Bill Esdaile previews the best of the action from Cheltenham’s December meeting
We've been treated to some great stories already this jumps season and the bandwagon rolls on to Cheltenham next for their two-day December meeting.
Now, I wouldn’t normally lead one of these articles with the Cross Country Chase (Friday 2.20pm), but when there’s a bet there’s a bet.
ANY CURRENCY thrives on this course. Although he’s only won one race on it – incidentally this very race 12 months ago – he has been second in the last two runnings at the Cheltenham Festival.
He was also a gallant runner-up to Josies Orders last month and, while he must take on that rival again, the weights massively favour him today.
Josies Orders received a whopping 23lb last time yet he has to race off the same weight as Any Currency this time as this isn’t a handicap.
That is a huge turnaround for what was just a 1 ¼ length beating.
I accept that my selection turns into a teenager in just a few weeks, compared with last month’s conqueror, who is only seven and is trained by the legendary banks trainer Enda Bolger.
However, he absolutely loves it here and the framing of the race means he should really take all the beating.
Willie Mullins’ On His Own is the highest rated in the field and is an obvious threat, but he seemed uncomfortable when trying this unique discipline at Punchestown on his reappearance.
Although Rivage D’Or won at the Festival, he was well beaten here last month, while Sire Collonges and Uncle Junior are standing dishes in races around here.
The action gets underway with a decent novice chase (12.00pm) where I hope BLAKLION can bounce back from his unlucky fall at the last meeting.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner was just creeping back into it when falling three out and as long as that hasn’t left its mark he should go well against the likes of Vicente and Minella Rocco.
A huge gamble was landed by Ben Pauling at the Open meeting with A HARE BREATH who I fully expect to make it back-to-back successes in the handicap hurdle (1.10pm).
He had been off the track for a long time prior to that win, but his form was really solid running behind Josses Hill and Irving.
Available to back at 25/1 when the market opened, he was eventually sent off 6/1 and produced a really strong performance.
There is always a risk that he could bounce after such a long absence.
However, Barry Geraghty has been booked for the ride and A Hare Breath should be able to take this before moving onto bigger and better things.
Betway ambassador Richard Johnson was crowned leading rider for the second year running at the Open meeting.
He had a great few days, although one that got away was DRUMLEE SUNSET who seemed to get spooked when the tapes went up and unshipped his rider.
Philip Hobbs’ inmate tries to break his maiden over hurdles and he should have a good chance of doing so.
This is one that the champion jockey-elect has flagged up a number of times during the season and he’ll be hoping today is the day.
Blaklion, 12.00pm, Cheltenham
A Hare Breath, 1.10pm, Cheltenham
Any Currency, 2.20pm, Cheltenham
Drumlee Sunset, 3.30pm, Cheltenham