Cheltenham International Meeting Preview
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Cheltenham International Meeting Preview

Christmas comes early to Cheltenham every year, with the greatest gift of them all: two days of quality racing action at the Home of Jumps Racing for The International on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th December.The Grade 3 Betfair Handicap Chase is the feature on Friday, while Saturday's card is headlined by the Racing Post Gold Cup and the Grade 2 International Hurdle. Here's our look ahead to some of the key races at the famous Cotswolds venue this coming weekend.



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Friday


12.05 - British EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle (2m1f)

It wasn't a strong field that HARTUR D'OUDAIRIES conquered at Warwick last month on his hurdling bow, but he did it with plenty to spare and the JP McManus-owned French bumper winner is now 2-2 under rules after that winning start for Dan and Harry Skelton.

He faces a tougher challenge, with hurdles winners Datsalrightgino, Jpr One and Washington in this field, and it's the last-named for in-form trainer Olly Murphy that could present the biggest threat now.

Selection: Hartur D'oudairies

Next Best: Washington


12.40 - Tiggys Trust Novices' Limited Handicap Chase (3m1f)

Coeur Serein would surely have won at Lingfield on chasing debut bar a late departure and if Jonjo O'Neill's charge avoids mishap now, he could be hard to topple. CORACH RAMBLER however did collect at Aintree in October over this sort of trip and the proven stayer made good strides in the jumping department after looking a bit sketchy at times previously at Perth. There's surely more in his locker.

Selection: Corach Rambler

Next Best: Coeur Serein


1.15 - Catesby Handicap Hurdle (2m1f)

After scoring at Sedgefield in October, PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL ran well here at the November Meeting when fourth behind Gowel Road over a 2m5f trip that, perhaps, stretched his stamina to the limit. From the same mark and back down in trip, Brian Ellison's charge can repeat that good effort.

Robinshill is back in form over hurdles lately for Nigel Twiston-Davies and a mark of 124 is far from prohibitive, while Royaume Uni won over sticks at Plumpton in October and has scope for better, though hasn't always relished a battle.

Selection: Punxsutawney Phil

Next Best: Robinshill


1.50 - CF Roberts Electrical & Mechanical Services Mares' Handicap Chase (2m4½f)

The market won't miss his chance, but it's tough to get away from the claims of FONTAINE COLLONGES for Venetia Williams. His chasing debut at Wetherby (1m7f) was full of promise and he duly obliged last month at Warwick upped to 2m4f. He's up 7lb but should be ideally suited by conditions and looks capable of better.

Lingfield chase winner Timeless Beauty is one that should go well for Fergal O'Brien - who does so well with his Cheltenham runners - while Rose Of Arcadia is an intriguing debutante over fences for Colin Tizzard.

Selection: Fontaine Collonges

Next Best: Timeless Beauty


2.25 - Betfair Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 3m2f)

Enrilo was going about his business nicely in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before he came down, he's got claims if no ill effects linger from the mishap. Fagan is never one to dismiss in haste, while fresh is often the best time to catch Commodore but a chance is taken on SANTINI.

He lost his way last season for Nicky Henderson but perhaps a change of scenery will work the oracle for a horse once touted to be a Gold Cup winner in waiting by many. He's a big boat and doesn't have many gears, but he's only a 9YO and doesn't have major miles behind him. He often goes well fresh and dropped to a mark of 159, it's dangerous to write him off with sights lowered.

Selection: Santini

Next Best: Enrilo


3.00 - Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Cross Country Handicap Chase (3m6f)

He's no longer quite the doyen of old in the Cross Country sphere, but Enda Bolger still knows his apples and MIDNIGHT MAESTRO should run a big race in the McManus hoops under Mark Walsh. He was second over the banks of Punchestown last month on his first attempt at this sort of trial and should be sharper for that.

Fellow Irish raiders Balko Des Flos and Alpha Des Obeaux are capable of getting involved but Diesel D'Allier ran a stormer in third over C&D last month and, from an unchanged mark, has every right to get in the firing line again with winner Back On The Last and runner-up Singing Banjo also back for more.

Selection: Midnight Maestro

Next Best: Diesel D'Allier


3.35 - Citipost Handicap Hurdle (3m)

SPORTING JOHN accounted for runner-up Onagatheringstorm with a degree of control over C&D last month and a 4lb pull for the runner-up might not be enough to turn the tables. If Philip Hobbs' charge can pull off back-to-back wins - this time on New Course - he might be clearing a path for himself to have a crack at the Stayers Hurdle back here in the spring.

Botox Has is an unknown at the trip for Gary Moore but may do better in new headgear, while similar comments go for The Wrekin, still very much unexposed for Henry Daly.

Selection: Sporting John

Next Best: The Wrekin


Saturday


12.05 - JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (2m1f)

Yorksea was third in a Grade 2 Trial on the other course last month and is, in theory, dropped in class now. The runner-up didn't do the form any favours at Warwick on Thursday and Gary Moore's charge has more to find as such. The French race won by Message Personnel in the summer on testing ground doesn't look that strong either, though he's respected starting out for the Skelton's now.

