November is a terrific month to follow racing, even if lockdown means we have to continue watching on TV. The weekends are populated by great races - Flat and Jump - to savour.
This morning's Melbourne Cup reinforced the impression that European trainers may have understood the type of horse and preparation necessary to win this most arduous of races. Joseph O'Brien, who's barely been training for any length of time, beat his father Aidan to first place Twilight Payment with Prince of Arran in third to make a 1-2-3 for European horses in the world's most valuable handicap.
That makes 3 of the last five runnings falling to British or Irish horses. And whilst the Aussies must be celebrating the full internationalization of their race, a piece of them must be thinking why they encouraged the foreign contingent to plunder their biggest prize and export it.
Betting on horse events doesn't end with Australia's set piece event though. This Saturday sees the Breeders' Cup return to East Coast USA, where generally European horses have achieved better results than in California. Kameko is well fancied in the Mile for Andrew Balding where 5 of the 14 runners hail from Europe. The eye-watring winner's prize of £781,955 makes £1,000 for a Point-to-Point look somewhat pedestrian!
Charlie Hills has sent over Equilateral, specially prepared for this race, but he is held by the Kevin Ryan-trained Glass Slippers on British form. John Gosden's Terebellum, the mount of Frankie Dettori, ws a gallant secoind in the Queen Anne at Royal Asco and will be fancied for the Fillies Mares Turf.
There's a strong challenge fom over here for the Breeders Cup Turf where O'Brien's Magical, winner of Ireland's Pretty Polly and Tattersalls Gold Cup in mid-summer will be well-fancied. Prince of Wales Stakes winner Lord North represents the Gosden Dettori axis of brilliance. The winner walks away with a derisory £1,563,910, although the largest prize of the night, the Classic, on dirt, doesn't even merit a European contender for the £2,234,865 first prize.
Truly this is the land of the free.
Having had a little to do with the growth of this fixture through the past 20 years, the changing nature of each of the three days of the November fixture offers something different for every spectator. Sadly, that eclectic gathering of country folk for the annual Countryside Raceday that opens the event will be lacking, but the racing is of a great standard, with a top Novices Chase worthy of Pattern status, a couple of meaty handicaps and the thrill of the Glenfarclas Cross Country, where you can expect Tiger Roll to put in a show.
Saturday is a day that until 2020, has simpoly gone from strength to strength. It's good to see the Paddy Power name behind a race that they embraced wholeheartedly and owned for a decade before racing politics got in the way. But the supporting card offers key clues for the championship races 4 months later. There are races for the Triumph, Bumper and JLT that will help define the betting market over the winter.
Sunday's card again features top flight races: the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle, named in support of the rehabilitation charity near Marlborough by previous sponsor and Pointing supporter Nigel Bunter, always throws up a decent horse, ofte a Champion Hurdle contender, whilst the Novices Chase and Shloer Chase will produce candidates for the Arkle and Queen Mother respectively.
The action moves north the following weekend as Haydock hosts the Betfair Chase, another chance to see Gold Cup contenders shape up, followed by the Randox Becher Chase the following day at Aintree, one of the keypointers toward the Grand National.
The Betfair has seen some superb renewals these past few years, and even without the £1m bonus put up by course owners, the Jockey Club for the Betfair-King George-Gold Cup treble, even if you never won another race all season, you'd be glad to have it on your mantlepiece.
Aintree in November, whatever you make of the racing, is a huge venue to fill, and doesn't, except for April, so the loss of crowds won't be such a downer on the atmosphere. The thrill of the National fences is quite enough.
39 horses are entered for the Ladbrokes Trophy, the race known for over 40 years as the Hennessy Gold Cup. Newbury has successfully re-branded the race and the event, although Carnival is a dubious title for an event played out in virtual silence on course this year.
Sad to say, although no-one disputes Ladbrokes goodwill and intentions to rebuild this wonderful old race, it is nigh on impossible to promote sponsorship of racing as anything other than a betting product nowadays. The days of other premium brands seem like a golden yesteryear, with a variety that doesn't appear to exist any longer. Whitbread Gold Cup, rooke Bond Oxo, Thomas Pink, RSA, even latterly Jewson and Daily Telegraph, have all disappeared in place of betting names for the most part. This is a challenge racing needs to meet, to illustrate its much broader appeal to premium non-betting brands.
Last year's winner De Rasher Counter, trained near Marlborough by Emma Lavelle, is rated 9lbs higher than last year, and whilst the weights are not yet published, there may be others to look out for, including Sunday winner Imperial Aura, for Kim Bailey. Ben Pauling's Kildisart, second in the Ultima at the Festival, prepped up with a fairly distant third at Wetherby over the weekend and will come on for that.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)