For many, the first National Hunt card at Chepstow in October signals the arrival of a new jump racing season. Over the years many top-class horses have started their campaign at the track.
In 2011 Cue Card defeated Silviniaco Conti in the 2m3f novices’ chase. The same race was won by Fingal Bay a year later. Back in 2007 a virtually unknown Katchit won the juvenile hurdle, whilst Massini’s Maguire, a future Cheltenham Festival winner, was successful in the novices’ hurdle.
The meeting has pedigree, and many of the leading trainers treat it as a suitable starting point. Paul Nicholls and Philip Hobbs both have terrific records at the track, and they were strongly represented on Saturday.
Indeed in the opening juvenile hurdle, Hobbs’ Golden Doyen was just denied by Karezak from Alan King’s yard. Both were impressive, pulling well clear of previous winner Russian Bolero. King’s horse had run twice on the flat in September, and as such, probably stripped slightly the fitter. The race was run at a decent clip and I’d expect the pair to have a profitable winter.
Paul Nicholls had the suitably named Emerging Talent in the following novices’ hurdle. A bumper winner in Ireland, he is a lovely big son of Golan. Unfortunately he ran with the ‘choke out’ for much of the race. It looked to have cost him in the end, as he was unable to peg back the Dan Skelton trained Shelford. The winner also looks smart, and though still incredibly early in the season, it would be no surprise to see both have a successful campaign. Nicholls’ horse in particular, should make a smashing chaser in time.
It was certainly becoming a day when the first pair in each race impressed. Again in the third, two horses stormed clear of the chasing pack. This time the Rebecca Curtis trained Relentless Dreamer had a little too much for Jonjo’s Bandit Country. Both are built for fences, and one suspects that whatever they achieve over hurdles will be a bonus. O’Neill’s runner-up looked a ‘big baby’, and could improve a ton as the season progresses.
The Champion trainer got his expected winner in the novice chase, when Southfield Theatre beat a rather ordinary looking field. He was a little keen, but nevertheless jumped well in the main, and had far too much class for his opponents. After the win, Nicholls stated that his horse would head for the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton, a race he won last year with Wonderful Charm.
It was great to see Victors Serenade winning the John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase. The horse has had a succession of injuries over the years, and it was a wonderful training achievement from Anthony Honeyball. If he can keep his horse fit, and that’s a huge if, he could be the sort to run a big race in the Welsh National at Christmas.
In the finale, it was Philip Hobbs’ turn to saddle the winner. Duke Des Champs won a competitive looking National Hunt Flat Race in the style of a smart horse. He has a classy pedigree being a son of Robin Des Champs out of an Accordion mare.
And so the wait is finally over. Several promising types have been unleashed and the season has well and truly begun. Over the coming weeks, stable stars will enter the fray. All looks set for a thrilling winter ahead.