A small gathering in America will occupy a large portion of Geegeez time and space in the coming week, but it would be remiss of me not to focus for now on more immediate matters.
Two major points of interest over the coming couple of days have me excited, the first being the seasonal opener at Jump racings supreme venue. Cheltenham is back, and how we’ve missed it. It’s a truly wonderful setting, with Cleeve Hill as a natural backdrop creating the perfect amphitheatre. For me, it’s always a place of majesty, and this season fans will be treated to a stunning new grandstand to further enhance the race day experience.
It’s the final part of a £45million redevelopment, with Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal on hand to do the official opening at the November meeting. A number of areas have undergone changes that successfully give the racegoer a greater feel of space and grandeur.
Much has been done to improve the viewing throughout the course, in particular the parade ring and winners’ enclosure, and further bars and restaurants including the Big Buck’s Champagne Bar are sure to prove pleasing additions.
Not only are Cheltenham going all out to cater for the race fans, but they have a habit of attracting elite racehorses, trainers and owners. This opening meeting held over two days, known as The Showcase, is sure to uncover a number of quality horses that need to be kept onside during the winter that lies ahead. Last year John’s Spirit and Moon Racer won on the Saturday, whilst Vibrato Valtat and The Young Master both ran on the Friday.
Trainer John Ferguson is currently running at an incredible 41% strike-rate, and he’ll be hoping to maintain that kind of form, despite the presence of stronger more potent opposition. There’s no doubt that he is developing a powerful Jumps team to go to war with over the coming months.
He has several exciting types entered at Cheltenham during the meeting, and will be hopeful of quick strike in the opener with the classy Penglai Pavilion. Still a little rusty over his obstacles last time at Stratford, he may not need to be foot perfect to win this. He’s a powerful galloper who should be well suited by the step-up in trip.
Ferguson then sends Qewy over fences for the first time. He impressed over the smaller obstacles reaching a hurdles rating of 142. He’ll be up against more experienced opposition including Henry De Bromhead’s Sizing Codelco, a horse that certainly has the pedigree to make a decent chaser.
On Saturday Devilment should go close in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle. A gelding by Cape Cross, he was ultra-consistent at a high level last winter, including when fourth in the Triumph before a runner’s-up spot at Aintree in the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle. This looks a very competitive renewal with Hargam and Karezak likely to prove his toughest opponents.
Monsun is a prominent sire during Ferguson’s Cheltenham challenge, and his current stable star is another of the offspring who has taken well to the change of codes. Parlour Games was exceptional over hurdles throughout last season. Winner of a Grade 2 at Prestbury Park in November, he then took the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury. Runner-up at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals, he now embarks on a novice chase campaign. If he adapts well to fences, he’s sure to take high order over the winter.
As the transition to Jumps moves on at a pace, Doncaster’s Racing Post Trophy is tasked with turning off the lights and drawing the curtains on the Flat season. It’s a race with a relatively short yet rich history, having been won by many colts that went on to achieve great things in the sport. Reference Point, High Chaparral, Motivator, Authorized and Camelot, were all top-class and went on to become Epsom Derby winners.
John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien once again clash with the former saddling the race favourite in Foundation. He renews rivalry with Ballydoyle’s Deauville, who he defeated in the Juddmonte Royal lodge Stakes a month ago. They were closely matched that day and look sure to be involved in a mighty tussle again. With rain forecast to arrive on the day, Hugo Palmer’s Mengli Khan becomes an interesting contender having looked very impressive in testing conditions at Nottingham last time, albeit in a low grade maiden.
Once again there’s plenty to get excited about as the weekend approaches, while looming on the horizon, all the razzmatazz of another thrilling Breeders’ Cup in America.