The Jump Season Opener takes place at Chepstow on Friday and Saturday at Chepstow – here are five things to look out for in South Wales.
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One of the most-loved aspects of the jumping game is the regularity with which familiar faces return season after season, and Friday’s Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Veterans’ Chase (2.10) sees some of the sport’s most battle-hardened warriors make their returns to action.
Modern Aintree legend Vieux Lion Rouge took this race two years ago, and David Pipe’s popular chaser is looking to double up in this event under top weight on Friday.
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Former Welsh Grand National winner Potters Corner is also in the line-up for local trainer Christian Williams, whilst one-time King George VI Chase runner-up Double Shuffle is back for his seventh season in the sport.
The expanded veterans’ chase series has undoubtedly been one of the success stories of the programme book in recent times, and last year’s running produced the best finish of the meeting, with only a nose separating Present Man, Crosspark and Dancing Shadow at the line.
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The old-timers are still more than capable of producing a fantastic contest.
Don’t ignore a Class four
The Grade Two Persian War Novices’ Hurdle rightly headlines the Friday card, but it’s usually not the only above-average novice hurdle on the day.
The two-mile Andy Stewart Racing’s Great Friend Novices’ Hurdle is only a Class four in name but has a consistent record of producing above-average types over both hurdles and fences since Chepstow’s two October meetings merged midway through the 2010s.
The recently-retired Altior first hinted at being the superstar when winning the race by 34 lengths in 2015, whilst smart chaser Capeland was runner-up the following season.
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Two future Grade One performers met in 2017, as Dynamite Dollars got the better of Lostintranslation, whilst Reserve Tank began his dual-Grade One-winning novice season finishing third in the race in 2018.
The clash between Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory and Challow Hurdle hero Bravemansgame in last season’s renewal already looks well up-to-scratch for a race that’s quickly becoming one of the hottest of its type all season.
The likely return of unbeaten Aintree Grade Two bumper winner Knappers Hill means this year’s race has the potential to continue a fine record of producing top-level competitors.
That’s not to forget the ITM – It Pays To Buy Irish EBF Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle later on the card, either. Annie Mc and Roksana both made their hurdling debuts in the race, at prices of 20/1 and 40/1 respectively, whilst future Grade Two winner Colin’s Sister was a better supported winning favourite of the race in 2018.
The Persian War might officially be the better novice hurdle on paper at the meeting, but it’s not a rare occasion that the meeting’s best prospect is perhaps hidden further away in one of the Class four hurdles.
Paul Nicholls tends to enjoy his trips to South Wales, with 49 winners to his name at the course since 2016, and in part that’s down to his fantastic record at this meeting.
Thyme White, McFabulous, Flic Ou Voyou and Present Man gave the Ditcheat team a four-timer on Friday’s card last season, whilst Hell Red, Secret Investor, Grand Sancy and Knappers Hill doubled the tally on the Saturday, meaning more than half the meeting’s races went the way of Nicholls.
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Other well-known names such as Dynamite Dollars, Posh Trish, Dolos and Romain De Senam have scored for him on this card in that time period, and with the likes of the aforementioned Knappers Hill and Paso Doble all jocked up for this weekend’s fixture, it would be no surprise to see Nicholls add to his fine record in South Wales.
The return of Allmankind
Dan Skelton’s star chaser Allmankind returns to the scene of his first Grade One triumph on Saturday. The front-running five-year-old took the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow as a three-year-old in December 2019, and his exploits over fences last season garnered even more success, with a brace of Grade Two successes to go alongside another top-level victory in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
Just as he did last season, Skelton opts to begin Allmankind’s new campaign back over the smaller obstacles, with his appearance in the Geoffrey Broomhall Memorial Handicap Hurdle (1.50 Saturday) a prep run for a tilt at Aintree’s Old Roan Chase at the end of the month.
Allmankind remains unbeaten away from Cheltenham over obstacles, but his bid to maintain that record won’t be plain sailing, with the likes of Flic Ou Voyou and Scarlet Dragon in potential opposition.
Nevertheless, he’s amongst this weekend’s headline acts and it should be fun to see whether one of the sport’s most exciting equine athletes can pull off another successful ‘catch me if you can’ performance.
Just as Chepstow’s novice hurdles have often produced top-class performers, the meeting also has an equally impressive track record of seeing future stars, including recent King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, make their chasing debuts in one of the two novice chases.
Friday’s Tom Malone Bloodstock Novices’ Chase (1.35), over a trip just shy of three miles, has seen some smart recent renewals, not least the 2017 renewal, which counted the Gold Cup-placed Elegant Escape, Scottish National winner Joe Farrell and Cheltenham Festival hero Coo Star Sivola amongst its participants.
This year’s race could be shaped as somewhat of a clash of the generations, as the well-established staying handicap hurdlers Honest Vic and Ask Dillon, who is having a second go at chasing after falling on his debut over fences at Cheltenham last season, meet two useful novice hurdlers from last season in Does He Know and Threeunderthrufive.
But it is the Listed Dunraven Windows’ Novices’ Chase (for the Robert Mottram Memorial Trophy) that has the most stellar record of providing an initial platform for a whole host of modern greats.
Introduced in 2011, the race could barely have asked for a stronger maiden renewal, with nine-time Grade One winner Cue Card getting the better of seven-time top-level hero Silviniaco Conti on their first runs over fences.
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A further pair of Grade One winners clashed in 2015 with heroic Gold Cup champion Native River, who now has a race at the meeting carrying his name, finishing third to second-season novice Cocktails At Dawn, whilst dual-King George winner Clan Des Obeaux was also beaten on his chase debut in the race, coming home in fourth behind Rock The Kasbah in 2016.
The likes of Tea Clipper, winner of the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle at this meeting last season, and Grumpy Charley, who landed a Chepstow hat-trick before coming up short in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, will bid to add to that illustrious roll of honour.
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