Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Open Meeting

The Open

By Stephen Dwyer

It is the Home of Jump Racing. As Cheltenham Racecourse opens its doors for The Open meeting, it heralds the start in earnest of another season of top class National Hunt racing. The Open is one of eight major meetings at Cheltenham which culminates in March with The Festival . The Open has steadily become one of the most promoted meetings in recent years and for many it has become the spiritual start of the winter campaign.

Spread out over three days, Friday November 16th to Sunday November 18th, The Open meeting begins with a slew of Amateur and Conditional jockeys races. Coupled with the marathon 3m 7f Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, the first day of the meeting also features a Class 2 Novices’ Chase over 2m 4f. This race in particular is traditionally one of the most anticipated Chases in the early season as it provides useful pointers for the Arkle and the RSA. Won in recent years by Denman and Imperial Commander, the race was taken in great style last year by Grand Crus and this year’s renewal should be just as competitive.

Although it begins with a JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, Day two of The Open is centred around the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase. This Grade 3 handicap chase, run over 2m 4f, is one of the best handicap races of the national hunt season.  Often times it is the starting point for one or two of the potential Gold Cup horses at the Festival later in the calendar. It is worthy to note that more than almost any other National Hunt track, course form at Cheltenham is crucial. Great Endeavour, winner of last year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup typifies this. He was a previous winner of a Grade 3 Handicap Chase at the Festival and finished sixth in the 2010 renewal of the Paddy Power Gold Cup. The undulating surface of Cheltenham does not suit every horse and those with proven form around Prestbury Park cannot easily be discounted.

Grand Crus, current 6/1 favourite for Paddy Power Gold Cup, has proven course form and although beaten for the first time over fences at short odds in the RSA last March, he looks a fascinating contender. A three-time winner around Cheltenham, including a ten length victory in the Cleeve Hurdle, Grand Crus also finished  a commendable second to Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle. Winner of three of his four starts over fences, David Pipe’s imposing 7yo deserves his place at the head of the market.

Another interesting runner in the £150,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup is trained by Somerset handler Keiran Burke. Last season’s fairy-tale horse, Hunt Ball aims to continue his winning ways at a track he handles well. Hunt Ball began last season running off a mark of 69 and finished, seven wins later, with a lofty mark of 157. Under top weight, he won the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival and worthy of significant note, this is a race that is run over the same course and distance as the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Hunt Ball was head and shoulders the most improved horse in training last season and his trainer reported recently “I am very happy with Hunt Ball. He has come back from the summer bigger and stronger and he looks better than ever.” Making light of his a shortening price of 8/1, Keiran Burke also revealed; “I think he can win the Paddy Power Gold Cup off his mark, but he is not the easiest horse to get fit as he is big horse. He will take a fair bit of work and we will give him a few racecourse gallops beforehand and try and get him as fit as we can.”

From a trend perspective the favourite has won The Paddy Power Gold Cup three times in the last nine years with the winning weight spread from 10-2 - 11-7. Given that there are fifteen fences to be jumped over the Old Course, it is a good test of stamina. Cyfor Malta won in 2002 carrying 11-7 but since 2007, all five winners have carried under 11 stone.

Out of eighteen races at last season’s Open meeting there were six winning favourites. Betting interest is expected to increase this year as the stars of the national hunt scene begin their campaigns in style.

At Cheltenham, at The Open, all will be revealed.



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