The November Meeting provided three days of spectacular action and once again threw up plenty of clues for The Festival™ in March. With that in mind, we asked Nick Seddon to pick out three horses who caught his eye each day …
Editeur Du Gite (Gary Moore)
The red and blue silks of the Preston family will forever be synonymous with the 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy, whose career was something of a fairy-tale from start to finish.
While he is now happily retired at Gary Moore’s yard in Sussex, the Preston family have reignited dreams of Festival success with Editeur Du Gite, who was a game winner of the Mucking Brilliant Paddy Power Handicap Chase on day one.
The seven year old marked himself out as one to follow when winning the Red Rum Handicap Chase at the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree in April and showed plenty of heart to fight off the attentions of the 5-2 favourite Stolen Silver here when joined after the last.
It’s remarkable to think that this is just the third horse that the Preston family have owned, but it seems inevitable that Editeur Du Gite will be pitted against better horses soon and Steve Preston is certainly daring to dream.
He said: “Sire wasn’t special until he was eight and this lad turns eight in January, so maybe he’s got some more improvement. He’s hopefully going to run in graded company and that would be already above our initial expectations.”
My Drogo (Dan Skelton)
You don’t have to be victorious to make an impression in racing and although there were only two runners in the SSS Super Alloys Novices' Chase, it certainly wasn’t without drama.
The Skelton team have made no secret of how excited they are about switching last season’s Grade One Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle winner My Drogo to chasing and everything seemed to be going to plan here as he approached the closing stages under Harry Skelton.
My Drogo had cruised into the lead and looked set to make a winning debut, before slipping badly and unseating his rider after jumping second last. Remarkably, Rachael Blackmore was able to keep her partnership intact with Gin On Lime after the mare also slid on landing after clearing the same fence, meaning they finished alone.
Dan Skelton was visibly disappointed in the aftermath, but barring that incident there were plenty of positives to take from his outing at the Home of Jump Racing.
We will never know what the result would have been had he stayed on his feet, but what is certain is that there will be other days for the son of Milan, who looks a graded performer in the making.
Back On The Lash (Martin Keighley)
As far as sporting spectacles go, there’s nothing quite like the cross county races held at Cheltenham and the three to take place each season can offer up clues both in this discipline and for the Ranndox Grand National at Aintree.
And it seems as though we’ll see plenty more of Back On The Lash over the Cross Country Course, after he made a winning debut in this sphere for the Martin Keighley team.
The seven year old is in just his second season as a chaser but he looked a natural over these unique fences and he stayed on strongly to pick up the desperately unlucky Singing Banjo in the dying strides.
Considering that this race was over three miles and six furlongs, Back On The Lash looks one to follow in the staying chase scene and who knows, we could even see him bid to emulate the great Tiger Roll in winning at The Festival on his way to Grand National glory.
Third Time Lucki (Dan Skelton)
Mike Newbould waited 30 years for a Cheltenham winner - then it happened twice in three weeks.
Third Time Lucki ended the longest of waits for the owner at last month’s Showcase Meeting and the six year old wasn’t finished there, providing something of a ‘London buses’ moment when winning the Grade Two From The Horse's Mouth Podcast Novices' Chase on day two of the November Meeting.
If his chasing debut was all about style then this certainly had substance and, if truth be told, Third Time Lucki never really looked in any danger when defying a penalty to take his record to two wins from two starts over fences.
After the disappointment of My Drogo on Friday it provided some welcome relief for the Skelton team.
Immediately afterwards the son of Arcadio was made a 10-1 chance for next year’s Sporting Life Arkle Trophy and Newbould is certainly daring to dream.
He said: “It was a great race last time and that just confirms what we thought. The beauty about this guy is that he is quick. We want to be here in March and at our best in March and I think he will be. If anybody will get him right it is this guy (Dan Skelton). I just can’t believe we’ve had another Cheltenham winner and it is proper Cheltenham today.”
Sporting John (Philip Hobbs)
After winning the Grade One Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown Park in February, Sporting John rather lost his way over fences in the spring, failing to finish at both the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National Festival.
Connections explained that the six year old’s entry in Saturday’s Listed Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle was intended to help the son of Getaway rediscover his mojo.
It certainly did the trick and Sporting John was so impressive in the way he sealed his two and a half length success that a tilt at the Grade One Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle could now be on the agenda.
