Thursday, December 13, 2018 - A field of 15, the highest number since 2011, is set to go to post for the £130,000 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (1.55pm), the G3 handicap chase highlight staged over an extended two and a half miles of the New Course at Cheltenham on day two of The International, Saturday, December 15.
Baron Alco (Gary Moore/Jamie Moore, 11st) made all to beat Frodon (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost, 11st 12lb) by two lengths in the feature G3 BetVictor Gold Cup over two and a half miles of the Old Course at Cheltenham on November 17.
If successful on Saturday, Baron Alco would become the ninth horse to win both of the prestigious Cheltenham handicap chases, but only the fourth to do so in the same season after Pegwell Bay (1988), Senor El Betrutti (1997) and Exotic Dancer (2006).
Gary Moore, who is based in West Sussex, said: “Baron Alco has been in good form at home following the BetVictor Gold Cup. The BetVictor Gold Cup had a lot of fallers and it was beneficial to be up front, but he still won well. He came out of the race very well and he is a horse who has a great mind. He has been raised 6lb and we’re looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”
Moore also runs three-time chase winner Casse Tete (Joshua Moore, 10st).
Paul Nicholls is the most successful trainer in the history of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with four victories.
Frodon provided the 10-time champion Jump trainer with his most recent win in the contest when successful as a four-year-old two years ago. The chaser is 3lb better off at the weights with Baron Alco and Bryony Frost, riding him for the seventh time, has yet to finish out of the first three.
Somerset handler Nicholls said: “Frodon came out of the BetVictor Gold Cup in good form. It was a fantastic run and he likes the ground and the New Course at Cheltenham. He has to carry top-weight again and is up another 3lb. He has it all to do, but we are happy with him.”
Nicholls is also set to saddle Romain De Senam (Sean Bowen, 10st), who unseated his rider at the first fence in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Dorset-based trainer Robert Walford is seeking another big handicap success in December, having taken the Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree last weekend with Walk In The Mill.
In the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, Walford relies on seven-year-old Mr Medic (James Best, 10st 5lb), who made an impressive winning reappearance in a handicap chase at Ascot on November 23.
Walford said: “Mr Medic is in great form and we are looking forward to running him in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
“It will be his biggest test so far, but we are hoping for a good performance. He jumps and travels so well. Hopefully, the track will suit him. We will see if Mr Medic is good enough to win a race like this. He has been raised 9lb, but he won easily at Ascot and it was to be expected.”
The ante-post favourite for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is Rather Be (Nicky Henderson/Jeremiah McGrath, 10st 11lb), who was travelling well when brought down four fences from home in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Nick Henderson, the reigning champion Jump trainer, is seeking a fourth Caspian Caviar Gold Cup success.
He is also represented by consistent six-year-old mare Casablanca Mix (Nico de Boinville, 10st 5lb), runner-up in a Listed mares’ contest at Market Rasen last time out.
There has only been one dual winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in Poquelin, who took the honours in 2009 and 2010.
In addition to 2016 hero Frodon, another horse chasing a second Caspian Caviar Gold Cup victory is last year’s winner Guitar Pete (Nicky Richards/Ryan Day, 10st), who ran well when third in the BetVictor Gold Cup on his most recent start.
Other leading contenders include War Sound (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 10st 8lb), who caught the eye with an impressive win in a two and a half-mile handicap chase at Aintree last month. Trainer Philip Hobbs has twice landed the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, courtesy of Monkerhostin (2004) and Village Vic (2015).
Venetia Williams is one of four female trainers to have saddled the winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and has an intriguing contender this year in Cepage (Charlie Deutsch, 10st 5lb).
The six-year-old is making his seasonal reappearance and landed the Silver Bowl Handicap Chase (the consolation contest for horses unable to secure a run at The Festival™ presented by Magners) at Kempton Park last season, when he defeated the re-opposing Cobra De Mai (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 10st 5lb) by a length and a half.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, successful with Double Ross in 2013, saddles two runners – 2017 BetVictor Gold Cup scorer Splash Of Ginge (Jamie Bargary, 10st 1lb) and Foxtail Hill (Sam Twiston-Davies, 10st), successful over the course and distance in a handicap chase on Festival Trials Day in 2017.
