Friday 16th November was the first day of the eagerly awaited opening meeting at Cheltenham, and for some horses, perhaps their first steps of the journey towards glory at the festival in March. The meeting was marred slightly by the state of the ground which was given as good to soft on Friday – a very kind description I think, for ground which appeared very testing. The testing ground resulted in a lot of withdrawals including two of Nicky Henderson’s stable stars Darlan and Sprinter Sacre, the latter being one of the best young chasers I have seen. I hope that he trains on this season, as he is a pleasure to watch winning his races in seemingly effortless Frankel like style, surely a winner of the Champion chase in March if he stays sound.
The first days proceedings were dominated by trainers David Pipe and Paul Nicholls with two winners each. Pipe won the first race, a class 2 novice chase with débutante chaser Dynaste. He only had four opponents, but beat the very useful Fingals Bay by 4 1/2 lengths in impressive fashion. Dynaste did receive 5lb from the 2nd but the manor in which he won gives me no reason to think that he wouldn’t beat Fingals Bay again off level weights. The bookies were suitably impressed and installed Dynaste as favourite for the RSA chase at the festival in March.
The grade 2 novice hurdle was won by Dodging Bullets, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Ruby Walsh. The race was a muddling affair with no one wanting to make the running, and indeed there was a 15 second lapse after the tape had gone up, before the race got under-way. Ruby decided to let his horse go on which would not have been the plan, but as the race got serious Dodging Bullets was still able to find plenty and despite clouting the last hurdle, he won by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths from the Henderson trained River Maigue. The winner is around 16/1 for the Supreme Novice Hurdle in March, plausible, due to his temperament being a little suspect, once again, he got a bit worked up before the start of the race. The horses next outing, according to Nicholls, will possibly be the Christmas hurdle at Kempton.
– Bruce Roger (Racing Editor)