is therefore likely to be the Grand National in April at Aintree, where he won the Foxhunters over the National Fences in 2022. “It’s absolutely obvious (to go for the National),” Skelton said. “I wouldn’t say he was superior (today) as there are players like Galvin and Minella Indo who you would face at the Festival without lifting, but I think it’s very acceptable to face without them (in March). to take them on.” the expectation that you will beat them.
“Silver Birch ran cross-country before winning the Grand National (2007). I’m not saying we should be favorites for the Grand National, but I think he more than deserves his chance.”
Earlier on the card, Ginny’s Destiny had the edge in the two-and-a-half mile novice chase, giving Harry Cobden a little more whenever an opponent tried to challenge him, eventually finishing three-quarters of a length ahead of the quickly finished Gray Dawning.
“He puts her to the sword and gallops on,” said Paul Nicholls, the winner’s trainer. “Claudia (Reid), who rides him and the (162 rated) Pic D’Orhy at home, told me he’s not far behind Pic D’Orhy based on his progress, so she might be right.”
Fergal O’Brien’s mare Dysart Enos had a good chance of extending her unbeaten record to five starts in the first novice hurdle race and didn’t have to try too hard to win by almost three lengths over Beat The Bat after the final flight. O’Brien, who finished third behind Nicholls and Skelton in the National Hunt trainers’ championship on Friday morning and was fifth in the title race last season, has yet to train a festival winner but has high hopes of Dysart Enos coming out on top.
“I wanted her to see Cheltenham and get some of the atmosphere,” O’Brien said. “If anything, she would only have one more race (before the Mares Novice Hurdle at the Festival). We’ve never had anything so fast, she’s something very special.”
The presence of Fakir D’Oudairies, the winner of four Grade One races over fences, at the head of the weights adds a distinct touch of class to the 12-strong field for the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday, and there is that I doubt that Joseph O’Brien’s gelding, despite returning from a 246-day break, has the quality to be very competitive under a top weight of 12 stone.
But the decision to run the eight-year-old also means four of his rivals will be competing with a handicap of at least £3, and it also looks significant that Mark Walsh, owner JP McManus’ No.1 rider, has made the decision as Emmet Mullins’ partner So Scottish (1.50).
Mullins, who has a stable near his uncle Willie’s farm in County Carlow, switched from riding to training in 2016 and has quickly gained a reputation with bettors and bookies for handicapping his horses at a highly competitive weight.
That’s why Scottish was second favorite for the Plate at the Festival in March, when he returned from a four-month break, and had every chance before fading last time out.
Mullins appears to have prepared him later for this race over the same route and journey, having prepared him over two miles at Gowran Park in November and not only had Walsh in the saddle but So Scottish will also be competing at 2lb lower note.
Cheltenham 1.15 On the front lines calico was caught running in here last time on his first outing in seven months and it seems likely there is enough progress to withstand a 4lb increase.
Doncaster 2.05 This looks difficult as there are several inexperienced pursuers with poor performance competing against each other, but Mr Who, Weighing in at just 2lb for his promising debut last month, he could take the biggest step forward.
Cheltenham 2.25 After making a lot of progress towards winning a listed event at the November meeting here, Broadway boy Despite it looks well weighted for his handicap debut over fences.
Doncaster 2.40 Rare edition Goes well fresh and starts handicaps with a fair mark for a horse tested as a beginner in the first class. At about 6-1, he has an interest in winning for the first time for the third straight season.
Cheltenham 3.00 The move to three miles should certainly bring further improvements Cadell, who started just one step too late at Kelso last month.
Doncaster 3.15 A striking five-out move seemed to provide insight Forward plan last time in the final phase. He can show the benefit of this comeback run from a 7 pound lower mark.
Cheltenham 3.35 Bonttay put in a strong winning time at Hereford last month and at around 7-2 is worth a chance to mark this progress in the journey.