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Showcase Trophy Handicap Chase preview

Flat racing dominates the TV coverage in Britain this weekend but National Hunt fans are salivating at the return of racing at Cheltenham. Fans such as Billy Blakeman, @five2tenracing. Billy writes and broadcasts for BetRacingNation TV and his blogs can be found at OLBG.


Showcase Trophy Handicap Chase

It was the Wednesday at Glorious Goodwood this year and I was standing by the paddock sipping a glass of Veuve Clicquot on a warm summer’s day. A roast beef dinner had gone down nicely, a couple of winners had thickened the wallet enough for me to be walking slightly lopsided and the sun was shining off the coats of the maiden fillies, seemingly parading for my personal gratification.

Now Goodwood racecourse is special to my heart but despite the idyllic circumstances into which I have managed to manoeuvre myself, I knew in the back of my mind that something was missing. Don’t get me wrong, I like a maiden filly as much as the next man but where was the bond between racegoer and horse? My mind drifted to the Cheltenham Festival a few months prior and I forgot how I was so cold walking from the car park to the course that I was genuinely fearful of losing toes and fingers. What I remembered though was that sense of anticipation, that common euphoria which, rather than being aimed at Pimms, 5-course picnics on the lawn & posh frocks, instead was entirely driven by a desire to witness the battle-hardened horses, trainers and jockeys compete for a place in history at the greatest race meeting on God’s earth.

So, despite Champions' Day taking place at Ascot, this weekend is the time the 2013/14 jumps season really kicks off with Cheltenham’s 2-day Showcase Meeting taking place. I was lucky enough to be at the course on Monday for a spot of filming and the morning mist over Cleeve Hill sent a tingle that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

Anyway,on to the racing and I am going to highlight four selections in both of the big handicap chases, starting with the 2.35:

2.35 Cheltenham - Equus-Fine Dining At The Festival Handicap Chase
(Class 2) (4yo+) 2m 4f

Cheltenham isn’t just about the horses, it is very much about the trainers and at this early stage of the season, some yards will be taking a different view to others. Is this a meeting composed of valuable races? Or a starting point for a long season ahead? For local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, all meetings at Prestbury Park are important and his record here is notably good. One of the yard’s guests is the 7-y-o chaser ASTRACAD and Saturday will see his 11th appearance here. It is true he has some good and some bad efforts to look back on in his Cheltenham album but many of his better efforts have been at this time of year; a winning appearance here in Dec 2011 preceding a decent fourth in last year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup. Good ground seems to be his preference and he gets in here on what looks a very fair mark.

When Easter Meteor ran second in this last year, I had a little ante-post bet for Cheltenham but I was reminded about the foolishness of ante-post betting when Emma Lavelle’s stable fell down a hole. No matter, the yard have come out flying this season as might have been expected and Easter Meteor could be a well-handicapped horse who is fit and ready to go.

Charlie Longsdon is another trainer laughing at his rivals currently and Vulcanite will be carrying a green & yellow silk-clad AP McCoy. Only a 6-y-o, Vulcanite came off the flat and whilst not really bred for jumping a fence, he already has two festival appearances, once in the Supreme Novices and last year in the Rewards 4 Racing handicap chase, where he finished close up. Given the way the yard’s horses are running, fitness won’t be a problem and he must have strong claims.

Johns Spirit is missing an apostrophe but perhaps more importantly, he is missing the ability to jump fluently. Blunders were a regular feature in last year’s campaign and that certainly dented his haul. Another to have contested the Rewards 4 Racing handicap, he is certainly on a very generous mark and if he should sail over his fences, he must surely win. The IF deserves to be bold, italic and underlined though and don’t risk your rent money.

3.45 Cheltenham – Showcase Trophy Handicap Chase
(Class 2) (4yo+) 3m 110y

Risk versus reward and TOUR DES CHAMPS comes with risks, having had a select collection of dreadful words attributed to him by race commentators during his novice season, including ‘blundered’, ‘mistakes’ and ‘fell’. However, ‘in command’ ‘won easily’ and ‘stayed on strongly’ convey other colourful images and this horse is potentially very well handicapped indeed. On three successive occasions, he earned a rating of 146 yet finds himself able to start the campaign on 133. Another inmate at Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Stow yard, he also has exactly the right profile to win this. I shall be investing but I have taken the time to prepare a couple of choice phrases to utter if he should clout his fences.

It wouldn’t be Cheltenham without a strong Irish flavour and Becauseicouldntsee could take prize money back across the water. Fifth in the Kim Muir last March off a mark of 140, he appears to have dropped 16 lb after just a trio of chase efforts afterwards. The first of those was in the Grand National and he had probably had enough after that. Significant that he has been able to take advantage of his novice status over hurdles this autumn and he comes here fit and well on a protected handicap mark. I like his chance a lot more than the bookies who are offering 20/1 as I write.

Bradley is yet another of interest at a price and for a 9-y-o, he remains a chaser of some potential. During 2012, he jumped round here no less than five times and in finishing a close second behind Monbeg Dude in the November mud, he ran 11 lb better than his mark today. That is due to the fact he fell out of form in the spring but I wouldn’t mind betting he is fresh, fit and well for this return.

Back to the Emerald Isle, a certain Henry De Bromhead has been knocking in winners on home soil and his record with Cheltenham raiders threatens to become legendary. His entry here is Queros Bleu, who although fairly high-mileage has enough going for him on balance. A trio of decent efforts here over hurdles including a festival fifth are a good pointer and although he fell twice over fences previously, that was way back in the 2009/10 season. The now 9-y-o jumped well when winning a chase in the summer and good ground will help him.


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