Race Time: 3.35pm Meeting: Cheltenham Day: Saturday 14th November
Distance: 2m 5f 26yds Full Race Name: Martin & Co Jewellers Intermediate Handicap Hurdle Class Three
The TV finale this afternoon is a tricky one as is usually the case, but we believe we can remove some deadwood and end up with the winner after plenty of work and racing logic. There are certainly any number of very classy contenders from all the top yards, headed perhaps by Herbert Park (5/1) who represents David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore. Wins last season at Chepstow, Exeter, and Kempton were added to a couple of second places at Chepstow and Taunton, but at the age of five we are wondering if there is still more to come from the son of Shantou? With no evidence either way, we are inclined to guess that he does have a bit more to offer and could thus be ahead of his handicap mark of 132 which is just a solitary pound higher than his last victory, though we are quite aware that his fitness could yet be an issue after staying at home since the end of March.
Those with long memories will remember Punchestowns who was way above average for Nicky Henderson and took this in 2008, and one glance at the early field suggests the Lambourn trainer is looking to win it again in 2015. Five entries leave us second guessing running plans, but we rather hope he relies on Champagne Express (6/1) who we hope can go from strength to strength this season and beyond. Lightly raced for a five year old, he has only had the two races under rules so far, winning at Chepstow and finishing a good third to Rock The Kasbah at Newbury when staying on strongly after a couple of minor jumping errors. Ten pounds better off with the winner here for six lengths, he has every chance of reversing the placings today at these weights and may have more scope in the long run, though in the long term, we suspect chasing will be his game and when we will all see the very best of him.
If there was an award for most underrated trainer then we suspect it would go to Don Cantillon, one of the shrewdest out there and more than capable of racking up the winners when he gets the right horse. He has entered Western Way (10/1) here as he looks to make it win number four since mid August, though be warned, he does look as if he is a lot better on good ground so connections will not want any more rain. Put up another eight pounds for his last win at Musselburgh, and a total of a stone and a half since his run began, he won’t find life quite so easy today and is up against what look to be much better horses, but if his trainer thinks he is worth a chance at the big time, then we are inclined to believe him.
Hedley Lamarr (15/2) is an interesting entry for the Jonjo O’Neill yard and has a one from two record over hurdles after victory at Warwick in early March, but is expected to be even better stepped up in trip starting here, and is a real dark horse. Bought by connections for 32,000 Guineas at the sales, the son of Gold Well is supposed to be working well ahead of his return to action, and although this could be asking a lot of one with so little experience, a big run is expected.
To end the day (for now at least) we give you Tjongejonge (9/1) who comes here in good form for trainer Charlie Longsdon even if that form was in France and hard to assess. Two wins and a second over two miles three at Pau saw him change hands for 65,000 Euros, and he may well be pretty decent (at least we know he has the winning habit), though life is never quite that simple and a run or two may be needed to get an idea just how decent he really is – or isn’t?