WE HAVE FIVE Grade 2 races to get stuck into this afternoon, three of which come at Cheltenham where the StanJames.com International Hurdle (15:05) is the feature of the day. Formerly known as the Bula Hurdle, it has a attracted a ten-runner field to face the starter on going described as good, good to firm in places.
Menorah reverts to hurdling here after he unseated his rider on his chasing debut at Exeter in November. He won this race in impressive fashion here last year and must have a chance. Donald McCain’s Overturn appears for the third time in four weeks but is reported to be in great form despite his busy schedule. On hurdling form, there is not much to choose between the pair.
Brampour has risen 20lbs in the ratings following two recent wins. Coming from the Paul Nicholls yard, he has to be respected.
Grandouet was a very easy winner last time out at Haydock. The time before that at Wincanton, he had been travelling easily when falling two out to present the race to Celestial Halo, and back in May he was an easy winner of the four-year-old Champion Hurdle at Punchestown. His trainer has always thought that he needed an easy two-mile circuit but he has strengthened up over the summer. Last season he finished a respectable third to Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham but faded from the last; the stiff uphill finish would be a concern for me.
Pittoni is the sole Irish representative, but I think that the ground will be too quick for him. Clerks Choice would have to find a bit extra to trouble the main contenders while Sanctuaire, the other Nicholls runner, looks well held on the form.
Only two points cover the top four in the betting in what is a wide open race. It might be best to sit it out, but if pushed, go with GRANDOUET. In truth you could go with anyone of the top four.
The Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle goes off at 13:55.
Paul Nicholls is represented by Deireadh Re. Following three runs in points back in the spring, where he was runner up twice, this horse won his maiden hurdle first time out this season. He then went on to pick up another second-place finish, this time in a novice hurdle at Ascot. He looks a dour stayer who might need a cut in the ground to give him an advantage.
Rev It Up has won both of his runs over hurdles and is highest-rated of those who the handicapper has been able to assess, while Sea Of Thunder is the Irish interest. He was well beaten last time at Wetherby over 2m1f and steps up to this trip for the first time under rules. However, he did win twice and was runner-up over three miles in the point-to-point field. He has been campaigned over shorter distances since and his wily trainer Charles Byrnes may have found an opportunity here.
Brass Tax should improve for his 12-length defeat by Simonsig last month and could be in the shake up while Halley, who won the four-year-old Champion Chase in France, probably needs a longer trip and softer ground though his trainer has targeted this race for him. I’ll take a chance with SEA OF THUNDER.
Oscar Whiskey must win the Rellkeel Hurdle (15:35) if he runs up to his form. He may be given most to do by Any Given Day from the Donald McCain yard. Paul Nicholls is represented by The Knoxs who has shown huge improvement from last season but would have to improve by the same amount again to win this.
For me, it’s OSCAR WHISKEY to get his season back on track.
Up at Doncaster, Victor Chandler sponsor the three-year-old Summit Juvenile Hurdle (14:45). These can be tricky events but I like the look of RANJAAN from the Nicholls team. Although beaten by 12 lengths on his British debut at Newbury, there is a lot to like about this big French-bred horse. He has some good form in France and I think he’ll be good enough here.
Lingfield stages the December Novice Chase (14:05) and I’m going for Colin Tizzards GOLDEN CHIEFTAIN. This cracking-looking horse is highly regarded by his handler and should have no trouble with the ground or the trip.
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