We return to the Home of Jump racing on Friday for Cheltenham’s three-day November Meeting.
Always thrilling and often informative, this tends to be a gathering where certain trainers perform consistently well. You’d expect powerhouses such as Nicholls and Henderson to rack-up the winners, but in recent times two handlers have outshone the rest.
Whilst Nicholls has had a none-too-shabby seven wins from the last four November meets, and Nicky Henderson has amassed six in that period, it’s David Pipe and Philip Hobbs that set the standard. Despite drawing a blank in 2015, Pipe has struck nine times, with Hobbs managing a dazzling dozen. The Master of Minehead had a sensational 2014 meeting, winning six races over the three days, including the Greatwood and the Triumph Hurdle Trial.
Hobbs has a terrific record in the prestigious Greatwood Hurdle, taking the Grade Three with several high-class sorts. In 2014 it was Garde La Victoire that upset Henderson’s well-fancied Vaniteux. In 2010 Menorah captured this, having won the Supreme Novices’ eight months earlier. In 2006 it was the wonderful Detroit City that romped to success. He’d won the Triumph Hurdle earlier in the year. However, arguably Hobbs’ greatest hurdler took the event in 2002. The relentless galloping grey, Rooster Booster, owned by Terry Warner, took this on-route to a Champion Hurdle victory in 2003.
Hobbs looked to have the horse with the perfect profile for this weekend’s renewal, in Defi Du Seuil. However, a change of heart means that the Triumph Hurdle winner will now head to Ascot, rather than take on The New One on Sunday.
Hobbs also has a strong record in the Triumph Hurdle Trial, which takes place on Saturday. He’s landed two of the last three, and was successful in last year’s race thanks to the aforementioned, Defi Du Seuil. The Minehead handler will be hoping for further success this weekend, as he’s set to saddle another Terry Warner-owned grey, Gumball. It’s looking a tasty renewal, with Henderson and Nicholls both represented. However, Hobbs’ fella has impressed in his two victories this term.
Other Hobbs contenders to look out for over the three days include Three Faces West in the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase. The talented staying chaser is back from injury, having looked mightily progressive when winning his last race at Newbury in December 2016. The team also have Crooks Peak in the concluding National Hunt Flat race. He was a convincing winner at Newton Abbot on debut. This is tougher, but he looks a decent sort.
It’s been a slow start to this latest campaign for the Pipe team, but there are signs of an upturn in recent weeks, and the guys from Pond House will be hoping for another strong Cheltenham showing. Moon Racer was a high-profile winner at last year’s meeting, and in recent times Pipe has struck gold with Kings Palace, Dell’ Arca, The Liquidator and Red Sherlock.
Dell’ Arca has an entry in the opening chase on Friday, though he’s not jumped a fence since 2015. He’s looked good over hurdles in his last two starts, winning at Newbury just last week. He’s far more likely to stick to hurdles and run in the listed staying event on Saturday. He’s lumbered with top-weight, but remains on a competitive mark.
David’s father Martin remains the most successful trainer in the history of the BetVictor Gold Cup, and the stable have a realistic contender for Saturday’s renewal in Starchitect. A solid fifth place finish in the Brown Advisory at the Cheltenham Festival suggests this race will prove ideal. He’s on a fair mark and should go well.
Pipe has also taken over the training of Vanituex, after his move from Seven Barrows. He’s entered in the Shloer Chase and will face the likes of Fox Norton and Special Tiara. I’ve always been a fan of this fella, though he needs good ground if he’s to have any hope of being competitive.
Both the Hobbs and Pipe teams lack the depth of talent as they head into the Cheltenham weekend. Nevertheless, the pair have enjoyed plenty of success at this November Meeting in recent times, and I’d be surprised if they don’t land a few mighty blows once again.