It is 'The stuff of dreams' for the Racing Post and Jump racing fans as Cheltenham's November Meeting gets underway at Prestbury Park in Gloucestershire today.
Quality chasing and hurdling on proper winter ground is a combination that will throw up some heroes, if only for a day, and Britain's newspapers have been busily working on the eight-race card in a bid to ensure readers are well rewarded. Those eight races are the result of Friday's card having been abandoned and the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle being added to today's card. 'Cheltenham back on after first-day deluge' is the Daily Mail's summary. The paper's Marcus Townend tells readers that Friday's lost card was ". . . the first time that has happened at the meeting since the 1960s".
With the sun shyly shining over the Cotswolds, today's card could prove a vintage one for fans of the November Meeting and its famous highlight of a £160,000 handicap chase. Now known as the BetVictor Gold Cup, it has been run under a number of sponsors' names, but has never been anything other than gold.
Putting on a cassock, David Carr of the Racing Post writes in reverential tones that convey the significance of today's feature. "Ever since it was first run as the Mackeson Gold Cup in 1960, Cheltenham's 2m4f handicap [chase] has traditionally marked the start of the holy season for true believers," pens Carr, under the headline, 'Praise be - jump racing's church is open for worship'.
In an era when any success for a woman rider gains deserved recognition - be it in Flat or Jump racing - the return from injury of jockey Lizzie Kelly is given plenty of space. This is in part due to her being reunited in the BetVictor Gold Cup with Siruh Du Lac, who she rode to four straight wins last season, culminating with victory in the Cheltenham Festival's Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.
Greg Wood of The Guardian has interviewed the quotable Kelly, who broke her arm on October 10, but has made a quick recovery in part due to the rehabilitation help she received at The Jockey Club's Oaksey House. Wood quotes her saying of Siruh Du Lac: "He'd be the perfect comeback ride - he's an easy ride that makes it difficult for everyone else." The Scout of the Daily Express tips Kelly's mount to bring home the big prize, while The Sun comes up with a clever headline that needs reading twice. Above a tipping piece by Steve Mullen who gives Siruh Du Lac a five-star rating, the headline is 'Lac Lustre'.
Working out who wins the big race is difficult for punters and bookmakers, let alone those racing tipsters whose opinions are often followed closely by devotees. Sam Turner of the Daily Mail opts for Count Meribel, and writes: "It is best to catch Nigel Twiston-Davies's gelding fresh as his record in October and November reads well." Newsboy of the Daily Mirror is another Count Meribel fan, as is Jason Heavey of the Daily Star, while Jon Freeman of i sides with Happy Diva.
Rob Wright of The Times sides with Spiritofthegames, and in a separate article chats with jockey Harry Cobden, who rides Magic Saint for his boss, Paul Nicholls. Saint Calvados, who was a leading candidate for the BetVictor Gold Cup, runs instead in tomorrow's Shloer Chase - the reasons for the swap are outlined in an interview between the Daily Star's Chris Goulding and trainer Harry Whittington.
Another interview worth seeking out is one between Melissa Jones of the Gloucestershire Echo and Cotswolds trainer Fergal O'Brien, whose horses have been in flying form.
Away from today's November Meeting, but with Cheltenham in mind there is press coverage of two wonderful horses trained in Ireland. Chris Goulding, wearing his Daily Mail trilby as opposed to the one he doffs for the Daily Star, considers news of a minor surgical procedure that took place yesterday on four-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll, and wonders if it might mean the great horse can be made ready for more glory next spring.
David Yates of the Daily Mirror focusses on Faugheen's first run over fences at Punchestown today. Yates writes: "The 2015 [Skybet] Champion Hurdle winner, off the track for 226 days, takes on 16 opponents [in a beginners' chase]."
Hopefully he trots up, wins twice more in the next two months and graces Cheltenham with his presence once again in March.
