In the past five years, three trainers in particular have hit the target again and again during Cheltenham’s Open meeting.
Nicholls, Hobbs and Pipe are the guys to follow at Prestbury Park’s second most prestigious event of the season.
Last year it was Philip Hobbs that had three unforgettable days, starting with a treble on day one. A single on the Saturday was followed by a double on day three of the meeting including success in the Greatwood Hurdle thanks to Garde La Victoire.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls lifted the Paddy Power Gold Cup for the second time in three years and also sent out Sam Winner for an impressive win in the stayers’ handicap chase. David Pipe was no slouch, with three winners over the three days including a stunning novices’ chase success for Kings Palace.
It’s no surprise to see seriously talented horses unleashed at Cheltenham’s Open meeting. In recent years Dynaste and Grands Crus have dazzled here for Pipe. Dodging Bullets and Al Ferof have struck over these three days for Nicholls. And Wishfull Thinking, Fingal Bay and Menorah impressed for Hobbs.
Those thinking that there’s no value in following the elite trainers should look to last year’s winners. Bold Henry 14/1, Champagne West 7/2 and Garde La Victoire 10/1 were part of the Hobbs’ haul. Whilst on the Saturday Nicholls hit the target with Sam Winner at 15/2 followed by Caid Du Berlais in the ‘big one’ at 10/1. The trick as ever is the ability to find the back of the net, rather than hitting post or crossbar.
David Pipe opens proceedings today with a French fancy La Vaticane. Twice a winner over fences in France, she made her UK debut at Kempton in March over hurdles. It was a pleasing performance from a horse that had been kept busy during the winter. She’s a nice scopey grey who is bred for fences, and although the opener looks competitive with unexposed sorts such as Minella Present in opposition, Pipe will be more than hopeful of a winning start.
Nicholls may well hit back in the very next race. As De Mee will be taking on Jonjo’s returning star More Of That in an exciting looking Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase. The World Hurdle winner of 2014 has been off the track for almost a year and is sure to need the run. It’s a little surprising that he’s been thrown into such a tasty looking race at this stage, and though he’s made for fences it would be some performance to land this after such a lay-off.
Nicholls’ youngster had a good blow-out at Chepstow last month and has the pedigree to make into a really nice chaser.
The Pipe team will then be hopeful that one of their prize assets lives up to the hype. Champers On Ice cost a fair packet and looks to open his account in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. John Ferguson’s Penglai Pavilion may well go off favourite, and has looked impressive to date. But he has to give half a stone to Pipe’s fella and 3lbs to the Mulholland trained Shantou Village. It’s a trappy affair, fitting for a race that often provides a classy winner.
On Saturday David Pipe is set to run Un temps Pout Tout (pictured) over fences for the first time. There’s every chance that this son of Robin Des Champs will become an outstanding chaser. At his very best with give in the ground, he still performed admirably at the highest level last spring on a livelier surface. I fancy that three miles over fences around Cheltenham will prove ideal.
Paul Nicholls will then be looking to make it three wins from the last four Paddy Power Gold Cups. Sound Investment and Art Mauresque are his contenders for the showpiece event. With a similar profile to last year’s winner, the latter is another French import that looks made for this. He was impressive at the track last month, and although lacking experience in handicap company, he could have enough class to get by.
Philip Hobbs may have to wait till Sunday before hitting top gear. Drumlee Sunset looks a lovely sort in the Supreme Novices’ trial, though the trip looks a little short of ideal, and he has Maputo and Altior in opposition. He does get 7lbs from those two, and looks sure to go close.
It’s the next race where Hobbs will anticipate a victory. The Arkle Trophy trial looks extremely competitive, but Garde La Victoire has to have an outstanding chance. Captain Chris won the Arkle for connections back in 2011, and this French gelding has the potential to take high rank through the winter. Calipto, Fox Norton and The Grey Taylor are all classy sorts, and will ensure Hobbs’ fella has a thorough workout.
Finally I’d be surprised if both Nicholls and Pipe are not involved in the shake-up when runners turn for home in the Greatwood Hurdle. Both have won the event with four-year-olds in recent years, and in Bouvreuil and Bidourey they have outstanding chances again. Both were exciting juveniles who will probably go on to make better chasers. But they appear to be on fair handicap marks for their seasonal debuts and look sure to go close.
Cheltenham certainly know how to put on a show. Racegoers are set for three memorable days of top-class equine action, with three formidable trainers providing the leading performers.