TWILIGHT TWIST is closely matched with Yorksea on collateral form through Saint Riquier and Alan King's charge potentially bumped into a good rival when second at Newcastle a fortnight ago in blizzard-like conditions. He's got more to offer.

Selection: Twilight Twist

Next Best: Message Personnel


12.40 - bearrene.com Novices' Chase (2m4½f)

The much-vaunted MY DROGO vs. Bob Olinger clash did not materialise as the Irish horse hasn't travelled over and that leaves the path clear for Dan Skelton's charge to score. He surely would have done last month but for a rather novicey exit at the second-last obstacle and, barring any accidents, this looks straightforward.

Torn And Frayed has run well in both starts over fences for Nigel Twiston-Davies - including here - and can chase home the jolly.

Selection: My Drogo

Next Best: Torn And Frayed


1.15 - Simon Claisse Handicap Chase (2m)

Amoola Gold lost nothing in defeat at Ascot last month behind Before Midnight, but Dan Skelton's charge typically has done much better away from Cheltenham than here. Editeur Du Gite rallied strongly to win here last month, repelling Stolen Silver late on after he pulled clear. That race has thrown up a couple of next-time-out winners and Gary Moore's charge should go well again.

NOTRE PARI however is getting the hang of things over fences and building with each run. This is a tough environment for Olly Murphy's charge stepping outside of novice company but he's got a featherweight and might just do more than hold his own.

Selection: Notre Pari

Next Best: Editeur Du Gite


1.50 - Racing Post Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m4½f)

Paul Nicholls expects Lalor to be sharper for last month's comeback third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, his first run for this yard and following a wind op. He must be respected, though he's going to be short enough in the betting.

Farinet was game at Sandown in March over this trip winning on second start for Venetia Williams. The French import should relish testing ground and has scope for better, while Rachael Blackmore is a noted jockey booking as stable jockey Charlie Deutsch sticks with Cepage - fourth over further at The Festival here in March - despite top-weight.

Another eye-catching jockey booking is Nice de Boinville on board SILVER HALLMARK for Fergal O'Brien, a trainer that gets so much from his Cheltenham runners. Paddy Brennan goes to Doncaster, presumably on account of Knight Salute, and this lightly-raced chaser ran well behind Fiddlerontheroof in fourth in his October comeback. He goes on testing ground and, from the same mark, should be in the mix on his maiden visit to Cheltenham.

Selection: Silver Hallmark

Next Best: Farinet


2.25 - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 3m)

BLAZING KHAL held off Gelino Bello over 2m5f here at the November Meeting despite being a bit clumsy over some of his obstacles. He looked the best horse in that race and can confirm superiority over Paul Nicholls' charge now tackling three miles. Charles Byrnes' 5YO can also position himself to the fore for the Festival race carrying this same name by landing successive Cheltenham wins.

It's hard to know what Barony Legends achieved in routing his rivals in a 2m3½f soft-ground Lingfield maiden in October, but he certainly found it all coming very easily and with Olly Murphy's team firing still, he's worth a second look.

Selection: Blazing Khal

Next Best: Barony Legends


3.00 - Unibet International Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m1f)

Last year's winner Song For Someone ran well behind Buzz at Aintree on his comeback and could have solid claims once more down in trip for Tom Symonds now. SCEAU ROYAL was fourth behind him a year ago and ran a fine race in the Queen Mother Champion Chase here in March.

Alan King's hugely likable performer returns having finished a close up third in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle a fortnight ago. That run came after a convincing Grade 2 Elite Hurdle win at Wincanton and he's the most reliable option here.

Ballyadam was (a distant) second in the Supreme here in March behind Appreciate It and, after tackling fences twice this autumn, returns to hurdling for Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore now. He isn't crossed off completely.

Selection: Sceau Royal

Next Best: Ballyadam


3.35 - Close Brothers Mares' Handicap Hurdle (2m4f)

Indefatigable won the Martin Pipe over C&D at the Festival in 2020 and cannot be dismissed back in a handicap, though she must leave behind a laboured effort in Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle last time. She was in flying form prior to that and this is more suitable.

French Flat-bred filly Trapista made a winning start over hurdles at Huntingdon (2m3½f, good) and is interesting for Jonjo O'Neill despite this being a tougher race on a vastly different course.

Alan King runs three, Wynn House and Hotter Than Hell coming here after finishing first and second at Wincanton last month, but it's HER INDOORS that may deliver. She came up the hill strongly to win a 2m1f good-ground novice contest in April here and she wasn't disgraced at Wetherby in October on her only hurdles run since in a Listed Mares' event over the minimum trip. This mark is within reach if the new trip is to the liking of the Raven's Pass filly.

Selection: Her Indoors

Next Best: Trapista


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