PUNTERS GOING BELAMI FOR PICTONS
Racing goes ahead at Cheltenham Racecourse this afternoon and punters are treated to a stellar eight-race card, featuring the £160,000 G3 BetVictor Gold Cup. Today's headline sponsor BetVictor has reported brisk business this morning with a superb day of action to come.
In the opening contest of the day, the £32,000 G2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (12.05pm), Persian War Novices' Hurdle winner Thyme Hill (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson) is a solid favourite at 5/4 from 2/1 with BetVictor.
Mick Pastor beat a subsequent G1 winner when scoring on his only start at Auteuil in May. Purchased by J P McManus, the three-year-old son of Meshaheer is a 13/8 chance from 2/1 with BetVictor to make a winning debut in Britain for trainer Paul Nicholls and Barry Geraghty in the £32,000 G2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (12.40pm) over an extended two miles.
Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob) finished a gallant second at The Showcase in October and bids to regain the winning thread in the £25,000 mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase (1.15pm). The eight-year-old son of Craigsteel is the 13/8 market leader from 7/4 with BetVictor.
Testing conditions are a forte of the Lucinda Russell-trained Big River who is seeking a first win outside of Scotland in the £60,000 BetVictor Smartcards Handicap Chase (1.50pm). The nine-year-old son of Milan, set to be partnered by Randox Health Grand National winner Derek Fox, was a cracking fourth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at The Festival™ presented by Magners in March, before finishing a creditable fifth in the Scottish Grand National. Big River is a 4/1 shot from 6/1 for the extended three mile and three furlong event.
A field of 17 go to post for today's feature, the £160,000 G3 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase (2.25pm). Slate House (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power) has been favourite for the two and a half-mile event since an emphatic win at the Home of Jump Racing at the October Meeting. He remains BetVictor's 11/2 favourite in an ultra-competitive market in which the firm are going five places (1/5 odds). Each-way support this morning has centred on mudlark Belami Des Pictons (20/1 into 12/1) who has been off the track for 287 days. Ridden by Charlie Deutsch, the eight-year-old son of Khalkevi has won five of his eight starts in Britain and bids to provide the in-form Venetia Williams with a second success in the contest following The Outback Way's win in 1999. Philip Hobbs captured the 1989 running of the BetVictor Gold Cup with Joint Sovereignty and Springtown Lake, the mount of Britain's champion Jump jockey Richard Johnson has been the subject of sustained support this morning, constricting in price to 9/1 from 18/1 with the sponsor
The Olly Murphy-trained The Butcher Said (Adrian Heskin) has won four of his six starts in novice and maiden hurdle company. The six-year-old makes the transition into handicap company for the £40,000 Listed Spinal Injuries Association Big Buck's Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm) and is a 9/2 into 7/1 with BetVictor for the three-mile contest.
David Pipe's team is just starting to hit form and the Pond House handler is represented by Remastered, a winner in heavy ground at Ffos Las in November, 2018, in the £25,000 BetVictor Intermediate Hurdle (3.30pm). Ridden by Tom Scudamore, the six-year-old has been strongly supported into 4/1 from 8/1 with the sponsor.
In today's concluding event, the £22,500 Kamdean Designflooring Mares' Standard Open NHF Race (4.00pm), the Oliver Sherwood-triained Lady In Hiding (Leighton Aspell), is a 6/1 shot with BetVictor from 14/1 following a pleasing seasonal debut when third at Newbury last month.
BetVictor representative Sam Boswell said: "We are looking forward to a cracking day headlined by the BetVictor Gold Cup. Belami Des Pictons and Springtown Lake has both been very well supported. Both horses have form on testing conditions which will prove important today.
"We are paying five places on the race this afternoon and it should be a great spectacle."
2.25pm BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
1 Saint Calvados (FR) (Going)
13 Royal Village (IRE) (Self Cert (Cast in Box))
18 Dell Oro (FR) (Vets Cert (Blood Analysis Not Normal))
4.00pm High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and Racing Remember Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Listed Race)
6 Plenty In The Tank (IRE) (Other (Horse sold to Olly Murphy at Cheltenham sale 15/11/19)