Completing the field are Full Glass (Alan King/Daryl Jacob, 10st 4lb), who is lightly-raced in Britain, but a Pattern-placed performer in France, and Catamaran Du Seuil (Dr Richard Newland/Charlie Hammond (5), 10st 4lb), who fell in last Saturday’s Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree, having won his two outings prior to that at Wetherby.
Crystal Cup concludes on day one of The International tomorrow
The International gets underway at Cheltenham tomorrow, Friday, December 14, with a seven-race programme running from 12.10pm through to 3.40pm.
Last season’s Randox Health Grand National third Bless The Wings (Gordon Elliott IRE/Mr Jamie Codd, 11st 12lb) heads the weights in the £35,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (3.05pm, 11 runners).
Staged over three miles and five furlongs, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase is the final contest in the Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge.
The 10-race series takes in many of Europe's premier racecourses, over unique combinations of hedges, banks, ditches and timber. The challenge begins in Pau in South West France in February and culminates at Cheltenham on Friday, following four further races in France and visits to Poland, Belgium, Italy and to the Czech Republic for the Velka Pardubika.
French trainer Patrice Quinton and owner Ecurie des Dunes, who top the trainer and owner leaderboards for the 2018 Crystal Cup, are represented tomorrow by Vol Noir De Kerser (Thomas Beaurain, 10st).
Successful in a cross country chase at Vittel, France, in July on his penultimate start, Vol Noir De Kerser was last seen out when fourth behind Amazing Comedy (David Cottin/Felix de Giles, 10st 3lb) in the Grand Steeple Chase-Cross-Country de Compiegne on November 9.
Irish handler Enda Bolger has an enviable record in cross country races and has won this contest a record seven times. Bolger's two runners tomorrow are Josies Orders (Mark Walsh, 11st 8lb), a four-time winner around Cheltenham's Cross Country course including at The Festival™ presented by Magners in 2016 and last month, and recent Punchestown banks race victor My Hometown (Niall Madden, 10st 1lb).
Hoping to keep tomorrow’s prize in Britain is Fact Of The Matter (Jamie Snowden/Gavin Sheehan, 10st 10lb), who was the three-quarter length runner-up to Josies Orders in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at The November Meeting last month.
Lambourn trainer Jamie Snowden reported: “Fact Of The Matter is in good form at home. He ran a great race on his first start over the Cross Country fences in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap at The November Meeting. Fact Of The Matter was beaten less than a length by Josies Orders in the race and Tiger Roll was back in fourth, so we were delighted with the effort. He had schooled well prior to the race and we were pleased with the way in which he jumped over the fences in November. We are looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully he runs well."
The most valuable race on day one of The International is the £60,000 G3 CF Roberts 25 Years Of Sponsorship Handicap Chase (2.30pm, 9 runners) over three and a quarter miles. Heading the handicap is Rock The Kasbah (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 11st 12lb), who landed the G3 BetVictor Handicap Chase over a furlong and a half further at The November Meeting.
Coo Star Sivola (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly (3), 11st 6lb) landed last season’s G3 Ultima Handicap Chase at The Festival™ presented by Magners, while Singlefarmpayment (Tom George/Noel Fehily, 11st 5lb) was the short-head runner-up in the same contest in 2017.
Eight-year-old mare Theatre Territory (Warren Greatrex/Mr Sam Waley-Cohen (3), 10st 5lb) ran well when runner-up in the mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase at The November Meeting and seeks her first Cheltenham success having been runner-up at the Home of Jump Racing three times.
The 2017 G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle second Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King/Wayne Hutchinson) has won all three of his starts in novice chase company including at The Showcase in October. He puts his record on the line in the £25,000 Neville Lumb Novices' Chase (12.45pm, four runners) over an extended three miles and a furlong.
After racing tomorrow, the Cheltenham December Sale takes place in the Tattersalls Sales Arena at 4.30pm. With 75 lots on offer, the catalogue can be viewed online at https://issuu.com/lizlane1/docs/final_cde_issuu
The ground at Cheltenham is currently:
Chase and Hurdle Course: Good, Good to Soft in places
Cross Country Course: Good
Latest GoingStick Readings:
Chase and Hurdle Course: 7.2
Cross Country Course: 7.4
Conditions are forecast to be dry, but cloudy and cold.
All races at The International take place on the New Course.