CHELTENHAM’S November meeting is gaining traction. It’s a bit of a mini Festival and increasing numbers of Irish visitors are hopping across the Channel for it. The BetVictor Gold Cup and Greatwood Hurdles are the two features but one of my favourite races is the 3m 3f BetVictor Handicap Chase. This year could see the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree make his seasonal return.
Coneygree looked like he could conquer the chasing world for many years when he won jump racing’s blue riband but continual injuries and niggles have curtailed his career. He has been blighted by training issues which have restricted him to five outings in the last three seasons. He has not run since he was pulled up in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last December. But his eternally optimistic trainer Mark Bradstock has clearly not given up on him and believes he is in fine form ahead of this weekend, which will be his first visit to Cheltenham since his Gold Cup triumph. A good run could see him enter the Betfred Grand National betting market for the world’s greatest steeplechase next April.
He said: “We wanted to go to Down Royal but the ground was not right and it was the same at Ascot. But we’ve had a nice drop of rain and I hope that Cheltenham will be fine. We’ve had Sean Bowen in schooling him, because Nico de Boinville was not available, and he jumped eight fences and was absolutely brilliant.”
Rather Be has been the money horse in the BetVictor Gold Cup. There are 28 left in, headed by Frodon. Absent will be Thistlecrack, meaning the weights have gone up by 4lb. Colin Tizzard could still be represented by Sizing Granite and West Approach. Rather Be will meet his Cheltenham Festival conqueror Mister Whitaker on 9lb better terms and if the rain stays away he will not be hampered by good ground.
Mister Whitaker is the 6/1 second favourite with Betvictor. The six-year-old made a successful return in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle, in which he defeated Happy Diva. Mister Whitaker is unbeaten in two starts over fences at Cheltenham, having also captured the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Festival Trials Day before his win at The Festival itself.
Jack Channon, assistant to his father Mick, said: “Mister Whitaker’s success at The Festival was brilliant. We have been lucky enough to have Royal Ascot winners and Classic winners but, if I am honest, Cheltenham was definitely on a par. Tim Radford [owner] is a fantastic supporter of the sport and us, so it was great to give him his first winner at The Festival.”