The Philip Hobbs team of course already have a contender in that contest with Thyme Hill and although the trainer was coy about future plans after the race, it’s certainly a good problem for him to have.
Bonttay (Fergal O’Brien)
Fergal O’Brien declared that he would celebrate with “fish and chips and the Simpsons” after watching Bonttay win at last month’s Showcase Meeting.
And while we have no idea how the trainer marked his mare’s impressive Stirrups Restaurant And Cocktail Bar Evesham Mares' Open National Hunt Flat Race on Saturday, we do know from his exuberant celebrations in the paddock that he enjoyed it.
That’s three wins now from three starts for the daughter of Westerner, who moved through the gears and stayed on well to deny stablemate Leading Theatre in a thrilling finish.
O’Brien has a fine record in this sphere but has never had a Festival winner, so his comments about Bonttay after the race are worth noting.
He said: “This is the third run of her life and she’s phenomenal, it gives me goosebumps talking about her. She doesn’t even know what she’s doing and Paddy (Brennan) just said there was so much left in her. We’ll probably put her away now until the Festival and come back here in March.”
Threeunderthrufive (Paul Nicholls)
Named after Ted McNeill’s emphatic start to the 1951 British Open at Portrush, Threeunderthrufive marked himself out as a horse to follow when winning a Listed hurdle at Perth in the spring and he’s certainly taken that form up a notch since going chasing this campaign.
The six year old looks to be all about stamina and there was plenty to like about how he was able to pour things on when storming up the hill under Adrian Heskin, recording a four and a half length victory over Does He Know – who was victorious at last month’s Showcase Meeting for Kim Bailey.
Trainer Paul Nicholls revealed after the race that the National Hunt Novices’ Chase seemed likely to be on his radar in the spring, adding that he could even make up into a Randox Grand National contender one day.
Meanwhile, the ever-entertaining Max O’Neill was delighted with what he saw from his charge, adding: “We were worried about whether this would come too soon for him but he just galloped them into submission. There’s sexier novices around – Third Time Lucki and My Drogo – but this lad is under the radar!”
Put The Kettle On (Henry de Bromhead)
Horses finishing third in four runner races don’t make many people’s shortlists, but bear with me here.
Put The Kettle On arrived defending a perfect record of five victories from five visits to Cheltenham and although she ultimately suffered a first defeat at the track on Sunday, there was plenty to take from the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine’s performance in the Grade Two Shloer Chase.
On faster ground than she prefers, the daughter of Stowaway was hard at work from a long way out under regular partner Aidan Coleman and although she was ultimately no match for Nube Negra and Politologue on this occasion, she did rally well up the hill to finish a clear third.
Afterwards Coleman very much gave the impression that there will be better days ahead. He explained: “They just had too much speed for her. Usually on that ground they don’t come back and I finished with loads of mare.
“I wasn’t tired at the line but in that ground they’ve gone quick and they just don’t stop. I was waiting for a collapse in the pace but in good ground it’s not going to happen. She hit the line strong and there’s a lot of positives, it was just too dry for her I think.”
I Like To Move It (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
If you’ve been to Cheltenham recently, there’s every chance you’ve heard the song ‘I Like To Move It’ by Reel 2 Real.
Music fans of a certain era will no doubt have enjoyed it being played on the racecourse PA system, but so too has trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies as the unmistakeable ‘tune’ means his novice of the same name is being walked back into the winner’s enclosure.
At the November Meeting it greeted his two length success in the Grade Two Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle, a further step in the right direction after his victory at the Showcase Meeting three weeks earlier.
It’s still early days for the son of Trans Island, but all the noises from the Twiston-Davies camp after his victory last month pointed towards him potentially being something special, and he showed a real grittiness in the way he forged his way up the hill under Sam Twiston-Davies on Sunday.
If looks are anything to go by, he’ll be a chaser in time – especially when you consider how well he jumps his hurdles - but connections will almost certainly be in no rush to tackle the larger obstacles when you consider that this race has been won by the likes of Cue Card (2010), Dodging Bullets (2012) and Altior (2015) in recent years.
It’s safe to say Nigel Twiston-Davies hasn’t ever been the first person you think of when you hear house music, but that could all change at The Festival in March if I Like To Move It continues on his upward trajectory.