We’re back to Cheltenham this weekend for their two-day International meeting.
Thankfully the cold snap has passed and any lying snow in the Cotswolds has now melted away. The ground at Prestbury Park is described as soft, good to soft in places, with the likelihood of soft all round by the off.
The action begins on Friday, though it’s the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and the International Hurdle, both on Saturday, that are sure to provide the headlines. Nigel Twiston-Davies may prove a central figure as he’s responsible for three-time winner of the International, The New One, along with last month’s BetVictor Gold Cup winner Splash Of Ginge in the feature chase.
The former has been a stable star for many years, and has become one of the most popular hurdlers in training. Should he win Saturday’s Grade Two, it’ll be a record-breaking fourth victory in five years. He’s currently tied with Birds Nest and Relkeel with a trio of victories apiece.
The trainer appears as bullish as ever, saying: “He's in really good nick, it's his race and has been for three of the last four years. We gave My Tent weight last year and we've got to do it again this season, but he hasn't run this season so maybe he won't be quite as sharp. Richard Johnson rides and I thought it was a brilliant effort in the Greatwood. He was beaten only five lengths giving tons of weight away. He seems as good as ever.”
Team Skelton continue to bang-in the winners, with a stunning strike-rate of 24%. Ch’Tibello returns to action, and gets a handy 6lbs from The New One. He was just two-lengths behind him in last year’s Christmas Hurdle off level weights, and the six-year-old is open to further improvement. Skelton said of his leading hurdler: “Soft ground has been very much in his favour, which is amazing because we always thought he wanted better ground. He won at Haydock last season in really heavy ground and ran well in the Kingwell. We haven't been to Cheltenham before with him but that doesn't hold too many fears. We get 6lb off The New One and it seemed a sensible race to aim for.”
Mullins may send young hurdler Melon over for the race, though punters should hold onto their cash until the ferry lands at Holyhead. Runner-up in last year’s Supreme, he looked good when winning the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, though beat nothing of note. He’ll be giving plenty of weight to My Tent Or Yours and Ch’Tibello, but the opportunity of gaining further Cheltenham experience may sway the Irish trainer.
Twiston-Davies has arguably the better chance of lifting the International over the Caspian Caviar, though the ‘Ginge Army’ may disagree. Splash Of G is up 5lb for his victory last month, and conditions will again be favourable, though you fancy he’s had his day. Le Prezien is better at the weights and could again go close, having finished second and third in his last two visits to the track. Paul Nicholls has won four of the last eight renewals, and has a trio of contenders, including this fella.
Last weekend the Ditcheat handler said of his intended runners: “Romain De Senam wants really decent ground and it turned against him in the BetVictor. Clan Des Obeaux will go on any ground, but cut obviously suits him and he loves really soft conditions. I just want to be sure he's all right as it's not that far along from Haydock. Le Prezien is also likely to be confirmed.”
Clearly conditions have gone against Romain DS, whilst the other pair head the betting. Clan Des Obeaux is lumbered with top-weight, though he certainly has the frame for the job, and his close second to Whisper at Kempton in November reads well after the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy) at Newbury.
Nicholls and Twiston-Davies took the main prizes last weekend, and a repeat performance is certainly on the cards.