Cheltenham Races

Five things we learned from Cheltenham and Aintree

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Saint Calvados was a game winner at Cheltenham at the weekend.
Saint Calvados was a game winner at Cheltenham at the weekend.

We pick out five key talking points from the weekend, as the Jumps took centre stage...

The weather forces the Flat to adapt

You're always going to be playing with fire when it comes to the weather at this time of year on the level, but heavy downpours have overshadowed the closing stages of this year's Flat season, causing Ascot to switch half of its Champions Day card to its hurdles track a fortnight ago, before both Newbury and Doncaster's cards were lost to waterlogging on Saturday afternoon. It does create an interesting sub-plot, however, as it means that the rescheduled Futurity Trophy will become the first British Group 1 to take place on the All-Weather at Newcastle on Friday evening.

The race was bordering on a farce in its original guise, with Aidan O'Brien boasting all but one of the field, and you have to wonder how many yards were put off by sending out their precocious two-year-olds out to race in late October, on what's rapidly becoming winter ground. Admittedly, O'Brien still dominates the entries this time around, with nine of the 17 at the five-day stage - but the switch to Newcastle's straight and true All-Weather track has certainly tempted more to take their chance - and should everything go smoothly, this may not be the last time we see some of the top late season races utilise this surface...

Saint Calvados is one to catch fresh

Saint Calvados was faced with some stiff tasks last season, including when chasing home Altior in both the Tingle Creek and the Champion Chase, but he made a winning reappearance for the third season running at Cheltenham on Saturday, capitalising on his first run in handicap company for just shy of two years under top weight when edging out Vaniteux in gutsy fashion. That run came off a mark of 155, and it will be interesting to see where connections send him next, with a return to Graded company surely on the cards. Saint Calvados hasn't raced over further than two miles since joining Harry Whittington, but he did venture over slightly further during his time in France, and considering Saturday's success came on heavy ground, it may be that they try him over further next time out, and he's one to keep an eye on in the early part of winter. 

Tizzard's charge has a clean Slate

Slate House very much lost his way after bursting onto the scene as a novice hurdler in November 2017, winning a Grade 2 contest on just his second career outing, but he roared back to form at the same venue on Saturday, opening his account over fences at the fifth attempt in really good style. It's difficult to gauge how good the form will prove, but he clearly has talent when everything comes together, and hopefully he can push on now having had a second wind operation over the summer months. 

A few well-handicapped types are lurking

We're only just getting into the National Hunt season proper, but already there are some fascinating sub-plots forming about where certain horses are going to be campaigned, particularly in the staying chasing division, where several caught the eye over the weekend. Indeed, it was particularly interesting to see Ramses de Teillee win a novices' hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday, and he showed all of his qualities to win in really good style in testing conditions. Stamina is his game, and you'd imagine that the Grand National will once again be the long term aim now that he's grown out of that dreaded hoodoo surrounding seven-year-olds, a theory he backed up when being pulled-up back in April. Turning eight this time, he's got plenty of time on his side, and is on a mark of 153 at the moment, meaning that he has plenty of options. Indeed, it will be interesting to see if connections opt for something like the Becher Chase next at Aintree or head back to the Welsh National, in which he was second last year, or whether they opt to keep him over hurdles off a 7 lb skinnier mark...

Meanwhile, one who caught the eye at Aintree on Sunday was Burtons Well, who won the veteran's chase on the card. He's clearly a fragile type - that was his first start in just under two years - and his strength in the market on the day suggests that connections think that they've finally got him right. His milage is particularly low for one with veteran status, and he looked ahead of his mark of 133 when winning in the style that he did on Sunday. Of course, it's difficult to gauge the form of veteran races at the best of times so he'll have to back this form up next time out, but he now looks to have a host of options for the season. This sphere has proven to be an excellent launch point for the Grand National in recent years, and it's no secret that the Aintree showpiece is the very much the be-all and end-all for his owner Trevor Hemmings. That win at Aintree should see his mark climb back towards the 140s, and it's not difficult to imagine that there's a valuable race that's well within reach this season. 

Bumper horses are already catching the eye

It's still very early in the season, but we've already seen some particularly eye-catching bumper performances, including two at the weekend from Time Flies By and White Hart Lady. The first named was an £88,000 purchase as a three-year-old and carries the colours of the powerful J.P. McManus, and he could hardly have made a better impression when winning the closing bumper at Cheltenham on Saturday, winning well in testing conditions. He's really well related, and looks one to follow, as does the mare White Hart Lady, who won the bumper against her own sex at Aintree on Sunday. She looked a class apart in doing so, and it would be no surprise to see her put together a sequence of wins in this sphere. 

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