Venetia Williams said over the weekend that top-weight Aso was an unlikely runner in the BetVictor Gold Cup on Saturday and the weights will rise for the feature race at Cheltenham’s three-day November meeting.
We will know more about the shape of the race when the five-day entries are published later today with Slate House 6/1 market leader at BetVictor. Note there is little rain forecast for the week ahead and the ground should be no worse than good to soft come post time.
Today’s Stratford card was abandoned over the weekend but they go at Kempton where the ground was described as good – good to soft in places – at noon on Sunday. Nicky Henderson has saddled the winner of the opener for the last two years and he saddles Chasmax who finished third at Wetherby on his debut back in June.
Preference, however, is for the unbeaten Tea Clipper (12.20) who won his sole point and justified favouritism when scoring at Warwick on his first start for Tom Lacey. Richard Johnson keeps the mount on the four-year-old who has the scope to jump a fence in time and is an exciting prospect.
Sammy Bill is a fascinating runner on his chase/handicap debut for Oliver Sherwood and he has the build and scope to make a much better chaser than hurdler. A market move for Trevor Hemmings’ six-year-old would be worth noting.
He has yet to jump a fence in public, however, and I feel the drop back to two-and-a-half miles will suit Net De Treve (12.55) who represents the inform yard of Tom George. The selection jumped very well before his stamina gave way over 3m last month and the handicapper has dropped him 2lbs. He gets the each way vote.
My two against the field in the 2m 2f Handicap Chase are Paul Nicholls’ Sao – who was in the process of running a big race on chase debut here back in the spring before blundering give out – and Vinnie The Hoodie (2.05) who ran well at Wincanton on his chase debut last month. The former Joseph O’Brien 5-year-old looks sure to appreciate today’s extra quarter mile and is another each way recommendation.
The Kings Baby (3.15) ran a terrific race over hurdles on her reappearance at Southwell on ground, arguably, too soft and she ought to appreciate the return to better ground as she reverts to fences for Harry Whittington. The mare won her last two chase starts in the spring on good ground and she looks open to further improvement.
At Carlisle I have been looking forward to the next chase start of Windsor Avenue since he sauntered clear of his field at Sedgefield on his chase debut last month. He will find it hard, however, to give 5lbs to Ballymoy (1.20) who found the minimum trip too sharp on his chase debut at Warwick when runner up to Nube Negra who is a serious Arkle contender for the Skeltons. This step up to two-and-a-half-miles will suit Ballymoy although I feel something of a traitor for deserting the Brian Ellison runner.
The £50,000 Graduation Chase looks a moderate renewal for the prize on offer. The form of the Sue Smith yard puts me off Midnight Shadow although he did run a decent race when third to a couple of good novices on his chase debut over C&D last month. He is suited by the conditions of the contest and the yard are going to turn the corner sooner rather than later but I am going to chance the Irish raider Djingle (2.30).
The selection has won his last couple of starts including at Grade 3 level last time for John Queally with Adrian Heskin keeping the ride for the McNeill family. Likely favourite Hell’s Kitchen represents the yard of Harry Fry whose Just A Sting would surely have won the big race at Wincanton on Saturday had the rains stayed away.