Cheltenham Clues Aplenty

February 11th, 2018 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Everything went to plan on Saturday, with the successful returns of Altior and Native River at Newbury and Saint Calvados impressing in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Starting with Saint Calvados, Harry Whittington’s bold-jumping five-year-old made his three useful opponents look distinctly ordinary, beating the talented Diego Du Charmil by 22 lengths with North Hill Harvey a further 17 lengths away in third.

Saint Calvados, who had won three of his four starts over hurdles in France, received a quote of 8/1 for the Arkle after this and that looks fair value. There is, of course, the question whether he will handle the undulations of Cheltenham and he may not be able to dominate there in the way he did here.

The Arkle Trophy is looking one of the best races of the Festival, with the market headed by Footpad from Petit Mouchoir and Sceau Royal. Those three were better than Saint Calvados over hurdles – not far shy of top class, in fact – but this exciting young talent jumps every bit as well as Footpad and the hope is they both turn up in tip-top shape on the day.

Native River looked as good as ever on his return to action in the Denman Chase. As Richard Johnson says the horse really attacks his fences – ideally suited to his jockey’s style of riding – but the concern is that he ideally wants plenty of juice in the ground and he is not certain to get that at Cheltenham.

Cloudy Dream is much maligned by some, mainly on account of his number of placed efforts, but I know from talking to his rider Brian Hughes that we will see a different horse when he is back racing on good ground in the spring. I doubt, also, whether we he will tackle three miles again.

Saphir Du Rheu had finished about three lengths behind Native River in the Gold Cup but was beaten 36 lengths here. This run was badly needed and I expect him to outrun his price of 66/1 on Gold Cup day.

For me the Gold Cup is far more open than the betting suggests, with Might Bite vulnerable up the hill and Sizing John with questions to answer.

Altior looked pure class in the race formerly known as the Game Spirit Chase.

Rated just 4lb superior to the match-fit Politologue on official figures, he duly won by four lengths but with what seemed to be any amount in hand. Sporting earplugs, he was not tested enough to know the wind operation has worked, but there will be many big players who take the view that current odds of 4/5 on the day could represent good value.

Min, who is only now starting to show his true colours, could pose the biggest threat while we still await sight of Douvan.

I was impressed with the attitude shown by Kalashnikov in the Betfair Hurdle. The seventh novice to win the race in the last nine runnings, and with trainer Amy Murphy keen to stress the horse will be even smarter on better ground, I see him as a serious challenger for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Of the others Lough Derg Spirit kept on very bravely to finish sixth after perhaps having too much use made of him. He would not have liked the ground and his slick jumping will serve him well in a decent race somewhere this spring. An entry in the County Hurdle may not go amiss.


Bye for now