Cheltenham: Jumping to attention
Incongrous as it seems to be suddenly engrossed by jump racing, so soon after one of the epic occasions in Flat history, in a way it is the only possible solution.
How else could you tolerably follow the deeds of Goldikova and Zenyatta, at Churchill Downs last Saturday, than with a complete shift of focus?
The biggest meeting to date, which starts today, takes the jumps season from third gear to fourth, rather than simply out of neutral. Kauto Star himself, after all, had his pipe-opener at Down Royal on Saturday even as the Breeders' Cup approached its crescendo.
And the opening card of a three-day fixture at Cheltenham features one of the most exciting young hurdlers to have emerged since — well, since Dunguib 12 months ago.
Dunguib, in fairness, looked the best novice in many years, having annihilated his rivals for the Champion Bumper here before taking slickly to obstacles. In the event, he was turned over at odds-on when returning to the Festival, in March, but his story is by no means over.
And Cue Card, every bit as dominant in his Champion Bumper as Dunguib had been 12 months previously, made just as persuasive a start over hurdles when sent up from Dorset to Aintree last month.
Though he had every right to outclass those prepared to take him on that day, it was none the less an arresting performance. Stepped up in trip, he was far too keen during the early stages, but was still able to coast clear.
The return to two miles today should suit him well, but he faces much tougher rivals — several of them far more seasoned, and one or two very well regarded in their own right.
Philip Hobbs, for instance, rated Dunraven Storm as one of the two best young hurdlers in his powerful stable after a proficient exhibition at Ascot a couple of weeks ago, while Paul Nicholls fields King Of The Night, easy winner of a maiden hurdle here last month.
Horses of that ilk will provide a far more searching test of his jumping technique, but it would be dreadfully disappointing should Cue Card (1.50) fail to preserve his unbeaten record.
Colin Tizzard, his trainer, said yesterday: “I didn't expect anything other than a very good race. I think we'll find out a fair bit more about him. But on our bumper form we're a fair bit in front of these.”
The other race on the card most likely to have a bearing on events back here in March is the last one. Time For Rupert and Reve De Sivola are already among the favourites for the RSA Chase, and as such could hardly be set a less indulgent task for their first steeplechase, not least with Mr Thriller and Quantitativeeasing also making a nuisance of themselves.
Reve De Sivola did not show much respect for his hurdles, proving one of the best of last season's novices even so, but has the physique and stamina reserves to reach new heights as a staying chaser.
Time For Rupert, however, was thwarted only by Big Buck's himself in open company at the Festival.
Those who require a rock-solid wager have one in Garde Champetre (3.0), his partnership with Nina Carberry having already proved so fertile over the cross-country fences.
And Rivaliste (2.25) looks very interesting, still unexposed since his arrival from France. Nicholls had hoped that he would prove much better than his present rating but his jumping let him down. If sharper over his fences, the drop in trip could prove the key to his untapped potential.